Each season of American Idol kicks off with a painful yet must-see-TV moment of contestant auditions. For Season 10, the judges found themselves in New Jersey listening to the train wreck that was 25-year old Ashley Sullivan. After some awkward banter, she boomed out a lively chorus… from a Broadway musical.
It was met with stunned silence from Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, pop diva Jennifer Lopez, and Idol veteran Randy Jackson. Not a good song choice for a show about pop music.
Jennifer candidly set Ashley straight. “Here’s the thing. The way you sing and the way you act…it’s not for American Idol. It is for Broadway. That’s where you belong.” Bam. Game over. End of story. That’s about as firm a “no” as you can get. Next contestant. But wait, Ashley wasn’t done.
She put the brakes on her imminent dismissal with a surprising and original comeback. It was an example of what I teach my clients is called a Perfect Pitch. A Perfect Pitch is a compelling concept that can go “verbally viral.” It is a pithy positioning line that is brief, forceful and full of meaning.
What Ashley did was the equivalent of waving a magic wand to instantly shift the judges’ perception of her.
“Oh, I can be more pop. I can do it. But, like…I want to be the first showtunes pop star.” After giving the judges a micro-pause to mentally process that, she delivered a killer close to her pitch. “I think the mainstream needs to get with Liza Minelli.”
This never-before-heard-perspective rocked the judges. They laughed and began re-appraising Ashley. Jennifer turned to the camera and cooed, “I love her.” Then Jennifer and Randy both demonstrated that Ashley’s line was Verbally Viral by repeating/paraphrasing it while actually nodding, “Pop needs to get with Liza Minnelli.”
While Ashley literally got on her knees and clasped her hands in supplication, you could see the wheels spinning in the judges’ heads as they tussled with changing their minds.
Then Randy Jackson sighed and gently said, “Alright, well it’s a no for today.” I think he presumed he was speaking for the group. Wrongo Randy.
Before he could send her packing, Jennifer leaned over and hissed into his ear, “Give her a golden ticket!” Then, addressing Ashley she said, “It’s a yes for me.” Turning back to Randy she said, “I don’t care!”
That left Steven. He slowly responded, “Wow…you know what? It’s a yes for me, too.” And just like that, showtunes diva wannabe Ashley Sullivan was off to Hollywood.
This reality show showed the reality of a Perfect Pitch’s effectiveness. It didn’t matter that Ashley wasn’t a fit for Idol. When Jennifer said, “I don’t care” to Randy, she meant that she didn’t care about Ashley’s singing. She cared about the power of the pitch. That alone justified Ashley’s advancement. Steven echoed the same justification when he said, “Wow…you know what…” That’s code for “I was impressed by the CONCEPT of what she said more than the audition itself.”
“Pop needs to get with Liza Minnelli.” Of course it does.
Ashley, you gave a Perfect Pitch.