On Thursday’s (January 17) episode of that former entertainment juggernaut, American Idol, auditioner Mariah Pulice, 19, of Chicago told the judges, and 16 million viewers, the story of her struggles with anorexia before a lovely performance of, perhaps appropriately, the Beatles classic “Let it Be.”
Mariah’s audition was accompanied by interviews with her sister and parents, who described the emotional changes they had seen Mariah going through, saying that the joy and energy she had always exuded had left her during her darkest period.
According to Pulice, her disorder is something she has to cope with every day, but she’s confident that the worst is behind her. “This eating disorder did not beat me,” she said. “And it will not, it will not beat me.”
Moving stories of mental health are nothing new to the talent show, which last season ran the story of Shelby Tweten, a young woman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 16. Tweten, like Pulice, impressed and touched the judges, moving on to the Hollywood Round of competition. She was eliminated from American Idol after reaching the top forty, and is now a speaker for Active Minds, a national non-profit devoted to changing the conversation about mental health on college campuses.
There is a certain level of debate about the appropriateness of openly disclosing one’s mental health struggles in an ultra-visible competition setting like American Idol. It’s no secret that a contestant’s personal saga is, to the producers, even more important than their vocal prowess in this early stage of the game. Many viewers criticize this aspect of the show, saying it encourages hopefuls to exploit, even exaggerate, their struggles for better success of the game.
I think we can all somewhat agree that American Idol is more about making compelling television than it is about finding the nation’s best talent these days, so the emphasis on story sort of comes with the territory. As long as that’s the case, I’m grateful that the stories being told are meaningful ones.
While I applaud both Shelby and Mariah for their courage and honesty, I do hope that Mariah is at a stage in their recovery where she’s prepared to open herself up like this. “Coming out” about mental health is an important step for anyone with a diagnosis, but it should happen over time, free from outside pressures. There’s a huge difference between talking to a few close friends about a mental illness and telling the audience of one of TV’s biggest hits, and I hope Mariah’s prepared for that.
We’ll see more of Mariah Pulice on American Idol in a few weeks. I wish her the best of luck.