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Hopes, Dreams & Diabetes

How American Idol changed TV, and audiences

Do you remember water cooler talk?

In the days before DVRs and binge-watching, all television was what we call “appointment television.” Viewers congregated in their living rooms to watch a program or live event that much of the country was watching along with them. The next day, people gathered around to talk about what they witnessed on TV the night before. If you found yourself part of one of those “water cooler” discussions in June of 2002, it is very likely that you were talking about a young waitress singing her way into your heart during the inaugural season of American Idol.

Over the fourteen seasons that followed, tens of thousands of people attended open auditions in cities across the US for their shot at singing stardom. And even though the show had a panel of expert judges, it was the American public who voted in the winner.

But Idol did more than create a community of devoted fans and instant superstars. The show found a way to pull the star that we all wish upon out of the heavens and into the reach of each person with a dream. “That’s not for me …” quickly became “Why not me!” Before you knew it, a reality singing competition had grown into a full-fledged hope machine.

Single moms, auto mechanics and students were realizing their potential every week in front of America and, with each song they sang, another dreamer in the audience learned that possibility exists for all.

Which brings me to diabetes.

In season five, two contestants, Elliott Yamin and Kevin Covais, performed on Idol while living with type 1 diabetes. In season nine, Crystal Bowersox sparked discussion when she bravely told the audience that her performance was rescheduled due to her T1. Now we weren’t just talking about following dreams, we were talking about how dreams can’t be slowed by diabetes.

In fact, in fifteen seasons of American Idol, there have been a number of contestants and judges who live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Season two winner Ruben Studdard was diagnosed with T2 soon after he won Idol, and longtime judge Randy Jackson went public with his type 2 diabetes in 2008. Most recently, in season fourteen, Adam Lasher made it to Hollywood Week, the last round of competition before the semifinals, and then returned this year to make it all the way to the top 24.

When Lasher performed in 2015, he did so with his continuous glucose monitor attached to his guitar strap. That’s the day that my daughter saw someone on television wearing her glucose monitor, and in an instant her world and the world for so many people living with type 1 diabetes got more inclusive as their collective dreams gained clarity and another of their fears was laid to rest.

(Download and listen to Scott Benner’s podcast interview with Adam Lasher.)

American Idol has provided a platform for a lot of talented singers, and in doing so it has found a way to help people living with diabetes to see their potential lived out right before their eyes. As time inevitably passes and we bid a fond farewell to American Idol, I find myself wondering how many other people discovered ways around their own challenges with the inspiration of the dreamers that sang on that stage.

The delivery system for our entertainment and how we communicate about what we’ve seen has evolved over the years, but no amount of time or new technology will change the fact that sharing our stories with one another may be empowering for many. I’ll miss Idol not being on my television, but I look forward to the next way that we will learn about the community of people living well with diabetes.

American Idol dims the lights on its fifteenth and final season with a three-night finale beginning tonight. Maybe – like me – you’ll go old school and watch it live for nostalgia’s sake.

Scott Benner is a 16-year stay-at-home dad, author and diabetes advocate who blogs and podcasts about his life as a type 1 diabetes caregiver. His podcast is available through his website ArdensDay.com or at JuiceboxPodcast.com or by searching “Juicebox Podcast” in any podcast app. Benner is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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