Not So Talented Shows (Yet)

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I’ve always hated talent shows, and I’ve always thought that we should probably be calling them something more appropriate, like:


Like, “Hey, would you like to come watch me be not-so-talented on stage tonight?”

That was before my newfound interest in dance. I’m now two weeks past the letter I wrote to my daughter before her solo competition performance when she stole the show with her choreograph to Bon Iver’s Creeks, and at this point, I’m learning to observe “the talent show” through a different lens.

The old pair of glasses I’d watch these performances through was my “waste of time” glasses. It’s harsh, I suppose, but it’s true.

These days, though, I’m feeling more neutral. Supportive, even.

I’m learning to tell the difference between a talent showpiece and a performance piece.

The former, one would pay to enter. The latter, one would get paid to win. Or, simply, to be seen.

As a naturally competitive person, I think I’ve always been more attracted to the performance piece — the final product, as it were. But I’m realizing more and more just how essential the talent show is in the process.

The performance pieces “win” the talent shows, and move beyond them. But the move beyond wouldn’t be possible without the practice that events like the talent shows afford their contestants.

There is no winner without a contest to compete in.

And also (mind-blowing a realization as this has been): not everyone enters to win.

Maybe that’s why I always hated sitting through not-so-talented-shows, too. Maybe my expectations were too high for a group of kids who either weren’t really so talented as to warrant a performance garnering that description, or — perhaps — I was just bored with what I deemed their lack of drive to win (as though everyone is as motivated by a medal as I seem to be).

But as with many aspects of life these days, I’m learning to enjoy the means as much as the end.

Today, Old Man Gross is saying that — while I have, historically, had a hard time watching talent shows — I understand the need for them. From my recent vantage point, I see their purpose as at least twofold…

On the one hand, they serve the kids. The kids who want to win, and the kids who just want to enter for the sake of performing something, but don’t need to, want to and/or expect to podium at evening’s end.

On the other hand — and I think this is the realization that has recently occurred to me — talent shows are also for the parents. Those of us who see potential in our kids and want to allow them to hop on stage and rid themselves of the fear of it.

Who knows…perhaps fear becomes love, or passion, or calling…?

Kind of like it has for my daughter, Elise.

Or for my son, Nolan, who just recorded his first professional, studio-produced song. He’s been singing since he could talk. Every old video that we have seems to find him behind a microphone, whether he’s singing an old Justin Bieber song to open up for one of my events, or standing in our old living room holding a plastic Fisher-Price mic. Those are talent shows, and here he is moving beyond them, but not without the gift that they’ve been, propelling him toward whatever he’s becoming.

I think the whole idea is applicable beyond our kids’ stages, too.

Maybe it’s the difference between a hobby and a profession, but just because the former isn’t synonymous with one’s occupation doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be engaged in. Do you love it? Do you love the talent show? The community? The camaraderie? The fun? Do you love it solely for what it is, regardless of what you stand to get out of it?

That’s wonderful.

In the past, I’d have likely said to remove it from your life, but at this point, I recognize that I’ve also entered into talent shows of my own. Dipping toes into the water atop stages I’m not sure I could’ve “won” to know that some entries are worth it just because contesting is what I want to do, and that is enough.

Maybe your “talent show set” evolves into something more, and you see an opportunity to step out of the hobby circuit and onto a more professional stage. I don’t know. But neither will you unless you try.

As for my part, I finally realize that you can’t have one without the other. It’s a simple lesson, and in the simplest of terms:

You can’t have the professional performance without the practice that makes it such. At the very same time, you don’t have to move into the realm of “professional” for your performance to matter.

The talent show is a necessary part of the process, and not merely some tedious chore to move past as quickly as possible.

For that matter, if you love the stage your standing on right now — if it brings you life and joy and fulfillment — maybe you never move past it at all.

Enjoy it for what it is, now, and not only for what it might become.

Do what you do.

Love what you love.

I’m learning to do the same.

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