"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
-- Albert Einstein
For any of you who aren’t pop culture fans, here’s the scene:
In an attempt to attract young viewers and ratings, a television show is created to find the best new singers in the U.S. (called American Idol). Televised over a series of weeks, the latter part of the series features some credible talent performing in various ways with all of the drama and tears of winners and losers. The early part of the series is a humorous romp through the antics of clueless wannabes. The beginnings of this season’s series showcased a cross-country parade of people who should have been given some honest feedback years ago. To say that they lacked talent doesn’t begin to explain how some of the contestants could even have thought about performing in public.
But, like creativity in general, how do we judge talent? And, what does it take to be an American Idol? In San Francisco, a seemingly untalented young man stood up in front of the notoriously harsh judge Simon Cowell and began one of the most eccentric performances seen in the nationwide talent search. Or was it?
Simon cut the performance short, commenting, “He can’t sing and he can’t dance so what do you want me to say?” Will Hung, a young engineering student at UC Berkeley, who auditioned for this series because he loves music and wants to “make his living in music” rose above his disappointment and replied, "I already gave my best. I have no regrets at all.” Judge Paula Abdul replied, “William, you’re the best.” That might have been the end of a unique note in an otherwise forgettable hour of television, but it wasn’t. Something about Will struck a true chord with viewers even though his singing was off key and his dancing cheesy. Websites started springing up and a petition with over 55,000 signatures is being sent to American Idol to have him return. Fan clubs formed, offers of marriage appeared, even recording deals blossomed.
Is this Will’s 15 minutes of fame? Is he the pet-rock of the music world or even the next Tiny Tim (for those of you old enough to remember the ukulele playing, falsetto-voiced pop singer best known for the sixties song “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”)? We don’t know yet, but this is an interesting phenomenon worth discussing.
What is it about Will that captured us so? It definitely wasn’t talent as we currently define it. He sang a catchy song that sort of burrows into your brain but it was more than the song. Everything about his performance was consistent; he looked, sounded and moved like a geek done wrong. Perhaps we just responded to that honesty. Or, maybe it was his positive response. No anger, no tears, no instance on trying again, just a simple, “I already gave my best. I have no regrets at all.” Maybe we just loved his courage to get up and do what he wanted to do in spite of his deficiencies.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Watch Will and then let us know what you think about why he has captured hearts and what all of this says about creativity. Please add your comments here.