In what has been shaping up as a rather ho-hum 12th season for the hit TV show American Idol, one narrative stood out early on and appears to be holding. It’s the back story surrounding Lazaro Arbos, the utterly adorable 21 year-old ice cream scooper who has made it to the Top 9 despite a severe stuttering problem.
During the course of the series’ run there have been plenty of sob stories related to particular contestant’s health, finances, family and loss. These emotional stories may have helped individuals advance in the short run and have endowed those auditioning for a record contract and fame with real humanity.For some reason, Lazaro’s courageous attempt to overcome his speech impediment through song has inspired not only those who are afflicted with the condition but the viewing public in general. Moreover, he inspires those young students who have been shunned by other kids or even bullied.
Lazaro was born in Cuba and developed the stuttering problem at the age of 6. His family moved to Naples, Florida when he was 10, and instead of the problem subsiding, it grew worse. His parents sought treatment but to no avail. So when Lazaro appeared in Chicago for the first audition of this season in January, he captured the hearts of America.At the audition, when introducing himself to the judges, Lazaro struggled to get the words out. The judges were sympathetic but seemed a tad uncomfortable. Then he applied his rich, sweet voice to the Grammy Award-winning “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and wowed the judges not only with his solid rendition of the mega-hit but also the fact his stuttering vanishes when singing.
The Idol interview shown during this segment tugged at our hearts. “No one wanted to hang out with me in school because I had no friends to go out with, so I had to stay home,” Lazaro confided as his voice was shaking and tears filling his eyes. I’m pretty certain the viewers’ eyes filled up as well.Realizing that he was always alone, Lazaro turned to music. Even his Mom told him to “sing it to me” when he needed to say something to her but couldn’t get the spoken words out.
His stuttering pushed him into the job of ice cream scooper following his 2009 Gulf Coast High School graduation. “It’s the only job I can get where I don't have to do ‘smart people’ stuff like talking.” Lazaro points out.
It is not clear if Lazaro was ever overtly bullied in school but he was shunned, which is a form of bullying. When kids continue to taunt or bully other kids based on the child’s race or religion, or for being overweight, having acne, wearing glasses or braces, being short, or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, it is not a stretch to believe Lazaro was bullied because of his severe stuttering.
As we know, bullying (including cyberbullying) has led to too many suicides among teens or pre-teens. It has even led to mass killings when the victim’s back is against the wall. Statistics indicate that LGBT kids are the most common victims of bullying. People are becoming more aware of the effects of bullying and action, albeit insufficient in most cases, is being taken.Lazaro’s story is inspirational and should bring more awareness to bullying. He makes other people feel good through his talent and courage. I know he has attracted a large following that includes gay fans, which has helped propel him to advance as of the March 14 results show to the Top 9. In fact, decked out in splendid South Beach-like pastels that remind me of a front man of a swing band, Lazaro was ranked 4th that week and received the highest number of “votes” of all the male performers.
When asked about his success so far, Lazaro was direct. “I loved the reaction towards me, I loved that they loved me for what I love, so that is the most amazing thing,” he told the Hollywood Reporter about being selected as a Top 10 finalist.With the female talent so formidable this season, it is unlikely Lazaro will be the next American Idol. His singing is solid but may not be sufficient to topple Candice, Angie and other strong vocalists. But American Idol is a popularity contest and voting is propelled by tweens using cell phones to vote dozens of times for the contestant of choice. Therefore, who knows what the outcome will be? Lazaro already said his goal is to make the Top 5 so he can receive a trip to Disneyworld.
For all the gay kids and others who have been victims of bullying or simply cast off by others in school, take heart. Lazaro Arbos is your new champion and your next American Idol regardless of the official results. He stood there in front of a camera on a widely watched television program and bared his soul to all. He displays his talent undeterred by his speech impediment and admitted his sad loneliness in school.And to his detractors who avoided him and kept him lonely even though he had no control over his condition, Lazaro is too modest and sweet to say it, but I will: “Look at me now, you ________ (fill in the blank). I’m on national television and could very well come away with a record and/or book deal. Where are you now in your life?”
[UPDATE - March 21: Lazaro survived the judges' bashing of his March 20 performance ("In My Life") as well as Jimmy Iovine's statement that he was "the bottom of the bunch" and "by far the worst singer of the night" to advance. In this contest, it's the voting public that counts more than the judges' evaluations.]
[UPDATE - March 28: Again, Lazaro survived the night afeter singing Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life." The judges said he was much better than last week but it came off as a backhanded compliment. On Results Night, Jimmy Iovine predicted (incorrectly) that Lazaro will be sent home. Devin did instead after an emotional "save" performance of "It's Impossible." That was an apt title as the judges will not save anyone until there are 5 or 6 contestants remaining. Meanwhile, Lazaro lives to sing another night in the final 7.]
[UPDATE - April 4: Lazaro stunned the "experts" by landing in the Top 3 this week after last week's Bottom 2 finish. the night before he covered Queen's "We Are the Champions" and did not get reamed by the judges this time (Jimmy, yes, as for the 2nd consecutive week his prediction of a Lazaro defeat went unfulfilled). In fact, Randy sort of apologized (seemingly aware of the blogosphere's blasting Lazaro) when he said, "I gotta call 'em as I see 'em" when he said that Lazaro's performance was better than the previous week. The young fellow is the last man standing of the final 6. Nobody would have predicted that. I beleive next week is the last opportunity for the judges to save someone--an option they would most certainly have to use even if it is Lazaro or the season would be finished a week too early. It's an interesting dynamic and a conundrum for the producers as well as the judges.]
[UPDATE - April 11: The journey ends. After two dismal performances the night before, the legions in Lazaro Nation were not enough to prevent the inevitable--much to the relief of Jimmy Iovine, the judges and the producers of FOX who saw his remaining while others were eliminated as a farce. Good luck Lazaro, whatever you decide to do. You took the pounding better than most would have.]