Thursday, July 19, 2012
Isaac, Andrew, and Mick
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. -- Sir Isaac Newton
What is literally true for planets and stars is metaphorically true for humans interacting with each other. Any time you reach out to another person, you reach inward toward yourself.
I realized this a few weeks ago as I watched some of the televised auditions for "America's Got Talent" (one of my guilty pleasures). Up until that point, the contestants had been interesting, but not compelling.
The last audition of the night was by Andrew De Leon, a young man dressed in Goth attire, ready to try his skills as a singer. The amount of interview time the producers included before they showed his audition was a signal that Andrew's audition was going to be spectacularly good or painfully bad. The young man admitted that he had never sung in front of anyone before, not even his parents. His Goth look was a response to and a defense against the alienation and rejection that he felt, the sense of being a misfit, "not really good at anything," in his words.
Andrew was clearly nervous as he walked onto the stage. His black leather jacket, heavy black eyeliner, icy blue contact lenses, and long raven-black hair set up a whole package of expectations about what kind of music he was into.
When the stage hand started the recorded musical accompaniment, he had clearly cued up the wrong track. Harps and violins? Surely not. Then, Andrew began to sing "O Mio Babbino Caro" in a clear, strong, falsetto voice. He poured his whole soul into his aria, earning a standing ovation from the audience, effusive praise from the judges, and tearful joy from his parents, who were in the audience.
In the next round of auditions, Andrew choked up and bombed rather spectacularly. The judges eliminated him from the competition and sent him home. All of this was pre-recorded, so by the time the television audience saw his fall from grace, Andrew had been living with that reality for about a month.
In the days after the broadcast, Andrew's auditions were viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube, multiple FaceBook fan pages sprouted up, and fans circulated a petition to get him back onto the show, gaining thousands of signatures. Yes, I admit it -- I signed the petition and I wrote him a note of encouragement. I don't know if he read it, but it did me some good.
Andrew De Leon's time on camera totaled about 15 minutes -- 15 minutes of fame in a very literal sense. So why did hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world care so deeply about whether this shy young man could finally come out of his room and shine?
I think it's because he had the courage to face his fear and take one desperate chance. Because he had something beautiful to offer, and just singing for himself wasn't enough anymore. Because so many of us have felt like misfits and outsiders at one time or another, and we know how wonderful it is when someone else reaches out and accepts us for who we are. His action prompted our reaction.
By responding to him, I had to ask myself if I could take a bold step like that. I had to remind myself that sitting around and daydreaming is only a beginning. At some point, you have to roll up your sleeves and plunge into the real world. Sometimes, the response from the real world is more affirming than you could ever imagine, even with all the hard work and obstacles that come with the package. Just the act of saying "this is who I am" can cause another person to say "I'm that way too -- it's such a relief to know I'm not the only one."
I started with a quote from Isaac Newton, and I'll end with a quote from Mick Jagger:
"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need."
Update, August 24, 2012 -- Andrew came back to the competition as a "wild card" act this week, and he was spectacular. His painful setback made him all the more determined to make the most of his second chance. He was "overwhelmed" (again, his word) by the outpouring of support from all his fans. The Andrew we saw this week was more reserved (keeping his nerves in check?) but clearly looking toward a more professional presence on stage. He's still in the competition, moving forward to the semifinals. Whatever happens now, whether he wins or not, he is already well on his way to bigger and better things.