MUSIC REVIEW- Be honest: Real artists value candid feedback

According to a popular comedian, many entertainers consider the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to be one of the greatest theatres in the world. However, chances are those same entertainers have a change of heart if they're unfortunate enough to be booed off the stage. The once-revered theatre and its audience are quickly diminished in the entertainer's eyes.

The Apollo is one tough venue. It takes a lot of courage to face its notoriously vicious audience. If the crowd loves you at the Apollo, it could be your first step to fame and fortune. But if the crowd doesn't like a performance, they heckle and boo until a man in a clown suit (affectionately called The Sandman) swiftly escorts the act from the stage. The Apollo may be the first real American Idol: a forum for unvarnished honest judgment.

Why has the Apollo survived as the make-it-or-break-it destination for performers? What is this nation's obsession with American Idol? It's not just the acts, the performances, or the artists. It's just as much about the judges and the judgment. Could it be we have a longing to hear the unadulterated truth? Or at least hear an honest opinion not clouded by politics or hidden agendas?

It's honesty we want, even if it hurts. It would be a tragedy to tell a friend with a run-of-the-mill voice that she's talented for fear of hurting her feelings. If she decides to perform and gets laughed off stage (or something more tragic, like smacked in the forehead by a tomato), it's clear that the friend who didn't speak the truth is a jerk. We owe it to our friends, families, and community to respect that honesty– to provide a forum for real, constructive dialogue. Only then will the best emerge and be truly embraced.

American Idol has been the number-one television program in the country since it first aired. Winners have gone on to Rolling Stone covers and million-dollar record deals. These acts are special because they survived rigorous scrutiny and had the fortitude to persevere in spite of overwhelming odds. It doesn't matter your personal opinion of the style of music– they've been judged the best at what they do.

It also doesn't matter if you're a pop-idol-wannabe facing Simon and company on national television, or a guitarist playing town after town where no one knows your name, or a rapper battling just to keep his reputation from being tarnished; in the end, if you want to go the distance you have to show up and deliver night in and night out.

There's a saying: you're only as good as what you go up against. Just like competition, criticism is there only to make an artist stronger, not break her. Even as a critic myself, I constantly receive letters from people who completely disagree with me and think my style of writing sucks. I love the dissent. It forces me to take a look at myself and search for ways to improve my approach as a writer and better defend my point of view.

Ultimately, I'm only one man with an opinion, just as Simon is one person of millions watching, and the Apollo is but one theatre in a country with thousands of theatres with a variety of audiences. But intelligent, honest dialogue can do wonders for the quality of everyone's life. It's what keeps us civilized and keeps us understanding each other. Most importantly, it pushes us to be the best we can possibly be.

That's something every artist should strive for. If we are not putting our best out there, why should anyone listen? We can never get better unless we face our faults and not hold grudges against those who hold up the mirror to our actions.