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Why Contestants Go on American Idol

Is it only fame and fortune? Experts explore the motivation of American Idol contestants.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Your knees are shaking, you’re trying to decide whether Paula Abdul is flirting or smirking, when you meet Simon Cowell’s steely gaze. Uh-oh, maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

Not everyone has the talent of a Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, or Carrie Underwood. So why do people go on American Idol, the reality TV show for the show-biz obsessed?

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"I do believe some people think they have talent," Marjorie Brody, co-author of the book on networking titled You Can't Do It Alone and president of Brody Communications in Jenkintown, Pa., tells WebMD. And some do have the talent to showcase.

"The second group, I believe, are those who don't have a lot of talent and may know it, but who crave a lot of attention." People in this second group, Brody says, may think about themselves a lot but, paradoxically, may not have a lot of pride.

Brody also identifies a third group of aspirants. "I think people try out on a dare," she laughs. "I don't have evidence of that. But I think they say, 'What is the worst that can happen? I could not get on TV? I could get on but be booed off? Hey, I was on TV at least.' They are not into the vanity part of it."

Following Your Dream

David Brownstein, a certified life coach and president of Hollywood Coaching, once worked with a client who tried out for a different reality show to replace a member of the band INXS.

"I think it's healthy to go after your dream," Brownstein tells WebMD. "If you always wanted to be a singer and you're a secretary, this is one way to go after it."

Carole Lieberman, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author of Dreams Interrupted: Psychological Survival Guide for Coping With Terrorism, worked with contestants on Big Brother and Survivor. She tells WebMD that most people who go on American Idol want a fast track to fame. "Even if you don't win, you still get opportunities," she points out. "Just being on once gets you seen by more people than would see you in 10 years of trying to break in."

Do such people have something missing? Psychiatrist Lieberman says she thinks people who want to be entertainers in the first place often crave love and attention they did not get in childhood. "I treat a lot of entertainers. Part of them feels rejected," she says, "so they may suffer from a repetition compulsion, meaning they keep setting themselves up for rejection again and again."

However, part of pursuing a dream may be risking rejection. For people on American Idol, rejection has a face. "Simon may be mean," Brownstein says, "but he is not unfair, in my opinion. He gives accurate criticism, although he lacks a little in bedside manner."

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