Imagine yourself in this situation (which showed up last week on American Idol for two young musicians.)  You’re in the top 8 remaining singers (out of the approximately 100,000 plus who started out.)  You’re preparing the song you’ve chosen to perform this week; and if the public doesn’t like it, you can get voted off the show.  You go into your preparation session and there’s the Idol head coach, Jimmy Iovine.  We’re talking the guy who heads up a label owned by Universal Music, a guy who has produced some of the biggest pop stars of the last 30 plus years.

You know what you want to perform but Iovine trashes it, telling you you’re going to be completely unpopular and in danger of being voted off the show if you go with your choice.  He pressures you to go with a safer more ‘popular’ song choice.

What would you do?  What is the best thing to do?  If you want great success AND you have a passion for your work?

Well, two young artists – Casey Abrams and later James Durbin – dug deep and faced the darkness and vulnerability of their artistry – bucked the advice of Iovine and performed their own song choices.  They did “that thing that their hearts, their inner genius, was calling them to . . . . to reach the treasure of their self-in-potential … and the answer to why they were put on this planet.”   Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

Abrams went forward against the advice of the industry insider with the decidedly non-trendy number, Native Boy by Nat King Cole – and blew away the audience and judges.  Here’s what the three American Idol judges said to him after his performance:

Jennifer Lopez:  “That’s what makes a really great artist . . . you don’t have to be a pop star . . . the music itself crosses the boundaries and touches people. “

Randy Jackson:  “We have really true artists on the show (this year) . . . it’s embracing who you are … and these records do sell … there’s a place for this and a place for you.  I thought it was brilliant, man, I thought it was absolutely genius. . . It makes me proud (as an artist) to judge artists and not just pop stars.  The world cannot live by pop stars alone.  We need art.”

Steven Tyler:  “You took a song that my mother sang to me when I was a little boy … You did what is in your heart, regardless of what Jimmy Iovine said.  You believed what was in your heart and you did it.  That’s the truest sense of the artist.”

See for yourself and watch how it unfolded for Casey Abrams.
(You may want to fast forward to second 59 to skip the intro.)

That same night on American Idol, top 8 contestant James Durbin was put through the same pressure for conformity from Iovine in his song choice – and he, too, chose to go with the music that called out to him that week (Heavy Metal by Sammy Hagar.) Again, he wowed the audience and the judges.

Here’s what Durbin said before his performance last week:  “This is what I’m doing.  I know what’s best for me as an artist …I have such a deep seated passion for my music that  I want to make the decisions,  if they’re good or bad.  I don’t think I would still be here if it wasn’t for my passion. . . I don’t want to be another face in the crowd.”  Watch James Durbin here.

Both Abrams and Durbin survived elimination last week.

Why does this matter?  For coaches?  For entrepreneurs?  For anyone?

This story is not only for singers.  No matter who you are, if you have a passion and a desire to create something, you can go the safe and arguably popular and already known route, and hope that it will bring you success and money.  Or you can look within and “Ask yourself like a new mother:  What do I feel growing inside me?  Let me bring that forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing.”  The War of Art.

Or as Robert Frost said in The Road Not Taken,

I took the [road] less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It turns out that this approach – mining the depths for what most matters to you and being brave and steadfast in bringing it out in the world – can be the foundation for your great success  in every aspect of life, business, career, sports, art, or wherever you chose to go.

What will you do?

  One Response to “What Would You Do?”

  1. I love this post, Anne. And I loved watching these two young men, who have such self-awareness and talent. Really inspiring.

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