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On My Mind Today–American Idol/Characters

Written by Vicki Hinze

On May 24, 2006

WARNING: this is a no edit zone…

I am excited. Elated. Euphoric. Why? Because I think Taylor Hicks is going to win American Idol. Even my hubby, a Katherine fan, voted for him! (And who says adults can’t change???) 🙂

I know. This is my writing blog and who wins AI has nothing to do with writing. But I say, oh yes, it does. Everything has to do with writing.

Why? Because we write stories about people, and people are everywhere–including on AI.

On the observing end, which is where writers are, we see:

A gorgeous woman with a wide-range, trained voice. Kat, of course.
A prematurely gray, good singer who knows where he fits in his art. Taylor, of course.
A sweet man with an amazing voice, untrained but, hell, he just doesn’t need it. Elliot, of course.

The writer in me asks why Elliot, the best singer of the three, isn’t there in the end and the others are? And in a singing competition it should be about the singing, but isn’t totally about it. If it were, Elliot would still be standing. It’s a total package deal. Or is it?

What is it about human beings that defies the very basic logic of “singing competition”, “best voice”? What makes us dial and vote for one person versus another?


The character traits that we, the viewers, (in the case of books, the readers) recognize, grasp, and embrace. It’s the reason Taylor’s odds are far better tonight than Katherine’s.

I was reading on EW what the experts think about these folks and winning and longevity, and it was really a revealing, insightful study on character. They thought Kat would be a flash in the pan because, while she is beautiful, she doesn’t “feel” the music and she’s always watching to see where the camera is.” These are traits in her personality that these pros think will cost her huge–save the being beautiful. That, of course, will help her.

With Taylor, their bottom line was that “people like him.” That’s great, and I certainly do, but why do they like him? That is what we as writers really need to know to create similar or opposite reactions to our characters in our readers.

I knew what I liked. He was real. His expressions were honest. Early on, the judges said, quit dancing. The next week he quit dancing and the judges said he just stood there. So–and this is speculation but it’s proven accurate–Taylor came up with some version of “to hell with it, I’m being me” and he has been himself every week since. That “real me” factor has served him well. Also–and this is huge for me, anyway–he didn’t go on stage and grace me with his voice. He went on stage and entertained me. I loved that, even when I didn’t love the song. And who among us did not immediately relate to Taylor’s cringe every time Simon was about to give his opinion? I’d recognize that hope-and-dread cringe anywhere–and I felt my stomach clutch every time right along with his.

I did a little investigating. Waded through over 500 comments to see what other viewers reacted to, and personality, those connections with universal emotions we all recognize, won overwhelmingly. Interestingly enough, the absence of it was repeated over and over again as a flaw in Kat. She got reamed with terms like snob, snooty, stuck on herself. The thing is, I’m not at all sure it’s deserved. She’s got universal emotions, she just didn’t let everyone see them on a regular basis. But the night they visited their home towns and LA totally let Kat down (my opinion, not hers), Kat’s emotions were evident. She was gracious, but the emotions were evident. I was ticked off at LA on her behalf. They really should have done better by her.

Elliot’s tenderness was apparent in his every act. How many single men his age would stand before 40 million people and tell their mother they love them? You’ve got to respect that, and look at his mom. Terminally ill and so proud of her son. So invested in him. Those are memories Elliot will carry near and dear the rest of his life. This was touching. Inspiring. So much so that this viewer will forever buy any damn CD Elliot offers for sale. I don’t care if he’s signing his grocery list.

These little observations, I think are important to consider when crafting our characters. And this show is a great place to see a wide variety of types, actions, reactions. A place to study body language–all the differences in us and those things that make us the same.

I think Taylor is going to win. I think the reason will be partly his voice. I know the reason will be because of his personality and his ability to entertain. And as I write this, not for the first time, I think of Taylor and that he has that same charisma and personal magnetism Elvis had. He promises, “Come and listen. We’ll have fun” and you do!

It’s all about character. Whether it’s the presidency, the AI or the books. 🙂

Now a personal note to my darling husband: See, I told you that watching American Idol was research. Just like watching House and 24 and Lost. 🙂


Vicki Hinze


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