Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why is Mojo Mom Writing about American Idol?

I'll be the first to admit that I've been watching American Idol for some mindless fun, not expecting to find any social significance, but now that the finals are down to Taylor Hicks and Katherine McPhee, I've found an unexpected link to my work with girls and women. All along I've wanted to like Katherine, but there's been something missing. She looks and sounds like she has the perfect package as a performer. Meanwhile, there's Taylor, looking kind of funny (a gray-haired pop idol? who knew?), dancing his goofy dances, singing his heart out and winning fans across the country.

While Katherine is undoubtedly talented, the 21-year old seems to be acting out what most young women do: how to be what everyone expects her to be. Gorgeous in a conventional way. Singing like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. Rarely did I feel that we were seeing a genuine Katherine performance. Maybe she doesn't even know what that would sound like yet.

As girls we are pushed to live up to a very narrow ideal: pretty, thin, sweet/sexy, a high achiever. Katherine has attainted that ideal, and guess what?--it's more than a little boring. Young women are faced with a no-win situation. 99% of us beat ourselves up for falling short of this standard of perfection, and the 1% who meet it are faced with hostility and jealousy from other women (remember "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful"?) and the hollow victory of living out the life that someone else has prescribed.

At age 21 I was in just about the same place as Katherine (minus the gorgeousness, voice, and national TV show, of course). I measured my value based on my college grades and my boyfriend's approval. Even when I did something creative such as write skits and appear on our campus TV station's comedy show, it was in a supporting role of the quintessential "girl." My boyfriend was even the show's host and I doubt I would have been there without him.

I moved on, broke up with my college boyfriend, and spent my 20's trying to figure it all out. At times life felt like a tangle of confusion, but I finally found my own identity, my passions and causes, and my sense of voice. My 30's have been a decade of blessing and growth. I used to think I was getting more mature because I had forgiven myself for the perceived mistakes I'd made when I was younger. Now I can look at those experiences (like not marrying the first person I thought I would marry) as necessary lessons, because as painful as they felt at the time, they taught me things that I am very glad to know now.

Growing older is definitely underrrated in our youth-obsessed culture. Passing the midpoint of my 30's, I finally feel like I've accumulated enough wisdom and experience to have something important to say. Rather than trying to pad my resume to fill one page, I have to decide what to leave out to pare it down. I've worked hard to succeed without the support of a major publisher, and I can look at Mojo Mom as a project that is truly my own creation. I may no longer play the ingenue role, but the blessing is that people are now more interested in my opinions than in my cuteness.

So for Katherine, I wish for her that she does not win the American Idol title, not because she is not talented, but because she would be too good at following direction to become a pre-packaged pop star. The world does not need any more Mariah-wannabees. Spending time struggling to create her own true Katherine McPhee would be much more interesting, don't you think?

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