3 Lessons from American Idol – Top 24

OK – yes, I’m a few weeks behind in my American Idol viewing.  Let’s face it – the artificially inflated suspense (3 hours for the Top 24 results? Gimme a break!) just didn’t compete with the actual suspense available in the Olympics.

For Season 9, I will be commenting on AI every week, so I’ll catch up shortly.  I’m sure many blogs will be talking about this – but my perspective isn’t about who should win or lose.  It’s not about are the judges drunk or whether this contestant is gay or that contestant is cute – seriously…

I will be listing the lessons a music business professional can learn about how to create success promoting your career and your music.

In the episodes where they announced the top 24, there was one contestant in particular that I found very interesting.  Jessica Furney, when handed the very sad news that for the second season having made it to Hollywood Week, she would not be chosen to participate, did something very interesting.

First she begged – not only unattractive, but really not effective.  What, did she think they’d change their minds?  After 8 seasons, we’ve seen the judges overrule the audience’s vote and we’ve seen the judges change the rules to allow an extra person in.  But we’ve NEVER seen them change their minds.

Begging just made Jessica feel bad about herself and did not move her closer to her goal.  And when she realized that it wasn’t working, she changed tactics.  Well, that’s just BRILLIANT!

Lesson One: When you notice your strategy isn’t working, try something different.

I love that flexibility.  And then, she made a very interesting choice in tactic.  She asked for feedback.

Lesson Two: There is no failure – Only feedback!

Now asking for feedback can be a tricky thing.  (I’ll be writing a Words to the Wise Newsletter article about how to avoid the pitfalls when asking for feedback, so be sure to subscribe to the Newsletter, if you haven’t already.)   And sure enough, Jessica fell into one of the key pitfalls.

She asked a bad question.

Lesson Three: Ask Good Questions!

Jessica asked a question that was sure to illicit information that would NOT be useful.  She asked (I’m paraphrasing here) – “What did the top 24 do that I didn’t do?”  And Simon Cowell answered very clearly, “They sang better.”  Well, duh, no kidding.  But that’s not really useful feedback is it?

So what could she have asked, that might have yielded more useful feedback?  Here are some suggestions off the top of my head:

  1. How can I improve my singing?
  2. What should I work on to improve for next year? (this is a bit broader – not just about the voice, but the whole package)
  3. What song choices would you recommend for me?
  4. What did I do right, so I can do more of that?
  5. If there were one thing that you would have changed if you were my coach, what would it be?

Notice that these questions are very specific, and yet open ended (not “yes” or “no” questions) and they were questions focused more on the future than on the past.  They also didn’t ask “why”.  See, Jessica asked a “Why” question in disguise – why didn’t you pick me?  Why questions are generally not useful from a feedback perspective.  Because they elicit reasons why or why not.  The reasons aren’t that helpful, as we saw here.  What will be helpful are the answers to “how” and “what” questions.

What question would you have asked if you were in Jessica Furney’s shoes?

So to review, the 3 lessons for me were:

  1. When you notice your strategy isn’t working, try something different.
  2. There is no failure – Only feedback!
  3. Ask useful questions.

What did you learn from this episode of American Idol?  And how can you apply that to your music career?

And a word for Jessica, if you happen to be reading.  You made it further this year than last year.  Keep building on your success.