I confess to an aversion to "reality" shows of all kinds. I find them exploitive and cruel. I deplore the invitation to wallow in the humiliation of others. And as a union man's daughter, I strenuously object to networks filling air time with these relatively cheap formats without hiring equity actors or script writers.
That said, I find myself fascinated by SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. First of all, I'm blown away by the talent, the innovation, the sheer physical beauty of these young dancers. They push the envelope of what the human body is able to do, short of having wings.
And the format of the show pushes them . . . with a relentless sadism designed to create maximum emotional outbursts. This is the part of the show I despise. I lost count of how many dancers, male and female, were reduced unnecessarily to blubbering tears.
I understand what's going on with them. I used to sing professional opera. Performance is like a drug. The shot of adrenaline you need to carry you to center stage throws off your chemical balance and as my psychologist friend always reminds me, emotions are chemically-based.
That doesn't make them less real. I remember what it's like to answer a cattle call audition and have the judges talking among themselves while I sang. I've stood in a line across the footlights, hoping against hope to hear my name called--crestfallen when it wasn't, shocked to my toes when it was.
I've sung for a "master class"--an opportunity for a young singer to be coached by an acknowledged master. It's a valuable, yet excruciating, experience--rather like taking your bath in public. I'd sing my aria in its entirety, then the master would deconstruct it, taking me back to the weakest sections and flogging me through ways to improve. People actually paid to watch this form of voluntary torture. It was a popular money maker for the opera company.
And once you start being paid to perform, the pressure only escalates. I remember one maestro who lost no opportunity to castigate me publicly at every rehearsal. I'd made no errors, hit no sour notes, and followed his erratic tempi without complaint. My fellow soloist were as perplexed as I when he continued to single me out for downright nasty comments. I was too loud, too soft, not enough restraint, too impassioned, too boring, there was no pleasing the man. He had me so sure I couldn't sing, I started missing my entrances in a dismal dress rehearsal. (I pulled it together for the performance--out of spite for him at that point!--and he apologized afterward, privately of course, confessing that he'd wanted a different soprano for this oratorio, but had been overruled by someone else in the organization with more clout who wanted me in the soloist's chair. He admitted my performance proved him wrong. I was merely the embodiment of his musical impotence and he couldn't resist taking his frustration out on me.)
The artistic temperment is legendary--alternately needy and demanding. I think it's because creative people lay so much of their hearts out there. It's deeply personal. And rejection also feels deeply personal, whether it is or not. The maestro was really upset with something other than me, but how could I have known that?
A performer is knocked down so often, those who keep getting up have to develop the hide of a rhinocerus and the bone-deep conviction that no matter what anyone else says, "I can so dance! (Sing, write, paint, fill in the blank with whatever subjective creative endeavor you want)"
Of course, you listen to those whose opinion you trust, those who are brutally honest, yet have your best interests at heart. If you are trying to break into a subjective business (like writing or any other creative medium) you must throw your heart out there or it won't resonate with anyone.
But for your own sanity, you must develop a protective armor over that little core of your soul. Otherwise you might end up hurling "F bombs" like the very talented Susan Boyles or blowing snot bubbles on national TV like some of the SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE contestants.
Scientists long ago realized that observing something changes it. Which means reality TV by definition is not valid. What do you think?