YOU Are What This Competition Is All About! Yes, You!

In Praise of Excess Praise -- the Real Killer App of 'American Idol' -- and How to Get by Til Next Season

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That carefully worded e-mail you just spent 20 minutes on? That strategy memo you spent most of yesterday perfecting? That PowerPoint that took you a whole week? In each case, you did a darn good job, and you're mildly proud of yourself, as you should be.

Now imagine a group of people -- including your boss or bosses, or maybe some of your clients, if you're your own boss -- making intense and meaningful eye contact with you as they absolutely rave about your work. That e-mail was a revelation! Your strategy memo was so truthful, so courageous!

PAULA: You awaken the spirit in her!
PAULA: You awaken the spirit in her! Credit: Fox
That PowerPoint was hauntingly beautiful!

Oh, if only.

Gratuitous, over-the-top praise -- that's what I once again miss most about "American Idol," now that another season has wrapped and "guy next door" beat "guyliner," as Ryan Seacrest put it. Simon Cowell's snark gets a lot of attention, but in truth, particularly in the episodes that close the season, the show is mostly about generous praise, even from the cranky Brit. (Hell, Simon even gave his first standing ovation this year.)

There aren't a lot of situations in life in which a person can briefly do something well and then get to bask in lavish praise that lasts longer than the actual done-well thing. That's the real genius, the real brand value, of "Idol": It not only takes ordinary people and makes them famous, it teleports them into this alternate universe where their job is, literally, to be adored for just doing what they're good at. Celebrities, as we all know, get used to that, but to watch the transformation over the course of a few short months, aided and abetted by increasingly breathless judges, is almost like watching a religious conversion. A mere mortal becomes a god. It's practically biblical.

And the thing about praise, of course, is that it can become circular, self-fulfilling, almost Pavlovian. We expect greatness from those we've declared to be great; fans and peers alike fall into line. My all-time favorite example from elsewhere in Fameville: A few years back Ellen Burstyn, admittedly a fine actress, was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special for HBO's "Mrs. Harris." Her entire performance consisted of 38 words; she had a total of 14 seconds of screen time.

That last paragraph was 86 words long. I really feel like I should get some sort of literary prize for having written it, or at the very least, a standing O. Sadly, neither appears to be forthcoming. That's just not fair. It's also not fair that you've done such a good job of reading this far -- with, I trust, an admirably high level of comprehension. And look! You're almost done!

But before you move on to your next magnificent activity, I have a few things to say to you -- because I know nobody else will. To make it more real, more resonant, feel free to fill in your name.

_________, bask in this. This is your moment!

I'm so proud of you, _________. You did a brilliant job!

_________, that was the best you've ever done -- ever, ever, ever! I am in awe of your talent.

What I love about you, _________, is that you've been yourself from day one.

_________, you awaken the spirit in all of us!*

Feel free to clip and save that for future reference. Call it "Office Idol" or "Cubicle Idol." Use it after every well-done e-mail, strategy memo, PowerPoint, whatever.

By the way, look at you now! You've finished reading this entire column! Awesome!

*All of those lines are verbatim from "Idol" judges -- and that last humdinger is from Paula Abdul, who may or may not be addicted to pain killers .

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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco

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