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Peggy McColl Headshot

What American Idol Teaches Us About Business

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American Idol was in its tenth season this year and I will confess this was my first time watching it and I became an addict. I did not tune into the show with the purpose of learning about business but I ended up seeing so many parallels to being in business as well as being an author and a speaker. I was amazed at what successful business skills were reinforced simply by observing the show, the judges, the contestants, and their performances.

Try - Try - Again: I was surprised to learn that many of the contestants had auditioned for past seasons and never even made the first cut. For instance, Haley auditioned last year and didn't make the show and this year she made it to the top three. Just because you've tried something once and it didn't work out doesn't mean you should walk away. I see a lot of people in the internet marketing arena who get defeated, throw their hands up in the air and just give up. In business we have set backs, failures and internet marketing bombs but you can always recover.

Make Sacrifices: Many of the contestants travel long distances just to go to the auditions. Some of them don't even have the money to make the trip but somehow they find a way. If they do get chosen to move on in the competition, they are away from their family, their life and their jobs for weeks, even months at a time. I remember watching James, who I loved and thought would go on to win the whole shebang talk about how hard it was to be away from his wife and his son but he knew that it was his shot to realize his dream. All of your big endeavors in business are like this in some way. You have to decide if the sacrifices are worth it or not.

Be in it to win it: As Randy Jackson says you do have to be in it to win it. This means you have to realize your strongest competitors will likely keep getting even stronger because they are just as hungry and it requires you to bring your best performance each and every time.
When launching a product online or giving a speaker presentation you have to be strategic and diligent in your work. You have the chance in that moment to get out in front of the world and show your best stuff. Act as if it is a really important competition and do it with vigor.

Be gracious: When most of the contestants get voted off they do it with humility. They are gracious and grateful for the experience and support. As a viewer, you instinctively want them to succeed no matter where they go. When you think about artists like Daughtry who didn't make it into the top two but you hear him all over the radio, you know it's a result of his talent but also the way he carried himself.

No manager or agent wants to get involved with a relatively unknown artist who has a lousy attitude. There was one female contestant this year that looked downright angry as the show progressed and she knew she wouldn't make it through that week. Can you imagine what immediate decisions industry professionals made when they watched her? She was not gracious and alienated the audience with her attitude. How do you think the world would embrace the release of her first album? You need to handle defeat graciously and make sure people know what a professional you are - you never know who might be watching.

Connect to your audience: After one performance by a very nervous contestant, Jennifer Lopez gave some very wise constructive feedback that could apply to any professional business speaker. It's not about you and your issues (nervous, anxious, etc.) It's all about the audience's experience. The more you stay focused on yourself, the more you lose the connection with your audience. They care about how you are moving them emotionally, not about what you're dealing with internally. If you ever get stage freight turn it around, ask yourself this, "How can I give more today than before. How can I spark inspiration in others?" Come from a place of service and entertainment.

Whether you are a fan of competitive reality shows or not, you can always learn something from other people willing to take a risk and put themselves out there for all of the world to see. If you were a judge of a business reality show, what qualities would you expect to see from the finalists? I'd love to hear your list.