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Parenting Lessons from American Idol

In Babble’s new column, Pop Parenting, we unearth the funny, poignant, and occasionally frighteningly realistic parenting lessons hidden in our favorite TV shows and movies.

I’d like to welcome American Idol (FOX) to Pop Parenting. Its reason for being here may surprise you – and Ellen, Randy, Simon and Kara, for that matter. It’s not here because it’s solid family entertainment (though it is, and that makes Tuesday nights in my house a ton of fun). It’s here because I scored one of my favorite parenting lessons from the judges: Be true to yourself.

All the winners in the American Idol competition and even many of the runners-up (think: Adam Lambert and Kellie Pickler) have earned their bona fides by being exactly themselves. The public loves them for it.

But when Season 8 finalist Megan Joy experimented with various genres, it rang false – viewers and judges had no reference point for her style. She wasn’t yet herself enough for us to understand her being anyone else. Similarly, when I try to apply the rules of a parenting manual, whether I agree with its essence (Hello, Dr. Sears and your attachment-parenting sensibility) or not (Buh bye, Babywise and your strict schedule and rules), my audience (my kids) get that I’m deviating from my own trust-your-gut parenting style, and they wind up confused.

What works? Contestants who find a niche and make themselves at home. Then, once they’ve locked in their comfort zone, it’s totally cool for them to push the limits, step outside, and claim a just-different-enough-genre as their own. I just dig it when I hear Carrie Underwood serve up her country-with-a-twist, or Chris Daughtry go all balladeer on me. This translates to a population of performers who are truly passionate about what they do and who are genuinely able to please an audience. It’s the ultimate example of how being exactly yourself can land you in pitch-perfect parenting.

Take when I implement a trick from one of my parent pals; I tell my kids we’re trying something “Miss Leslie’s way” and get their buy-in the way Idol contestants get ours: by trying something new only after they’ve established credibility with us in their genre sweet spot. Then the curveball excites us.

So the lesson is: Be true to yourself first. Simon and Randy have a code word for the failure to do this: “karaoke,” which literally means “empty orchestra.” The implication – that the performer is trying too hard to copy the original singer’s style – is something that keeps the contestants on their toes and a message that can help us as parents when we seem to have lost our compass. First we have to be ourselves, then we can branch out and expand. And, dawg, that’s not pitchy.


A fifteen year veteran of the magazine industry, Bari Nan Cohen was most recently the Entertainment Editor at Good Housekeeping. She has also filled that post at
YM Magazine and Self Magazine. She writes on topics of parenting, entertainment, health and psychology for a longish list of women’s and parenting magazines. A resident of Park City, UT since 2001, Bari Nan and her family (one husband, two sons, two dogs) spend winters skiing and summers in their RV. She is not embarrassed to admit the RV has two flat-screen TVs.

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