Although my family’s interest in Australian Idol has increased over recent months, my own interest has lessened a little. For I have to admit that my favourite part of the whole affair was the audition process.
I only caught two of the audition programs on television, but I very much enjoyed them. I liked watching how the judges dealt with the vastly different contestants who came before them. I soon realised that Mark Holden was sometimes sarcastic in his judgments, while Kyle Sandilands was often brutal and Marcia Hines was mostly kind. Yet all three endeavoured to be honest and they usually agreed with one another.
Another thing I liked about the tryouts was the anticipation before each contestant began to sing: would he or she be wonderful or mediocre or woeful? And to tell the truth, I especially liked the woeful ones. Indeed, I found myself simultaneously enthralled and appalled by the sheer brass and badness of the worst contestants.
Although I missed most of the auditions on television, I found video clips of the performances posted on the official Australian Idol website. And I played and replayed some of them as research for this article. Let me mention five of the worst.
(As it is not my intention to single out these contestants personally for ridicule, I have changed their names. However, the other details are factual.)
The first of the worst was Bob. Wearing shorts instead of jeans or trousers, Bob looked as dorky as a duck. And he had the moves of a duck as he flapped his arms and waggled his hips in time with his inane song (which was, I think, his own composition). With a nondescript voice, he sang: “I can’t stand this life-support, there’s a shortage in the switch. Can’t stand this morphine ’cause it’s making me itch.”
As Bob finished, Mark leaned back in his chair, raised his hand in a victory sign and cried, “Woo hoo! Fantastic! Absolutely brilliant!”
Missing the sarcasm, Bob smiled and said, “Thank you.”
Kyle looked at him seriously and said, “Mate, I reckon you’re a clown and that’s the only option you’ve got.”
Taken aback, Bob asked, “What’d you mean I’m a clown?”
Kyle replied, “There’s no entertainment there unless you’re a clown.”
Kyle was brutal, but he was also right. Bob’s performance was embarrassingly bad.
The Australian Idol website’s introduction to Bob’s video clip states: “You don’t have to be a spectacular performer or technically brilliant vocalist to become an Idol legend. [Bob] found a unique way to enter the history books.” Yes, Bob has become an Idol legend, but hardly in the way he had imagined or wanted.
Consider another contestant, Steve, who has also entered the Idol Hall of Fame for all the wrong reasons. Steve seemed a nice enough young man, but his singing was seriously awful. “Point of No Return” was the song he chose, and he butchered it. He squeaked the high notes, flattened the middle notes and bottomed out the low notes. And the fact that he himself seemed in earnest about what he was singing only added to the humiliation of the whole performance.
Marcia looked on open-mouthed. She appeared to be not only stunned by him but also embarrassed for him. He was that bad!
Kyle interrupted him, declaring, “That is a disgrace, man.”
Mark cut in: “But you weren’t doing it seriously, surely?”
Steve looked at Mark, looked away, then looked back again. He was plainly having difficulty understanding what was happening. He gave an uncomfortable laugh.
“Were you?” Mark persisted.
“Yeah, I was,” he said.
Donald was another Idol disaster. Whereas Steve had been self-conscious and self-effacing, Donald was cocksure of himself. He seemed to think he had the moves and the manner of a rapper as he half-talked, half-sang his chosen song. Finishing on his knees, he raised both arms to the ceiling dramatically, dragged out the last syllable of his song, and waited for the praise of the judges.
“I didn’t like it. To me it was weak,” Kyle said.
By this stage, every viewer in Australia, except I suppose Donald’s mother, would have been nodding agreement with Kyle. Some would have been wondering why Kyle was being so gentle.
“Weak?” Donald said, genuinely taken aback.
“Weak? There’s one word you can use to describe me and weak is not one of them!”
“Yes it is,” Kyle insisted.
“Matter of fact,” Donald said, “do you want to arm wrestle?” He began to take off his loose long-sleeved shirt.
Kyle hesitated. Now it seemed to be his turn to be taken aback. “Yeah,” he said.
And so television viewers around Australia were treated to the bizarre spectacle of this cocky young man trying to pin Kyle’s arm to the judges’ table. But even using two arms, Donald couldn’t pin Kyle, who ended the match by jerking his arm free of Donald’s grip.
“That was cheating,” Mark said.
“That was inconclusive,” Donald replied.
But there was nothing inconclusive about it. In arm and voice and character, Donald was weak.
And let’s not forget the woeful ones among the women contestants.
Helen chose to sing “You Raise Me Up”. Alas, she screeched her way through the song, missing every note as she went. Her performance was little short of hideous.
When she had finished, Mark asked her, “How do you think you went?”
Her voice strained with emotion and defiance, she replied, “I think I gave it my best and that’s all that matters. And if that’s not good enough then fair enough.”
