Why Lee DeWzye Won American Idol (and what it means for your job search)

I watch American Idol religiously (What? Don’t look at me like that!). One of the things I love about it is that it’s like a really long job interview and we get to choose the person who ultimately gets the job. (Well, I must admit that I don’t actually vote, but I still feel somehow like I did. I voted in my mind!)

Once I started thinking of it as a job interview, I started to get really good at picking the winner. This year, I knew Lee DeWyze would win about 4 weeks into the competition even though at the time everyone was talking about Crystal Bowersox. Crystal had more poise on stage, more control in her vocals and a strong sense of her own identity. These are all important criteria for success on American Idol which is why she made it all the way to the finale, but she was missing some of the key elements that make for success on Idol (and in a job search).

A sense that she had something to learn and knew it

Idol front-runners are often fully formed musicians by the time they come on the show. They’ve been performing in bars and clubs for years and they’ve gained confidence in their own abilities. They’re accomplished singers and they know it. But they often tend not to grow as the season goes on, and after a while their poise starts to hurt them. Viewers (the interviewer) wonder if they have anything left to learn. Meantime, there’s always some other contestant with an equal amount of talent but who has not yet fully realized their potential and who shows growth each week as he or she learns more about the craft of performing. Carrie Underwood, David Cook and Kris Allen all fall into this category. This year that person was Lee.

What does this mean for you?

I’m not suggesting that you go into interviews trying to look less talented than other people and then try to show growth during the meeting. That would be a recipe for disaster! But I think the key lesson here is to demonstrate, in your resume and in your interview, that you are always eager to learn and grow. Nobody likes a know-it-all and a touch of humility goes a long way – especially with the person who will ultimately be your boss.


Before Crystal’s fans start shouting at me that she is an authentic person – I agree! She seems very real and very nice, and that’s why she made it all the way to #2. But Lee was even more authentic. While Crystal could hide her nerves, Lee seemed to wear every emotion on his sleeve. If he was scared you knew it. If he was confident, it came out in his performance. And his genuine surprise and relief every time he received a compliment was fun to watch. People connected with him because he didn’t put up any barriers.

Being authentic is key to job search success

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I talk about authenticity all the time. I meet too many job seekers who want to present themselves as something other than what they are. Or who want to stuff their resume with long words and ‘resume speak’ because they think it will impress people. It doesn’t work! Be genuine and real and people will respond to you. And when you go for interviews, let down your guard a little – smile, show enthusiasm, be a human!

A current look and sound

Idol viewers skew older (*cough* like me *cough*) but the voters skew young. Janis Joplin was successful a long time ago, and kids can’t relate to that look or sound. Lee picked a string of recent hits and then put his own spin on them. That was smart.

Not on LinkedIn? Not reading blogs? Not tweeting? You’re not current.

I often have clients in their 40s and 50s who can’t use Excel or Word. This is absolutely unacceptable in today’s job market. But being able to use common software isn’t enough anymore. The internet is revolutionizing communications at a faster and faster pace and you need to keep up. Tweeting and connecting on LinkedIn are not just a nice way to pass the time, they a) show that you are current and b) offer lots of ways to network your way to a new job.

To learn more about using these tools, check out Using Twitter for Job Search and The 7 Mistakes You’re Probably Making on LinkedIn. Don’t be a throwback!

In the end, American Idol may be just a silly talent show, but it offers valuable lessons to anyone looking for work. (And if you don’t believe me about these 3 criteria, try it yourself on next year’s show!)

Photo by Kristian Dowling/FOX/PictureGroup

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