Confessions From A Former 'American Idol' Contestant

Confessions From A Former 'American Idol' Contestant

The great, the good, the bad, and the ugly

My dream had always been to be on "American Idol" and become a successful singer and actor. I used to line up water jugs in the garage to make an outline for a stage while my neighborhood friends and I took turns being judges and contestants. Doodling exceeded the boundaries of shapes and flowers and became five pieces of paper with twenty faces hand drawn on each side, each having a number and playing a contestant in my own fantasy "American Idol" competition on paper. One school night out of the entire year would always be dedicated to staying up late just to see which Idol hopeful would take the crown followed by celebration.

It wasn't until I experienced being a semi-finalist on the show and achieving my childhood goal that I realized many things were as what they seemed yet, simultaneously, not.

1. The Great: Pursuing My Dreams

My memories of auditioning still warm my heart. Before I made the first move, I had been treated in Miami Children's Hospital for anorexia; I was about twenty pounds underweight and on the verge of collapsing. About three weeks following my discharge, my family and I took a flight to New Orleans where we all were embracing the energy of this amazing experience. My older sister at the time had a fractured foot so she signed up to audition just to help get me to the front of the line, and that is something I am forever grateful for. Being the stereotypical Jewish mother she is, my mom would constantly give me honey packets she stole from the breakfast buffets at the hotel to ensure my throat is nice and smooth. Late nights became endless nights with my Dad as he would stay up the extra hour to help me pick out the best song I could sing while my siblings were my backbone of support.

2. The Good: Exposing My Traumas

Once final taping had commenced, I had producers come to my house in Florida and follow me around school to build a story that could capture America. When they asked me about myself, the first thing that came to my mind was to share about my abusive upbringing in an environment of pariahs as classmates. This was good, but also neutral because looking back, I know I could have shared something much less sugar-coated that would get an even deeper message across. All the degrading names that I had been called were translated into family-friendly insults like "dork" and "geek"; the deeper truth would have been too much for anyone to digest. I did not triumph and overcome my past because I was and still am to this date insecure about many things. However, even the slightest bit of a sugar-coated story had inspired many people so that, to me, is good enough.

3. The Bad: Devious Contestants

As the process progressed and Hollywood week came around, I got to know almost all of my fellow contestants on many levels. I recall becoming infatuated with a guy whose name I won't mention, and he quickly became the predator preying on my weakness for him. Ultimately, he was all I thought about and the only one I wanted to impress and gain approval from. As soon as that became obvious, he played with my head and I nearly psyched myself out of my own dream at the hands of manipulation. It was my Dad who actually snapped me out of it with a dosage of his brutal honesty, and thankfully, I moved forward.

Yet, it was not even that one isolated incident in which my naivety overpowered my intelligence. Another fellow contestant and a friend at the time had asked me why I am gay, and then after told me I don't have to be gay, and what she was implying was a popular sentiment in our group. Barring her ignorance, the biggest turn off had been seeing fellow contestants forget where they had come from. All of a sudden, the waitress who messed up an order for dinner had become the servant for the same contestant who had been in her shoes not even half a year before being on the show.

4. The Ugly: A Rude Awakening

Although the subtitle will make my point seem like the ugly is a bad thing, there is beauty to it as well. My rude awakening was realizing that being on a television show was not enough to help me achieve my ultimate goal of becoming an artist and an actor. As a child, you want to be a part of a legendary singing competition with the ultimate goal of becoming a successful artist. After having been on Idol, making it to the top 24, and then, once again, coming back down to Earth, I had realized that it was a beautiful yet bitter facade. The beauty was and is in the experience that I had been beyond blessed with. Bitterness lays in the fact that what I perceived as a child was a distorted version of reality just as the tooth fairy is a myth and Santa does not exist. These beliefs help you stay motivated for the end game, and that motivation will take you further than anything in life.

Cover Image Credit: Brett Loewenstern

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The Key To Ending Your First Draft Blues

Or at least getting through the next chapter with your hair intact

Ah, the first draft. We’ve all been there as writers. The day we decide to turn a blank word document into a 70,000 word (or more) masterpiece. Or, at least, that’s always the aim. Often as first-time writers, we go into the experience blind, learning as we go, and never really knowing whether what we’re doing is right or wrong.

