Someone once asked me what I’d do if my kids came to me one day and said they wanted to be on a reality show.
That’s a tough question.
First off, I’d be a hypocrite to tell them no. That’s how I got my “start,” and being on “American Idol” truly did change my life and opened many great doors that have allowed me to do what I love: sing uplifting songs and share uplifting messages.
But being on reality TV also opened a window to the filth and desperation of the entertainment industry. I saw more shocking, scary and sickening things in those short 12 weeks living out in Los Angeles than I did during the entire 18 years I spent growing up in Bountiful, Utah.
So even though I’ve been able to have some great experiences and the satisfaction of living out my childhood dream of being a professional singer, I’m not sure I would be ecstatic to support my children in the same industry.
It’s a two-edged sword.
For me, there’s nothing quite so exciting and stirring and romantic as spreading my creative wings, yet also nothing as depressing, negative and poisoning, either. The entertainment industry can be a riptide of temptation, perhaps seemingly harmless at first, but able to pull even the strongest away from safety.
As a mother, I want to give my children the safest life. That may mean I’m “paranoid” sometimes, and I’m OK with that. But protecting their innocence is something I’ve been charged with, and I don’t take that lightly. In fact, it’s safe to say it consumes most of my waking thoughts, this concern to protect and nurture my little family.
Which is why I have such a hard time with 9-year-old actor Jackson Nicoll in Johnny Knoxville’s “Bad Grandpa.”
I guess I should start with a disclaimer: I have not seen the show. I’ve watched the trailers, I’ve read the reviews, I’ve seen some interviews. And even still, my heart is sick to think about this kid being filmed in terrible places (a strip club!) with his crazy old grandpa for the sake of comedy.
“Bad Grandpa” is set up similarly to a Sacha Baron Cohen movie such as “Borat,” where the actors have somewhat of a plot line and script, but the “extras” — as in, regular bystanders — have no idea that they are on camera. The film follows this boy and his grandpa across the country in search of the boy's deadbeat dad, pulling all sorts of pranks on unsuspecting citizens along the way.
“There's obviously something inherently wrong with allowing a 9-year-old to perform such inappropriateness,” says Adam Pockross for Yahoo! Movies, “like impersonating a little girl while totally rocking a striptease at a child's beauty pageant — but then, there's also something so inherently right. Laughter don't lie.”
Knoxville said in a recent interview with Conan O'Brien that he decided to pick Nicoll based on his first impression of the boy, who hit Knoxville square in the “zipper.”
“He’s fearless," Knoxville said. "I mean, he was on ‘attack mode’ the whole time.”
He explained to Conan, through roars of laughter, how he taught Nicoll the “double high-five” in which you tell someone to raise their arms for a double high-five — and then punch them in the zipper.
Now, I have no doubt this kid is probably every bit as funny as he’s being played up to be. And he’s also not new to the movie biz; he played Christian Bale's son in the Oscar-winning drama “The Fighter,” which led to bigger roles in the comedies "Arthur" and "Fun Size" (where he met Knoxville).
But having your career start out in a “Jacka--" knock-off movie is not the most wholesome place to start, especially for a small child.
I have three boys. I want them to have adventures, play hard, work harder and stay true to who they are. I want them to keep the “old-fashioned” values of humbleness, decency and propriety. I want them to spread their wings, but not be fooled into thinking that being gross is the same thing as being goofy.
Maybe I’m a prude. But I can’t help but wonder what Nicoll’s parents were thinking when they agreed to let their 9-year-old boy star in an R-rated film alongside the King of Crass.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.