Fast Company

Judging Talent by Watching American Idol

While watching American Idol this week, I noticed a distinct difference between two performances... Obviously, the main goal of that show is to identify talent, however just like most aspects of life there are many subjective factors at play. All of the contestants at this final stage are pretty solid singers, though some are better than others at performing. And of course, song choice is crucial to survival each week!  

An interesting concept to me as I’ve watched pieces of each season is whether or not the winner is able to sustain the momentum gained from American Idol exposure for a long musical career. There have been quite a few top contenders that went on to achieve successful careers despite not winning. Yet at least a few of the actual winners have rarely been heard from since their season ended. I’m not sure what makes the difference for that to happen. Is it their talent, effort, marketability or some other factors?  

Either way, what was most intriguing to me this week was the contrast between Paula Abdul’s performance and No Doubt’s performance. To summarize how this went, Paula came out through a stage stairway lined with dancers, lighting, fog and other flashy “distractions.” Her vocals sounded recorded, however, I’m no expert and don’t have familiarity with her new song to know for sure. One thing that seemed odd was that she was never filmed close up through the entire performance as she swirled about, being handed from one dancer to another. Rather than this performance being memorable or original, it looked more like an imitation of Britney Spears, sequins, cleavage, headset and all… 

Next, No Doubt came on to perform one of their more recognizable hits. Immediately, it was obvious that Gwen Stefani was in fact SINGING!!! One reason this was noticeable was that her energy and active performance style caused her to sound almost out of breath a couple of times. Rather than feeling disappointment over that, I was actually impressed. As a singer and performer doing that for a living, Gwen was able to actually legitimately entertain despite a few small flaws.  

Now, tying this into a real world - rather than television example… Is talent about flash, fog and fancy footwork or is it about taking risks, doing your best, giving it your all and not being afraid to show the real thing? If I was a judge of talent between those two performances, no doubt about it, I would vote for No Doubt. Sorry Paula, as Simon might say “that performance wasn’t good enough to keep you in the competition.”  

What does your professional “brand” say about you? Are you truly talented or are you putting on a show? Do you want to be known for moving your lips along to the music or taking control of the music? Our careers in many ways are like reality shows. Performance is being judged constantly no matter what field we are in.   

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