I started off the 7 o’clock hour last night watching a PBS special on bears, but it soon became apparent that all my “oohing and aahing” was getting on my family’s nerves. Baby bears are cute, but not that cute. So I started channel surfing, stumbling onto part two of a Dr. Phil segment titled “Is My Child a Star?”
The episode featured seven youth competing before casting agents and actress/author Florence Henderson to win a generous prize package including a six month stay in L.A., a shiny red car, scholarships for performing arts training with industry professionals and more. But it was their mothers who caught my eye.
Most were offering their kids unsolicited advice on improving their performance. Seems some stage mothers fancy themselves directors or experts in all things “triple threat.” It wasn’t pretty. And it reminded me of why so many stage moms get a bad rap.
It’s hard to be objective when you’re a parent. Even stick figures seem masterpieces when it’s your child who’s drawn them. Moms who feel their kids are vocal virtuosos are understandably proud, but too often gripped by a great disconnect from reality. Let the experts make that call, and beware of those who praise your child out of pure profit motive.
I was shocked when one of the moms revealed that she’s invested tens of thousands of dollars in what she hopes is the start of her child’s dance with stardom. Especially after noting that several of the youth demonstrated none of the cultural literacy needed to thrive as an artist outside the safety of a mother’s arms.
To their credit, the moms were game when asked to try a “cold read” with Henderson — reading lines from a script they hadn’t seen before. It’s a common occurence during acting auditions, and Dr. Phil felt the moms would benefit from experiencing the anxiety it generates in many young performers. Blissfully, there wasn’t time to subject the moms to a dance or vocal audition.
I suspect they’d have repeated some of their children’s mistakes. Busting out the dance moves wearing flip flops. Singing with a nasty nasal quality. Getting flustered with faux pas instead of rocking a confident vibe. I worry some of these kids will need years of training to unlearn harmful habits.
Still, I give these kids lots of credit. All had at least one strength, and were counseled by both Dr. Phil and industry professionals to concentrate on what they do best. If you can’t keep a tune, but you’ve got the “moves like Jagger,” keep it real by working the latter. Never mind that mom insists you’re born to sing, dance and act above all others.
A few of the moms admitted to wanting stardom for their children more than their children dreamed of stardom for themselves. One revealed dreaming of her own brush with fame, and another threatened to take her daughter’s cell phone if she didn’t nail one of her performances for Dr. Phil’s panel of judges. But Dr. Phil offered this pearl — relying on external factors to motivate a child zaps the internal motivation so essential to success.
A 15-year-old named Grant, clearly steeped in musical theater, won the Dr. Phil competition. He graciously hugged and thanked Dr. Phil before turning to hug fellow contestants who showed real class in hiding their disappointment. Soon Dr. Phil called Grant’s mom to the stage, and Grant gave her a long, earnest embrace.
Dr. Phil noted in a postscript of sorts that Grant has since received a call back for “The Voice” and started working on “a new album.” It was clear throughout the show that Grant’s mom was supporting his dream, not the other way around. And that Dr. Phil’s final advice to the stage moms was sound: “Make sure that it’s their goal, not yours.”
Coming up: Spin cycle