To which Kyle replied, “Only people that aren’t any good use that as an excuse.”
Foremost in the running for the Idol Embarrassment Award was a nice looking and seemingly nice natured young woman whom I have called Jane. In response to their queries, Jane told the judges that she had already auditioned (in other cities) twice this year and five times last year. She was making her eighth attempt in two years to become a finalist in Australian Idol.
Jane chose to sing “Misty Blue”. She did not screech like Helen, but she did sing off-key. Her voice lacked any remarkable quality and her earnestness was off-putting. She sometimes clenched her teeth and somehow forced the notes to resound harshly in and from the back of her throat. And to top it off, when she held a note, she would hit it with an exaggerated vibrato—a tremolo—that was most irritating. It made your eyes misty and your mood blue just thinking of how bad she was.
“Just the thought of you turns my whole world misty bluuuuue,” she finished, holding on to the last note and trying to go deeper than her voice could go. Then she fell silent and smiled hopefully at the judges.
In the silence at the end of the song, Kyle blew a raspberry, a long one.
“Have you taped yourself and listened back to it?” he asked.
“No I haven’t,” Jane replied defiantly. “I don’t think I really need to, to tell you the truth.”
“Well you do,” Kyle said.
“I believed in myself,” she said. “That’s the main thing.”
“Well too bad,” Kyle said. “You’re kidding yourself. You’re fooling yourself.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s your opinion,” she said. “Marcia and Mark are here, too. I’d like to hear their opinions.”
Sadly, Marcia and Mark agreed with Kyle. For Kyle’s judgment was not merely a personal, subjective opinion: it was also an impersonal, objective judgment. In all forms of music, as in all matters of life, there is such a thing as excellence and its qualities can be objectively known, pursued and applied. Kyle was comparing Jane’s performance against basic objective criteria, such as being able to hit a note and keep a tune. And by all objective standards, Jane’s performance was a cringe affair.
How did this atrocious situation come about? How could seemingly sensible people front up to audition for something for which they had absolutely no talent? How could they so easily and earnestly make utter fools of themselves before the whole nation? The answer is, surely, that they deceived themselves. They viewed themselves and their talents differently from what they really were. They did not judge themselves truly.
They may have misjudged themselves because their friends and relatives, hoping to be kind, had pretended that they had talent. They may have done it because they were blinded by the chance of quick fortune and fame. They may have done it because they were in the habit of being precious with themselves and of making excuses for themselves. Whatever the reason, they did not judge themselves truly and so they opened themselves to the judgment of the whole nation. They fooled themselves and so others came to see them as fools.
The self-deception and consequent humiliation of those woeful wannabe idols vividly portrays a universal spiritual principle. The Bible warns us to consider ourselves carefully, so that we can arrive at an accurate assessment of ourselves, so that we can avoid doing wrong and reaping harm.
“Let a person examine himself,” the Bible says. Then it adds: “if we judge ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:28-31). In context, these words are addressed to Christian people and refer to a particular aspect of Christian worship. But they form a maxim that applies far beyond their original context. In every matter in life, we ought to examine ourselves, because if we judge ourselves truly, we will not be judged.
We tend to deceive ourselves in many matters, but the most serious self-deception usually involves the matter of our own moral nature. We generally want to think of ourselves as good. On the rare occasions that we concede that we have done or said something wrong, we quickly exonerate ourselves with all sorts of excuses.
However, the Bible claims that we all have failed to meet God’s standards of goodness: there is no one who is righteous and without sin. We have all done and said and thought things that are wrong. Worse yet, our desires seem to be perverted towards what is wrong. We actually enjoy selfishness, covetousness, gossip, impure thoughts and the like. We are not only sinners by word, thought and act: we are also sinners by nature and inclination. Consequently, our sinfulness and our sins have separated us from God and have opened us to his judgment.
However, if we judge ourselves truly in this matter—if we judge ourselves to be sinners in need of forgiveness from God, and on the basis of that sober judgment turn in repentance and faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to make amends for our sins by his death in our place on the cross—if we do that, then we will not be judged and condemned as sinners on the Judgment Day.
It will hold no weight with Almighty God to say on the Day of Judgment, “I believed in myself and that’s the main thing.” It will hold no weight to say, “I gave it my best and that’s all that matters.” It will be futile to say, “That’s just your opinion.” It will be futile to challenge God to a test of strength. It will be impossible to say, “That’s inconclusive.”
Woeful is a word with two meanings—“bad, awful” and “sad, sorrowful”. It is better to own up to being woeful in the first sense today than to finish up being woeful in both senses tomorrow.
How God judges us on the Last Day will depend on how we judge ourselves today. If we judge ourselves truly in this life we will not be judged badly in the next.