Millennials and the ‘American Idol’ Syndrome

Never mind what you see on Idol. Instant fame and instant success don't exist. There's a reason you have to pay your dues.

Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and others who have found fame through Idol are lucky. I’m not saying they are not talented, but so are John Legend, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Beyoncé and Ne-Yo. Ask the latter group about their grind to becoming successful recording artists — not just the long hours, hard work and rejection, but the valuable lessons that come with all of that.

Every year on Idol, we see contestants with talent make it to Hollywood Week, when the group is put to a series of challenges. And every year, many of those who shone during their auditions quickly reveal that they have a lot to learn before tasting stardom. They don’t have the confidence, they’re not sure who they are as artists, their singing is not consistently strong and they don’t know how to recover from mistakes. All of that comes with experience.

I try to say the same to young people with hopes of becoming broadcast journalists or personalities in TV or radio. Pay your dues. Go to that smaller market where you’ll make no money; work those holidays, weekends, overnights and double shifts; fill in for just about every position in the building; and make the mistakes you would be fired for in New York. All the while, you’ll be preparing yourself for the next job in a somewhat bigger city.

That next job won’t be as grueling, and you will still have a lot to learn, but you would have never landed that next job without learning what you did in the first job. It’s about taking the time to sharpen your skills, broaden your base of knowledge and mature. Soon you will likely find yourself being courted by the bigger markets. This is advice that I give to aspiring broadcasters, but it holds true no matter your industry.

Embracing the decision to pay your dues takes being smart enough to realize that you still have a lot to learn. It’s about resisting that sense of entitlement. Then you won’t mind running to get tea or working long hours in an environment where there are people from whom you can learn. You can impress those same people with your hard work and talent. And even when you eventually see your talent blossom and your confidence strengthen …  have the maturity and the wisdom to stay humble.

Jacque Reid is a broadcast journalist and a contributing editor to The Root. Listen to her biweekly on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, visit her at and follow her on Twitter.

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