I haven't followed American Idol since Kelly Clarkson had her Moment. It was by fluke that I was watching Wednesday night. Like many viewers, I get a little uncomfortable indulging in the audition shows. I am very easily embarassed....for other people. When the performers who are so obviously not going to Hollywood are downright mocked, it bothers me. That's why when I heard Ryan Seacrest say those two key words on Wednesday - "rural Tennessee" - up went my defenses.
Rural Tennessee is back where I come from; Vanessa Wolfe from Vonore comes from there, too.
Quick came the video capturing every cliche that makes cringe those of us who have, if not gotten above our raisin', risen above the U.S. Census data that defines a good part of our region: some wild, highway bridge jumping, bad grammar, and backwoods-ed isolation. Vanessa has been stuck in Vonore. She said so herself.
"If they have shown all this just to make fun of her, " I said to Mr. W, "I will be so mad."
The camera takes us from Vonore to Atlanta. It's time for her audition, and in walks Vanessa wearing a pink dress. She got it, she said, at the Dollar General Store. You can tell she's scared. Out comes her East Tennessee twang...the same voice that we'd just heard confess worries of judgement from "high-profile" people like the American Idol judges. She sings an Old Crow Medicine Show tune. I burst into tears.
If you follow the show, as millions of people do, you know Vanessa will soon be taking her very first plane ride. She is going to Hollywood! Hollywood by way of Vonore.
I cried happy tears for Vanessa certainly not because I was relieved that she hadn't been made an Idol joke, though I very much was. My heart filled for this sweet girl who sings like a country bird, whose audition I have watched over and over again because she had done something so few people, myself sometimes included, could do: be real.
Vanessa shared, without hesitation, the very unglamourous world in which she lives. She spoke candidly about the things she can't afford to do, like go see a movie. So Vanessa's circumstances, whatever they may be, resulted in her being poor? Her $4.50 dress didn't stop her from chasing her dream.
Vanessa is, I hope, on her way to escaping the sleepy world in which she seems reluctant to live, yet still very willing to embrace. Wouldn't it be nice if we were all like Vanessa, so comfortable with who we are and who we are not? She has not an ounce of pretention.
I don't think I could have been more proud of being from rural Tennessee that night. I had to move some 500 miles away from my home to eventually recognize its charms, and since leaving behind the backroads for the Beltway I've seen and done some exciting stuff. Still, I think I would trade all the culture and conveniences of life here to have that which defines Vanessa and countless other rural Tennesseans just like her - sheer authenticy.
Idolize that, America.