American Idol as a Metaphor for the Writer’s Pursuit

September 22, 2022 § 11 Comments

By Evyenia Downey

Contestant number eighty-two thousand three hundred and the-market-is-already-oversaturated-with-women-writing-about-their-brains-and-boyfriends, step right up! Stand at the X on the floor — a coincidental representation of all your denied submissions. Make eye contact with the judges, but not long enough to expose the tears welling under the glue-on lashes you didn’t know how to put on but figured if you can inflate a CV you can fake an extended lash. 

Get that voice ready to prove you have what it takes to win. 

I feel like a contestant on American Idol every time I submit a poem or essay for publication. Before I click submit, I stop and ask myself, am I the William Hung to their inbox? She bangs, she bangs, she bangs her head into the keyboard. I try to believe the rejection is worth it. Airtime. Getting my face out there. But like those contestants we laugh about all these years later, am I better off just staying home?

Sure, the 2022 season of American Idol I watched while yet again procrastinating my mental health recovery memoir was a lot kinder than previous years. No insults. No ridicule. Yet there is always someone who stepped up to the judges with the belief they are destined to be a star. They have dedicated years of their life to the pursuit of musical superstardom. They have sacrificed financial stability, a career in a sustainable industry, and have driven their family members to such intolerance that the contestant has arrived at their audition alone.

I’m not that far gone in my pursuit of literary stardom. I have a job in a casino that pays the bills. My husband listens with interest when I tell him about my dreams of being a professional writer and writing teacher. Maybe I’m not currently a gag reel-worthy contestant. Maybe I’m just not there yet. Or maybe I am already there and haven’t realized it yet. I think that’s what pushes me to procrastinate. The fear that I’m no good and don’t know it. The fear that I think I’m good and someone somewhere laughs at their screen upon opening my submission. 

My dream of being a writer and writing teacher developed in my twenties when I was too mentally ill to maintain a full-time job. My undergraduate GPA with the University of Toronto stands at a 2.3 because in 2010, during my third year of university, I experienced my first serious mental health decline. I barely made in out with my life, let alone a degree.

By some blessing by the literary gods, I was accepted into an MFA program in 2017. The only reason I was even considered for the MFA was the creative writing certificate program I completed with U of T in 2016. After two poetry acceptances to online magazines, a toxic romantic relationship triggered another mental health decline and I stopped writing. But the dream of the writer’s life remained. I wanted to live just like my teachers. They wrote books and articles. They taught classes. They were not bound by a concrete schedule — the ultimate appeal to my mentally ill self.

Since 2021 I’ve considered myself recovered from borderline personality disorder (BPD). After a decade of bouncing between unemployment and part-time retail work, I started my full-time job in the casino. To my surprise, I was able to work forty hours a week without experiencing another mental decline. I spent the rest of the year intentionally not writing to figure out if my interest in the written word was genuine or if it was born from 9-5 anxiety.

I was sure I would experience a dwindling interest in writing.

I was wrong. 

So here I am in 2022, mostly recovered from my mental illnesses (the BPD is gone but my OCD is an ongoing issue) and ready to build a career as a writer. I’ve only felt like an American Idol contestant for a few months. Not long enough to be discouraged, but long enough to receive enough rejections to feel tempted to quit. 

I’ve heard motivational speakers say, “You’ve only failed once you quit.” Therefore, keep going because you never know what will happen. Harry Potter was rejected by twelve publishers. Stranger Things was rejected by twelve studios. Lisa Kudrow was fired from Frasier, which led to her casting in Friends. Rejection doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of your road. But is there a point where you have to accept that something just isn’t meant for you? 

How many seasons of American Idol do you audition for before you accept that you are not the next Kelly Clarkson?

I’m not aiming for the grand prize. I would be happy to win fifth runner up. A literary Chris Daughtry or Adam Lambert. Not everyone knows their name. Not everyone knows their work. But some people in some parts of the world are listening. 

I think that would be enough.

Evyenia Downey is a writer and poet from Toronto, Canada. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of King’s College Halifax and a certificate in poetry from the University of Toronto. She writes about relationships, identity, and mental illness.

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§ 11 Responses to American Idol as a Metaphor for the Writer’s Pursuit

  • Cole Bennett says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if the struggle of writing is half the point— half the value. As I struggle to improve, I move a little further down the line and realize I’ve climbed a couple of small mountains. Now I’ve learned a little technique that I can take with me for the next climb.

    Hey, by the way, we’re neighbours. I’m up in Orillia 😊

  • […] American Idol as a Metaphor for the Writer’s Pursuit […]

  • amandalerougetel says:

    Well done for persevering on all fronts, Evyenia; I think ‘perseverance’ is a synonym for ‘writer’.
    I’m a sister King’s alumna (BJ/1988) and am west of you in Manitoba. Congrats on being published here in Brevity Blog!

  • charwilkins75 says:

    You are perserverance and you haven’t hit your “audition” quota yet! Write on!

  • youngv2015 says:

    I laughed and got a little teary reading this! What a great comparison.

  • Lainy carslaw says:

    Aw, I loved this! I’ve def made this connection too…the funny thing is, so many who get voted off or rejected are so talented! I try to remind myself of that. Just because it was a “no” doesn’t mean I’m no good:) keep going indeed!!

  • This resonated so much! Thanks for speaking what we’re all thinking. Keep going sister, you got this!

  • BJ says:

    and here you are! not a failure at all…

  • Maybe it doesn’t matter if we win or lose or even place at all. Maybe the reason we keep going has nothing at all to do with being recognized. As for myself, I only hope that one day if someone who is on the brink of discovering something big, that will help humanity, will read something I wrote that gives them one small idea that pushes them on to greater heights, that they will be grateful as I am for being used in that way. Sounds like I don’t want to make money, I do. But that is definitely not my first reason, or even second, for wanting write. I learn as I write, it’s strange. I’d write even if it just sat in a drawer! But I like your comparison, made me laugh out loud!

  • Peterson says:

    You already know how difficult it is to be a writer – but how does the difficulty compare to the difficulty of trying to be a rock star? I’m serious, think about it for a moment. The odds are nearly impossible to overcome, right? Almost every American Idol is rejected the first time around. (Let’s face it, if the judges picked who they really DID want, the ratings would probably be higher, but the show wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.) And then the legendarily-low odds of getting voted through the second round. And then when they get to the top 50 only

  • lgrizzo says:

    I have two submissions to make for tomorrow’s deadlines – if I have the courage to face the possibility of rejections. After reading this, I’ll hit send.

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