What's the Psychology Behind American Idol?

Can you sing?

I mean really?, or do you just believe that you can sing, and really can't? Do you also think that you look just like Jewel, or maybe Tom Cruise? Do you perceive yourself as a great intellectual leader, or well accepted and loved, no matter what environment you carelessly amble into?

These sublime questions beg an explanation. Just how, and more significantly why, do the worst of the worst American Idol contestants seem utterly oblivious to their obvious lack of talent? In order to understand, one must merely look within.

This twisted sense of self is not limited to vocal ability, to be sure. Many of us entertain an often skewed internal image of how we look, how others perceive us, and what the limitations of our abilities really are. Any given person almost invariably harbors an internal image that is not consistent with the external one that they actually project. Most of us think we are better looking, smarter or more talented than we really are. Why is that? The clockwork mechanism of this grandiose illusion is often rooted in the subconscious need to protect one's ego. In order to survive the relentless grist and tumble of daily life in a society of our peers, such illusions are often necessary to shield our often fragile sense of self-esteem as much as a suit of armor shields a Medieval Knight from raining blows. Such self-deceptive devices are often quite fragile, however, as evidenced by the brutal effect of Simon Cowell's scathing remarks, as these illusions tend to die hard, with great upheaval, and often in overt agony

Sigmund Freud once stated "Rob a man of his subterfuge and he goes mad", that is to say, once our armor of self-illusion has been cracked and exposed to the world by poignant, scathing criticism, madness may ensue. Sometimes hearing the truth can be devastating, but yet we love to hear it said, as long it is levied on others and not ourselves, of course.

Why is that?

The obvious answer is that when Pontius Cowell casts another American Idol contestant to the lions, we applaud with ferocious glee, just as spectators in the Roman Colosseum bellowed in uproarious approval, thumbs down, when a vanquished combatant was tossed to their death. The psychology behind this vulgar impulse, of course, is that at some deep, primordial level, we see it as slaying the twisted sense of self that all of us bottle tightly within, but are too terrified to confront, as most of us deeply and passionately need to believe that our own illusions are quite real, and not illusions at all.

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