People may trash television all they want, but over the past few years, a certain TV show has brought our family together like nothing else. And since our family includes a 16-year-old girl who rarely wants to do anything with the family any more (or, heaven forbid, catch herself laughing and smiling with us) , I'll take happy family time wherever I can get it! When the quality of "American Idol" went downhill last year and we all lost interest, I thought our good times had come to an end, but, thanks to better contestants, Steven Tyler and J-Lo, we're fans again. Maybe not quite as rabid (especially since homework has gotten heavier and outside activities have increased) but fans nonetheless, and still happy whenever we can watch together. And now that we've added a 17-year-old French foreign exchange student to our brood, the togetherness is even more important. A few months ago, she and our 16-year-old got into a HUGE fight, and they didn't speak to eachother until when? During an evening when we were all together watching American Idol, excitedly discussing the contestants. And things have thawed out more and more ever since. Yes, our exchange student likes American Idol, too. And yes, pop culture has definitely saved my family.
Here's an excerpt from a post I wrote about TV and families in May of 2009 which mentions more benefits that have come out of watching American Idol together (from www.uncoolmom.com, 5/21/09):
My family will be going through withdrawal this week. American Idol withdrawal, that is. Now, before all you non-watchers start rolling your eyes, try to set aside any negative feelings you may have for the show (or for TV in general) and consider my statement in another way: my family will be missing time spent together this week. For just like people from the Greatest Generation reminisce about gathering with their family around the radio, I know that some day, my children will remember the fun we had gathering in front of the TV two nights each week, to watch regular people from all over America sing their hearts out.
For all the bad things about TV (and I am not averse to listing its negative qualities, as many of you know) this "togetherness" feature is one that parents should take advantage of with their families, whether it's watching American Idol, or a game show like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", or some drama or comedy you deem appropriate-- for my sister-in-law and her son, it's been "The Office".
Unbeknownst to my family, I actually made the conscious decision three years ago that we would start following American Idol. I had disliked what little of it I'd seen previously due to contestant judge Simon Cowell's harsh criticisms, but then realized that contestants are "in" on the schtick and sign up fully knowing there is a good chance they will be on the receiving end of some of it. The other judges usually balance his comments so well and give good, constructive suggestions that I decided to give it a green light. Normally, we hardly ever watched prime time TV. Too much stuff to do in the evenings, with homework, instrument practicing, chores, sports practices... and besides, I felt (and still feel) that a lot of primetime, network TV is too racy and/or too scary for children-- even the ads make me wince. But one day, it struck me that with our family's love of music and singing, American Idol would be a good fit, and that watching it might be a good family tradition to start. And I was right.
Boy, was I right! Ever since I announced, "We're going to watch American Idol tonight," we haven't missed a season, and it has been, for lack of a better word, a blast for all of us. We debate the merits of each contestant, enter online contests to try to win tickets to the show, and have given new life to the term, "TV Dinner." We buy Dreyers' American Idol ice cream flavors, download contestant performances from iTunes and carefully write down the voting phone numbers of our favorite contestants at the end of most shows, so we can call in our votes. As the competition gets more heated up, there is an air of excitement on Tuesdays and Wednesdays around our house-- we all remark that "Idol's on tonight!" and we can't wait to watch it. We Tivo it so that when schedules conflict, we can watch it together at a later time (and it's interesting how adamant the kids are about watching it "together", proof that the "togetherness" is more important than the show itself). The first year we watched it, we were fortunate to be in Houston at the same time the Idols tour rolled through, so we bought tickets and had yet another great family time, my younger daughter cheering loudly while sporting a "Sanjaya, You Really Got Me" T-shirt we'd ordered online.