Over the past few weeks, a number of celebrities have broken their anonymity and shared publicly about their success in AA. It seems, too, that more then ever we hear about every day members also breaking their anonymity at a public level. But when this happened on one of my favorite shows, American Idol, I was still surprised by it.
Everyone has a guilty pleasure that they are embarrassed about. My guilty pleasure is that I am a huge fan of American Idol. I got hooked on it all the way back in Season 3. I believe that I was a junior in college at the time, and to me the show was just magical.
This year, though, I’ve been dealing with some major health issues and missed out on the first four episodes of this season. So this week I’ve been catching up on these missed episodes.
It was either on the first or second episode of this season that a 19 or 20 year old contestant who is a recovering addict was introduced. I noticed right away that the story that American Idol told about him was very over the top even for someone who suffers from addiction. The other thing that really shocked me is that the guy actually showed his sobriety coin, which was obviously from AA or NA, thus breaking the tradition of anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
The truth is, though, that we don’t know if the contestant was the one who broke his anonymity or if it was the show itself who pushed this guy to break his anonymity. Either way, this is usually frowned upon both by AA members and by the media. So this left me wondering: is American Idol trying to pull viewers in by glorifying this addict/alcoholic? And if so, won’t this basically throw the results of the entire show?
Not only was this guy promoted as a member of NA or AA, the judges also showed preferential treatment towards him in a way that hasn’t yet been done in American Idol (or so they said on the show). When a contestant is featured on the show during the audition phase, they are introduced, they sing, and then the judges vote on whether or not they go to “Hollywood”, which is the next phase of the show. After the contestant is given a yes or no, he or she is shown leaving the audition room and sharing their luck (or lack thereof) with family and friends who are anxiously waiting outside. However, for the first time the judges let this contestant’s (the recovering addict’s) family in for the judging part of the audition process. They stated that this hadn’t been done before, and the family got to watch while the guy was given a yes followed by a golden ticket to Hollywood.
And while it is great that the judges are applauding this guy’s journey into sobriety, there were many other contestants who stories were just as inspirational as his who did not get this kind of special treatment. There was a contestant who had an inoperable brain tumor, a kid with cystic fibrosis, a kid who’s two brothers had committed suicide, a guy who’d gone through horrific child abuse, and a kid who was a pastor’s son and was gay, and was having problems with his family because of it. But, despite the fact that these stories at least to me are just as moving as the addict/alcoholics story, their family didn’t get to see them as they got their golden tickets.
Even though addiction is hard, when you look at what some of these other contestants, you wonder why the addict is the one who received the most preferential treatment. To me it just doesn’t make sense. What I think is going on here, though, is that American Idol might be trying to raise it’s ratings by promoting a person in recovery who is in a 12 step program. This is because people can be pretty vulnerable when it comes to feeling sorry for those with addictions and feeling inspired by people who are in 12 step programs. I also think that promoting a person in a 12 step group could gain a lot of viewers from 12 step groups who are simply there to support this guy because of his affiliation with recovery groups. People in AA and NA plus their friends and family members are very dedicated to these organizations to the point of where I can easily see them throwing the entire show by voting for this guy not for his musical talent but just out of camaraderie itself.
American Idol actually has been affected by these kinds of group dynamics in the past. In Season 3, there was a contestant who made it to the top 12 who was from Hawaii. This contestant made it to the semi-finals, and I believe the top three. What happened, though, was that Hawaiians clogged the phone lines by calling and voting for this woman multiple times. Because of this a lot of people were unable to vote at all. Afterwards, many people believe that this was very unfair to the other contestants and that it skewed the final results that year.
Since then, American Idol has tried to find ways to prevent this from happening again. There are now limits on the number of times that you can vote, and voting can be done in a number of ways. Even with these safeguards, though, I still predict that this guy from AA/NA will make it pretty far in the show only because he’s in a 12 step program. This is unfair not only to other contestants but to this guy himself who is hoping to gain votes because of his musical abilities.
The end result of this obvious anonymity break is yet to be seen. I myself will continue to watch the show but this year I feel a little skeptical about the whole thing. It kind of pisses me off that either this guy himself or the show would do something like that. And, the other truth about the situation is that if this guy is a good singer, he may not be fully recognized for it if people find out that he is receiving votes for something other than his musical ability.
This instance of a public anonymity break coincides with a number of other public anonymity breaks by members of AA. In fact, some people are beginning to wonder if Alcoholics Anonymous and it’s members recent acts of breaking of the tradition of anonymity is occurring because the program itself is beginning to suffer. Apparently membership in AA and 12 step programs began to drop about 5 years ago, and stories of sexual assault, exploitation, theft, and other safety problems within AA have begun to surface and grow more frequent over the last few years. People are also speaking up about the problems in AA publicly through books, blogs, documentaries, and on social media. Members or ex-members are also speaking up about abusive sponsors, abuse in the program, and how they felt brainwashed and coerced into the program. It seems, then, like AA is facing some major challenges, but, they don’t seem to be doing much to actually address the problems that are leading to falling numbers within the program.
But, in the last few weeks a few celebrities have broken their anonymity at the public level in terms of their successes in AA, and now we are seeing things like anonymity breaks on shows like American Idol. So it appears that instead of actually addressing the problems that are occurring in AA, we have celebrities and others beginning to break traditions and promote AA. As the number of AA members drop, and as people begin to accept the possibility that AA is not a safe place, I wonder if members are beginning to promote AA without even thinking about it.
I do remember that at about 8 or 9 years of sobriety (in 2014), that the attendance at some groups in the area that I lived was really beginning to drop. At the time, the business meetings at my home group largely revolved around how to get more members to attend the group. The group tried to change their meeting format a few times and tried to find ways to attract people to the group. When I left though in 2016, though, the group was struggling financially and were having a hard time finding people who would commit to the service work that was needed just to hold a meeting. This scenario was happening to other groups in our Area.
The other problem that this group and others were having during my last few years of attendance was that the number of women in the groups was falling drastically. I remember that from about 2014 on, in most groups that I went to, there might be 3 or 4 women out of 20 or more members in attendance. Although AA has always had more men than women in attendance, throughout the years that I attended the gap between the number of men and the number of women in meetings actually increased. Also, the number of women who attended meetings that had substantial lengths of sobriety definitely was decreasing. Much of the time I would be the woman with the most sobriety in the room. I saw this happen in the two different communities within Washington State over the last 4 or 5 years.
When you consider this drop in membership in AA and the drop in female members, you really begin to wonder what’s up with all of this promotion in AA lately. Are these people doing this purposefully because AA is having some major issues? I can definitely tell you that if I was still a devoted member to AA, I would be tempted to do this kind of thing myself.
So the big question is: Are AA and other 12 step programs beginning to fall apart? Let me know what you think about this situation in the comments.
Thanks for reading!