The American Idol

carrieI hope Carrie didn’t run to check her twitter feed the moment she stepped off stage, because some of the comments made me cringe.

Most of them were written, mind you, by people who would be terrified to attempt what she did.

Full disclosure: I was one of the critics for about fifteen minutes. I “liked” a few funny facebook comments about her. And it was hard not to be a home heckler as I watched The Sound of Music Live in the same room as my brother, who provides commentary more entertaining than an episode of Mystery Science Theater 2000.

At one point I thought, “Poor thing. She is not used to the athleticism required for musical theater. You really have to be in shape. She’s out of breath!”

That thought was immediately followed by a stinging memory of that afternoon, when I had been out of breath myself. Apparently, you really have to be in shape to bring in groceries from the car.

Man, we are a critical bunch. When I took a close look at Carrie and at myself, here is how we measured up last night.

Carrie: wearing a braided wig over her awesome honeyspun hair
Me: wearing a beanie over my awesome greasy hair

Carrie: sporting dirndl after adorable dirndl
Me: sporting a long-sleeved t-shirt with a down vest and holey jeans and thick socks

Carrie: looking like her absolutely stunning self
Me: looking like Adam Sandler (pick any movie)

Carrie: dancing in heels, up and down winding staircases and over fake hills and fake fountains
Me: sitting on the couch, remembering the time I danced in a recital when I was five

Carrie: singing with incredible strength, keeping step with Tony-award-winning musical theater artists
Me: sitting on the couch, remembering the time I sang in a couple talent shows in college

Carrie: acting in front of a national audience
Me: sitting on the couch, remembering the time I acted in high school in front of a bunch of parents and grandparents

Carrie: trying something completely new to her, turning her face to the spotlight on a different kind of stage, championing all fear of criticism, and doing it all on LIVE television for three hours straight
Me: sitting on the couch for three hours straight

And Carrie wins by a landslide!

Since last night I have read enough times that “Carrie Underwood is no Julie Andrews.” Are you Julie Andrews? Put down that maple nut scone and answer me! Are you?

I don’t think anyone is Julie Andrews anymore. She has become a statue of the past. Not even Julie Andrews is Julie Andrews. We have idolized her and Audrey Hepburn and all of the rest of them. But idols don’t move. They don’t change. They stay as they are, frozen. The real, breathing women and men have to move on, even if we don’t want them to. I’m glad Audrey didn’t live in the twitter age. We might have broken her heart.

(How we tend to remember her.)
(How we tend to remember her.)
older Audrey
(How she might have wanted to be remembered.)

The truth is: Carrie Underwood is not Julie Andrews. Carrie Underwood is Carrie Underwood. She’s a living person. She is not an inanimate idol. She is a real person with a real soul. She is somebody’s daughter and somebody’s friend. She smiles when she is affirmed and cries when she is brutalized, just like we do. And on her worst week, she is doing a lot more than most of us do in a year. Even her legs are a Pinterest phenomenon. Most of our legs are under Snuggies right now.

Maybe acerbic public criticism doesn’t hurt seasoned stars like Carrie.

But I think it hurts our children. We can’t run up to the schoolhouse and beg for a parent conference because our child is being made fun of at recess, when we are making fun of someone else’s child at home. (Don’t pretend she can’t read what you write; she can.) We can’t expect our children to be the kind of people who will try something new and brave, when they hear us chopping those kind of people to bits.

It is not enough to tell children that risks are worth taking.

We have to let them hear us applauding the people who take them.


  1. texvanwinkle says

    After watching the first half-hour or so of The Sound of Music Live, I have to amend my initial impression. At first I thought it was simply unfair to compare Carrie Underwood to Julie Andrews, perhaps the most talented musical performer of the 20th century.

    That much is still true. Now I also believe it was unfair of the producers to cast someone with essentially no acting background. Carrie Underwood has a tremendous voice, but she hasn’t learned how to use it in an acting performance. And beyond that, she hasn’t learned to act. I’d say she did the best she knew how with what limited experience she has, and kudos to her for that. She had to know she was going to come in for some criticism, and she did it anyway. I admire her for that. But the producers went with a name and a voice instead of a consummate performer who could have given the role the personality it needed. Julie Andrews was truly lightning in a bottle, and those classic roles came along just in time for her. She made it look so effortless, because for her, it was. A tip of the hat to both her and Carrie.

  2. Susan Teeple says

    The backlash was because she was dubbed by an uncredited singer, something that would not be tolerated today

  3. Nika_Maples says

    That is a very good point. In fact, I think critique is important for professional growth. If the critique should lie anywhere, though, it should not lie with Underwood, but with her agent and the various gatekeepers who were using her name and fame to draw ratings, regardless of whether she was the best fit for the part. Yes, this is her job, and as such, criticism should come from the people who employ her, not from millions of armchair quarterbacks (me, included) with no experience in performance on a national scale. Plus, people were just nasty. No need, no need. Thanks for offering a balanced comment!

  4. kara says

    The difference is she is very well compensated for her performance. She is a professional. She made the choice to put her art out there for applause or criticism. However you may feel about her performance it is not her hobby but her job! Our children can be courageous and try things but they must also learn to take criticism and persevere. The list of artists, scientists, actors, writers…. who were told no and and didn’t stop is endless

  5. Nika_Maples says

    Ha! Excellent point! I didn’t realize that had happened, but it sure shows how fickle people are.

  6. KristenCw says

    Isn’t it interestesting that there was a huge backlash against even Audrey Hepburn when she was cast in “My Fair Lady” because she was….NOT JULIE ANDREWS!

  7. Shelly Wildman says

    What an absolutely beautiful post. You have said so well what I’ve been thinking since this show aired. We need more brave women like Carrie to show our kids that being perfect isn’t the goal, but getting out there and TRYING something is. Thank you for writing this.

  8. Anne says

    I didn’t get to watch this, but I agree with the sentiment in this article. Basically, it all boils down to kindness and tolerance to your fellow human beings. We should all be showing kindness, patience, tolerance, love, and understanding. We should not be critical of others, especially when it is better that when are being critical or judgmental to use a mirror to look at ourselves first before looking at others. (That would stop a lot of the nasty comments on twitter and elsewhere)

  9. Mama_Ya says

    Well said, as usual. I didn’t see this version of The Sound of Music — so I don’t have to feel bad about being critical. If I ever do see it, I’ll have your words in my head. LOVE the photos of the older Audrey Hepburn. She looks happy and at peace in them — much more so than those earlier photos.

  10. Brandon Scott Thomas says

    Shmeeeky….here here! This is why you’re one of my heroes. Love you to the core!


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