Paris Bennett, the amazingly poised seventeen year old singer with the tiny speaking voice and the huge singing voice, got the ax on “American Idol” last night. It was no surprise; though many believe that a decade from now she will be the only one of this year’s “Idol” contestants with a professional singing career, she was too obviously a work-in-progress. Youth is not always served, especially when those text-messaging votes are older than you are.
What was more impressive than Paris’s talent, however, was her grace. When Simon Cowell would criticize her singing, she always said, “Thank you!” “I appreciate all comments,” she told M.C. Ryan Seacrest. And when she was told that she had been eliminated from the program, Paris smiled, hugged her competitors, and then belted out one last song without any hint of self-pity or despair.
It is a temptation to minimize her good spirits, for she is unusually gifted and will probably have many more opportunities to follow her dreams. But this is a teenager who has been on a long, stressful quest for stardom on the most watched show in America, and her elimination could not have been more public. The network jackals who run reality TV would have loved to see an emotional meltdown, or pitiful tears, or some other extreme reaction that would have been “great television.” Paris Bennett, however, seemed to be governed by the definition of character, virtue, courage and manners put to verse long ago by Rudyard Kipling. They don’t read Kipling in schools very much anymore; it’s even possible that Paris Bennett has never read “If.” But she knows the poem by heart nonetheless
Well, Kipling’s Edwardian era final six words, “you’ll be a Man, my son!” hardly apply to Paris Bennett. The preceding lines define, not “a Man,” but a true star, someone who can guide the rest of us in times of turmoil, disappointment and failure to keep a firm hold on the human values that are really important, and to remember that the richness in life lies not in winning, but in living hard, well, and generously. That is Paris Bennett, not an American Idol, alas, but an Ethics Hero who should inspire us all.