America’s got no talent


The screeching from the dressing room wasn’t over a bug or an errant pin.

It was singing. God awful, I’m going to try out for “American Idol,” singing.

No one had the heart to tell the little lady that she’d be better off with a soothing lozenge. Made of Drano.

talentshow.jpgFew bystanders are surprised anymore at the lengths ordinary citizens will go for fame and recognition. It happens on reality TV, it happens on MySpace, it happens anywhere a camera or an audience or both lie in wait.

Most such competitions are mundane, though the competitors would argue the stakes are life and death.

Newspaper contests are like that. I’ve had to pick entries for our publication to enter in state and national contests, and the majority went nowhere, except the nearest trash can to the judges’ table. My boss didn’t put much stock in awards and contests, and he was right.

On a good day, you win. On a bad day, with one bad judge, you lose. Your work is exactly the same as the day it was published. But a first place (yay!) or a last place (gasp!) can distort your outlook, and more important, your self-worth.

But we still entered. And we won and lost.

I spent many hours in ballrooms with other journalists poring over stacks of clipped entries. Most were OK, some were horrible, a few (if you’re lucky) were exceptional.

And it was all subjective. What I liked only mattered because I was the sole judge of the Special Sections category of division 2 of the Iowa AP annual contest.

If someone else had been judge, some other newspaper might have gone home with the top prize.

We could write comments, praise and constructive criticism, but by your 10 millionth entry folder, your hand cramps and you’re hungry and you’re tired and you’re sick sick sick of looking at 24-page farm reports with lengthy stories on tractors.

Had it been a live contest and not by mail, I would’ve made Simon Cowell blush with my litany of criticisms against some poor newsroom shlub who had the misfortune to cross my path.

“I’ve seen better stuff in the weekly shopper rag. Were you drunk when you wrote these headlines? That picture is worth a thousand words: awful, hideous, blurry, dull …”

Even the winners would have bored most citizens. But we made a few reporters, photographers and editors happy with our choices, while crushing the dreams of hundreds.

A fair trade.

It’s not that most people lack talent. It’s that they lack shame from exposing us to their lack of talent.

Even if someone wins, the rest of us lose.


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