Haley Reinhart & The Problem with American Idol

We interrupt this blog hiatus to bring you an important rant about the mediocritizing of America and the squishing of dreams.

So, Haley Reinhart. Yeah, I got sucked into another season of American Idol. A partial season. I’ve been watching since about the top 10. And to be perfectly honest, none of the contestants really did it for me. Not like, chills-inducing, tears-in-my eyes, make-me-want-to-write-a-story-to-match, which is how I like my music to do it, and how Idol hardly ever does.

Until tonight. This performance, specifically (Haley’s second song of the night):

It’s a combination of the fact that I love that song, and her voice is just so scratchy and sultry and perfect for it, and she totally rocked that joint. I dare you to say otherwise. The judges gave her a standing ovation and called it the best performance of the night, and for once, and even though Haley never really stood out to me before, I totally agree with them tonight. So much so that I’m actually voting for a contestant on American Idol, something I’ve only ever done once in my life, like five seasons ago.

But House of the Rising Sun is not the performance I’m ranting about tonight. It’s this one, Haley’s first song, Lady Gaga’s unreleased You and I:

Okay. It’s not technically the most awesome, flawless, chills-inducing performance ever. But… seriously judges? Are you all passing around the same head cold, and sharing a bottle of NyQuil, and the pressure in your sinus cavity, when combined with the coma-inducing effects of just one swill from that green bottle, has completely janked your thought processes?

They told her she should’ve picked a song everyone knew.

Steven doesn’t count because he mostly loves everyone, especially the cute girls. But WTF, Jennifer and Randy? This girl takes a chance and does something different within the limited parameters of a show like yours — an unreleased song on which she puts her own cool spin — and you tell her she probably should’ve chosen a song everyone knew? That she lost out on connecting with the audience because no one had ever heard that song before?

So you basically want everyone to do the same old cookie cutter songs they always do, season after season, karaoke style after karaoke style, over and over and over again? Is that what makes an “American Idol?” Is that what sells records these days?

No, don’t answer that. I should know better than to watch this show. I know. But still.

Look. I’m not trash-talking any of the other contestants. I think they all have their own talents and strengths, and whatever your views on Idol, I think it’s cool that they’re working so hard to get something they want. And normally I don’t really care what the judges say, because I make my own opinions, and it’s not like I’m so invested in the outcome of this show anyway.

But tonight’s reaction to Haley’s performance really bothered me, because it wasn’t like they were just giving her some constructive feedback on how to be a better singer and performer. They were totally squishing her dreams. Telling her not that she did something technically wrong, not that she under- or over-performed, not that she was pitchy or flat or any of the other tired adjectives Randy likes to fling onto the stage, but that she just shouldn’t follow her own creative heart and soul. That instead, she should strive to be… just like everyone else. You know, so people can “connect.”


I don’t like when people squish dreams and try to cram other people’s creative ideas into a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Whether it’s music, books, art, food, dance, movies, or any form of creative expression, I think this world needs more new, fresh, unrecognizable stuff. More of the unknown. More people who are willing to stand against the mediocritizing of everything and take a chance to follow their dreams, even if it’s not the most popular or expected or predictable choice. Especially then.

So I’m voting for you tonight, Haley.

And um, yeah, hi everyone! Sorry I’ve been in hiding for two months. I promise you I wasn’t practicing for an Idol audition. I was doing something else just as exciting, though, and I’ll tell you more about it very soon!