It can be frustrating at times, as most first drafts are a test of sanity. As somebody who had written ten first draft books (nearing eleven) in six years, I have had my fair share of ups and downs when it comes to first drafts.

My first book ever took me four years just to write it, I started at the age of sixteen and finished by the time I was twenty. A year later I had written another. I then wrote one in thirty days, and nowadays I write about three to four books a year.

My point is, there is no science to writing. It is all about learning how to do it, and finding the methods that suit you best. I just wish I could have had someone to tell me all of that when I started.

With that in mind, here are my five pieces of advice on how to write your first draft:

#5 Embrace the Terribleness

The first draft is always the worst version of any story. The sooner you accept it, the easier it is to move forward with your work. So you misspell a few words so bad that even Word can't help you. That shouldn't stop you from going with the flow. Your dialogue will feel hammier than a "Star Wars" film, but you'll clean it up the second time around. You're not expected to create a masterpiece on the first go, so just enjoy the ride.

#4 Suffer for your Art

Writing can be hard. I've said it enough times already, but it's true. You have to be prepared to suffer for it. The reason my first book took four years to write was because I didn't commit to it. The reason I wrote 80,000 words in thirty days was because I committed myself to write at least 1,000 words a day. Now I average 3,000 daily. Is it painful to force 3,000 words to the page every day? Yes, but that's what you have to do to get the draft finished.

#3 Take your Time

Now I know this goes against what I just said, but it's important that you go at the pace you want to. I was happier writing 1,000 words a day, but I was eighteen then. At twenty-three, I'll never get everything done going at 1,000 words a day. Commit yourself to writing every day, even if its only 200 words. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. You'll get to the finishing line quicker if you jog a steady pace rather than adopting a sprint and rest mentality.

#2 Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Yes, it's important to remember what colour your character's hair is, which one is taller, and what weapon they are carrying. Although with that said, it is important to keep going forward. In my editing, I go over everything with a fine comb, often with a character profile at my side. Don't get bogged down giving every little detail the first time around, you'll have time for that later. The hardest thing is getting it down the first time.

#1 Keep the Story Going at All Costs

This kind of goes without saying, but it is by far the most important step for me. You have to keep moving forward. It doesn't matter if you have to use the biggest Deus ex machina to get your plot going again, you can always edit it away in the re-draft. I use a technique called automatic writing, which means that I don't plan every detail of a chapter. I simply write it as I go. This allows me to give my characters natural reactions as events often come as a surprise to me too.

Obviously it is good to have a rough idea of what is meant to happen, but as long as you can get your characters from A to B, then you are half way there. The other half will be polishing it to the point you can see your reflection.

Good luck, and happy writing.

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4 Steps To Writing a Haiku

It's Fun I Promise

You've probably had to write a haiku for English sometime in your school career. You most likely found it boring, or difficult, or just plain stupid. I am going to try and show you a more fun way to write a haiku.

1. The Basics: What You Should Know

In case you don't know, a haiku is a Japanese poem that is only three lines long. It is usually taught that the syllables in each line should go 5-7-5. But really, as long as there are 17 syllables or less in the three lines, it's a haiku.

2. Write to Get a Reaction

When you write a haiku, you are aiming to get one of three reactions: Aaaahhh, aha!, or ha ha! For example...

Aaahhh: Laying in bed/dog next to me under blanket/my furry heater

Aha!: Life is too short to love people/who do not deserve/your whole heart

Ha ha!: I'm on the toilet/and my stomach drops/the roll is empty

3. Create an Image

In your writing, you want to create a new image in your readers mind with each line. Take my first haiku for example. I first talk about laying in bed. Then, I say there is a dog next to me under the blanket, so you picture a lump under the covers. In my last line, I call him a furry heater so you imagine a heater covered in fur. The image you create is more important than the syllables.

4. Performing

Lastly, you need to think about performing your haiku. As always, when you're speaking in front of a room of people, you need to project so the whole room can hear you and you need to make eye contact. Another thing to remember is the tone of your voice while you are saying your poem. Dramatic pauses can keep people on the edge of their seat, waiting for what you're going to say next. You also have to remember to be confident! And if you're not confident, fake it till you make it!

Cover Image Credit: Imgur

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