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Page1of 1 How American Idol Can Help You Land The Perfect Job
by Ernie Schenck

I don’t know about you but I’m getting sick of all these talent shows. In a study of 18- to 25-year-olds, the Pew Research Center found that fame was the number-one dream for young people. Nothing else comes close. Not money. Not curing AIDS. Not saving the planet from global warming.


But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe there’s a lesson here for all of you who harbor this weirdly hellbent infatuation with getting into advertising. Talent alone, of course, isn’t enough. Nope. If you’re going to pull a Kelly Clarkson or a Carrie Underwood in this business, you’re going to need a few tricks up your sleeve and I can think of no better place to learn them than, that’s right, American Idol. So what do you say we break it down:

Have perfect pitch. Bad thing when a singer is pitchy. Shows a lack of control. Like you can’t hear the difference between an F sharp and an F flat. Turns out, creatives can be pitchy, too. Is it funny? Is it intellectual wit? Is it supposed to make me cry? Is it supposed to make me think? What emotional buttons are you trying to push? Do you even know? Get control over your technique. Once you’ve got it in the zone, keep it there. Singers can go off pitch and so can creatives. Some people get that. Some are tone deaf.

Have a story. Your book. Your résumé. Everything should be telling a story about you. Just like all top American Idol contestants. The dad whose son has Hodgkin’s. The young woman who grew up in the back seat of her homeless parents’ car. At the end of the day, those stories get in your head and they can make a difference. Have a story. Make it easy for people to see you in the job.

Song choice is a big deal. So is choosing the right work to include in your book. Make sure it’s stuff that your audience is going to connect with. Trust me, this is not a time for experimenting. Advertising is a creative business. But regardless, what I like isn’t necessarily going to be what another creative director is going to like. Figure out what your base wants to hear and give it to them. Remember Judith Hill? Terrific singer. Sang backup for Michael Jackson. Judith had an uncanny ability to pick songs that connected with her fan base. Until one week when she didn’t. She lost. Don’t be like Judith Hill.

No isn’t never. It seems like every year, an Idol contestant who never made it past week one their first time around comes back and goes deep into the competition. If you get shot down, don’t be afraid to regroup, rejigger your book and try again.

It isn’t you, it’s us. Sometimes an agency can be looking not just for talent but a certain kind of talent. You see it on Idol all the time. Not that the producers are going to admit that, but it’s true. If you don’t get hired, don’t think it’s because your work sucked. It might be brilliant. But there could be other factors involved.

Go emotionally deep. The most successful talent has an ability to form deep connections with the audience. Carrie Underwood connected. Taylor Hicks didn’t. Don’t be Taylor Hicks. Make your work and yourself memorable. Great work is always a must. But so is a personal tone and manner that makes people feel comfortable. Nobody wants to work with somebody they can’t feel comfortable with.

The new heartland. Every single Idol winner, with the exception of Jordan Sparks, has come from what I would loosely call the heartland. Why is that? Because heartland America has deeply held values and they actively support those values by voting for the contestants to whom they can relate. Advertising has a new heartland too. A core tribe that embraces a way of working, a type of work, that they believe in. Know it. Understand it. Get on the train.

I strongly suspect that on your list of career goals, winning American Idol isn’t among them. But if you’re willing to go beneath the surface and look long and hard at how the winners manage to rise to the top, maybe you can too. ca Schenck
Ernie Schenck ( is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.