Sports playoffs have a lot in common with reality TV shows such as ‘American Idol’


Steve Weatherford of the New York Giants celebrates after the Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers in in the NFC Championship game. (MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)

During last week’s thrilling overtime win by the New York Giants over the San Francisco 49ers, Fox kept showing ads for the popular TV show “American Idol.”

After about the 10th commercial, I started to wonder: What does a reality show like “American Idol” have to do with football? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much sports and reality TV have in common.

Most kids have seen the show, but for those who haven’t, here’s what happens:

“American Idol” starts with lots of folks who think they can sing and want to become pop music stars. The contestants are like sports teams that start the season with great hopes of winning the championship.

Of course, the “Idol” contestants don’t play hoops or football; instead, they sing for a panel of judges. Those performances are their big games. The judges pick the performers who are good enough to move on to another set of performances in Hollywood. The competitions in Hollywood are the show’s playoffs. Some singers, like some teams, are not very good. They are eliminated easily before going to Hollywood — like the Washington Wizards or Redskins.


Scotty McCreery celebrates after winning the 10th season of "American Idol." (HO/REUTERS)

The performers keep singing and the judges (and the people watching at home who can vote by phone or text) keep picking winners and losers until there’s one big winner: the American Idol. The shows are like college basketball tournaments, where teams keep getting eliminated and everyone tunes in to see who will be the winner.

These days, there are lots of shows where contestants compete for some big prize: “Survivor,” “America’s Got Talent,” “The Amazing Race” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

Athletes do very well on “Dancing With the Stars.” Show winners have included Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith as well as three Olympians: gymnast Shawn Johnson, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno. That makes sense. Dance is like a sport. The athletes are good because they know all about practice and working to get better.

It also makes sense that people like these shows. Just as in sports, people like competitions with clear winners and losers. They love to root for their favorites, whether it’s a football team or a young pop singer. We also are curious to see how people will stand up to the pressure of a big moment: a last-second field goal attempt, a 10-foot putt or singing a song in front of millions of people.

So enjoy the games. Football, basketball or “American Idol.”

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 17 sports books for kids. His latest book is “Quarterback Season.

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