(as a metaphor for trying to get published)
by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury
I have never really watched this "reality" show, except for a few moments now and
then while channel-surfing, but I decided to sit through the beginning four hours
one week, and I can see some strong correlations with writing and submitting to
It seemed to me that the main purpose of showing the opening auditions for two
hours a night, several nights, is to show the judges interacting with the applicants.
So think of the judges in the first part/phase of American Idol as the "editors" and
the contestants as the "writers" who are submitting their work.
Watching the show, I saw plenty of people who had been convinced by their
friends and relatives that they could sing, who really couldn't -- either they
couldn't carry a tune, or they had no rhythm, or they were trying to sing something
that wasn't right for them, and so on -- but who got up there and tried to sing
I saw Paula, Randy, and the new judge, Kara, covering their faces as they laughed
at one applicant's singing (so Simon isn't the only one who can be unkind). I saw
all of them (including Simon), at one time or another, offer constructive feedback,
even to those they rejected. And I saw some people thank them (and, I hope, learn
from the feedback) and others leave in tears.
When the singing was over and the judges had made their comments, consider how
many would-be singers (who are not treated badly by any of the judges) wasted
their time on camera after the audition by expressing themselves vulgarly (usually
at Simon). Care to guess how many editors receive mail like that after they've sent
a story back with a standard rejection letter?
Consider last season's Star Wars fan who sobbed into her cell phone that American
Idol needs something different, and the judges aren't letting it happen. Again, care
to guess how many such letters editors get, or how many writers complain that way
to their friends after they've been rejected?
And it all sounded so painfully familiar to me from my experiences working with
writers and those who aspire to write.
Did anyone notice how the judges told a couple of people that while they could
sing, their singing wasn't right for American Idol? That sounded familiar too.
One other thing in the audition process that I found similar to the experience
editors have with slush piles is that, after sitting through singer after singer who
couldn't sing, when the judges heard someone who could at least carry a tune, they
were quite happy about it and willing to encourage the singer.
Writers tend to think about submitting stories as a kind of luck-of-the-draw
experience, but when editors look at the piles of manuscripts they have to get
through, they pray that maybe there'll be just one in all of those piles that they can
If you haven't watched American Idol before, I would like to recommend that you
find a way to watch at least one episode of the early-season auditions, just to get an
idea of what reading a slush pile might be for an editor.
The similarities just boggle my mind, and I expect that as the show progresses and
the contestants try to win the votes of the American public, the similarities will
Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury has six short stories published:
"Cinders of the Great War" in Volume 9 of L. Ron Hubbard Presents
The Writers of the Future, "Signs and Wonders" in Washed by a Wave of
Wind, Science Fiction from the Corridor, "More Than Marks on Paper" in
Turning Hearts, Stories on Family Life, "A Monstrous Duty"
in Magic: the Gathering Distant Planes, "What the Gods Will" in Sword and
Sorceress 13, and "The Smell of Magic" in Sword and Sorceress 15.
She moderates the Hatrack River Writers Workshop at Orson Scott Card's science
fiction and fantasy website, and the Nauvoo Workshop for LDS Writers at Orson Scott Card's LDS website.
She serves on the staff of the Association for Mormon Letters and is the new managing editor for their
She is the wife of a chemical engineer, the mother of three girls and one cat, and
the grandmother of two boys and a girl. She earned a B.A. in mathematics and an
M.E. in mechanical engineering, both from the University of Utah. She taught a
short story writing course for her local high community school for many years and
has done first reading for a few fiction magazines. She has a part-time computer
business where she helps people with those scary machines, especially with putting
their genealogy on computer. She collects dragons, unusual names, and
information about her ancestors.