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Do You Need a Simon Cowell?

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Recently I’ve been watching American Idol with exemplary commitment. I’m not exactly the show’s biggest fan, though I do find it entertaining. But by watching American Idol I get to hang out with my teenage daughter, and I am her biggest fan.

Even if you’ve never seen the program, you’ve probably heard something about Simon Cowell. He’s become the archetype of the blunt truth-teller. Actually, “blunt” doesn’t begin to capture Simon’s utterly unscreened honesty. If a contestant sings horribly, while the other judges are looking for ways to be constructive, Simon will say, “Frankly, you were horrible.” In the early rounds of the competition, if a potential candidate shows no potential, Simon will inevitably say something like, “You have no future in this business. You’re best bet is to be a wedding singer.”

To be sure, Simon is sometimes unkind in his choice of language. But I must say that his basic judgment often seems to me to be spot on. There’s a reason why Simon is such a success as a producer of pop music. He usually knows what he’s talking about, and he doesn’t waste anyone’s time in getting to the point.

Though Simon can be rude at times, his bluntness could be seen as a gift. Some of the contestants in the early rounds seem to think they’re great singers when they are, in fact, embarrassingly bad. Without confronting the truth of their lack of talent, they might very well waste years of their lives pursuing their impossible dreams. Simon might very well keep some people from squandering their young adult.

I wonder sometimes if I need a Simon Cowell in my life. I wonder if you do. As hard as it may be to hear the truth about ourselves when it isn’t nice, sometimes we do need to hear this truth.

I had a Simon Cowell in my life. His name was John Holland. John was an actor who appeared in over a hundred films and many stage performances. Perhaps his most notable role was as the butler in the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady. When I was a young pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, John offered to give me “Bible reading” lessons. He believed that all pastors should read the Scriptures with accuracy and vigor so as to commucate their true meaning. John was an amazing Bible reader, who often read in the worship services at Hollywood Pres. (Photo: John Holland as the butler in My Fair Lady.)

I consented to John’s offer and had several reading lessons with him. Like Simon, John made no effort to be nice in his critique. I’d start off reading a passage, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God . . . .” Inevitably, John would interrupt me with something like, “Stop! That’s terrible!” But he wasn’t being mean. He was telling the truth, and would explain why my reading was terrible. Almost always I’d see that he was right, and I’d go back and try again. Under John’s tutelage I became a much better Bible reader. By “better” I don’t mean showy. I mean that I could capture and convey the true meaning and sense of the text.

Every now and then someone will say to me, “I like the way you read the Bible.” If I have time, I’ll tell them about John. If I don’t, I’ll offer a silent prayer of thanks for John Holland, my Simon Cowell.

Topics: Thoughts |

12 Responses to “Do You Need a Simon Cowell?”

  1. Dale Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 5:03 am

    I wish more Churches were honest with singers and musicians when they don’t have the abilities needed. However, everyone tells them how great they are because they want to be nice. As an honest worship leader, I often have to be Simon. I have to undo everything others have done. Ofteny they don’t like me for it, but I still do what I need to do.

  2. Mariam Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 5:47 am

    Thanks for this: I’m so out of it I didn’t know who Simon Cowell was! When the President made a reference to him, I simply had to make an educated guess as to what he was about.

  3. Joe Arnett Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 7:57 am

    I would submit that the world needs more people like “Simon Cowell”. Although Simon is what most of us might call too blunt, it’s difficult to argue with his bottom line conclusion. The elementary education system has become so obsessed with supporting “self esteem” that they are usually not able to provide help necessary for improvement. Of course, the important thing is to be able to give guidance and criticism concerning a particular item while showing that you are not criticizing the person. I think it’s called “presenting the truth IN LOVE”. This has always been very difficult for me and I don’t think I have done it very well. It’s just so easy to “wimp out” and not say anything rather than take the risk that people will not “like me”.

    Dr. Roberts,
    I have the feeling you could expand on this topic as to the proper Christian approach. Maybe you already have in prevous posts and sermons.

  4. Bill Goff Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 9:44 am

    I think most of could use a Paula Abdul (for encouragement) as well as a Simon Cowell for reality.

  5. Mark Roberts Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Good comments above. Thanks. Bill, you crack me up. Yes, indeed, we need a Paula too.

  6. Nathan Roberts Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Many things Simon says are accurate, and even if I don’t personally agree with him I can usually understand his underlying complaint. However, where Simon steps into excess is not in the basis and honesty of his critique, but the way it is presented. Like Joe said, we are lead to present the truth with love, and with some of Simon’s critiques he goes overboard into critisism that does not address the problem, but the person. And I don’t believe that that is loving. However, the majority of the honesty that Simon presents is helpful and necissary. I only dislike that when he is, to use his own term, “indulgent” with his negativity.

  7. Dave Moody Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Great insight. Yes, Pastor’s need more Simon Cowells (and yes, Paula’s too) in our lives. I suspect that is what a good spiritual director can function as- someone who doesn’t care (in the best sense of that statement) and will just say what is obvious and we’re blind to.

    Now, the pews are full of people who will readily text in their two cents… but we need disinterested, well differentiated spiritual directors ourselves, so that we’re freed up of our own stuff and might in turn give spiritual direction to the people we serve.

    Again,great insight. Maybe thats why I like House so much. Yet still feel bad, about enjoying it.

  8. Mark Roberts Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Re: Nathan Roberts - You don’t need a Simon Cowell because you already have one . . . me! Also your sister. :)

  9. Ray Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Remember Nathan and King David? Nathan was the ultimate Simon, wasnt’ he?

  10. David Freehling Says:
    March 26th, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Thanks Mark for lifing up John Holland.
    I was in his Reading the Bible classes, and enjoyed the same experience as you’ve related.

    John was a gift, though many didn’t “get” him and some students downright hated him. But he did teach us “presentation” in our reading (and speaking) and how to be confident and proud when afforded the privilege of sharing God’s Word.

    He was a lonely man, in many ways, who most dearly wanted to give a “gift” to his students, and the gift God have him to give came from his personal and acting experiences.

    Thanks again, for remembering a “hard line saint.”
    David Freehling

  11. In the Blogosphere « Kingdom People Says:
    March 27th, 2009 at 12:42 am

    […] Roberts thinks we all need a Simon Cowell in our […]

  12. Quick Takes - 3/28/2009 at Ray Fowler .org Says:
    March 28th, 2009 at 9:02 am

    […] Roberts talks about American Idol and the need for honest critique in our lives. “I wonder sometimes if I need a Simon Cowell in my life. I wonder if you do. As hard as it […]


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