When I need to feel human, I go to YouTube and search “best auditions.”

I haven’t followed a live season of a reality show since Joshua, Katee and Twitch battled it out on So You Think You Can Dance, Season 4.* That was in 2008.

But today, I don’t want a whole season. I want the auditions.

When I type “best auditions” into the search bar, I’m always on the lookout for something new. Yet almost every time, I find myself returning to familiar favorites.

Paul Potts, a phone saleman, admitting with an uncomfortable half-grimace that he has a hard time being confident.

Carly Rose Sonenclair, smiling shyly when Randy, one of the judges, asks her if she practiced the song she choose.

Josh Daniel’s soul-wrenching tribute to his best friend, who passed away. (Spoiler: Simon tears up.)

Each one of these is guaranteed to make me cry.

Like the junk food labs at Frito-Lay, the X-Factor and shows like it tweak and test their storytelling recipe to create a formula that makes most folks feel something. Even knowing how carefully a moment has been crafted rarely makes you immune.

So, like the balance of salt and sugar in Cool Ranch Dorito chip, a video starts to play and my body overrides my brain: my mouth starts to water, feels good, wants more—conveniently forgets to tell my stomach it’s full and I binge on feel-good 3-minute clips until I’m puffy-eyed and spent.

I know what’s happening to me. I know that the feeling of hope, of admiration, of beauty welling in my chest was formulated just so.

But sometimes, I need the dopamine rush.
Sometimes, I need to spend 6 minutes crying, and then go back to my day.

I’m skeptical (on a generous day) about the impacts that 24/7 news, reality TV, and hyper-personalized media have on society.

But I can’t deny that they they also give me something I want.

Something that is, at it’s core, fundamentally human.

* So… I definitely went down a SYTYCD Season 4 rabbit hole while on the hunt for the links above. I hadn’t watched those dances in years – and they’re still awesome. I’ll just leave these here.

Also published on Medium.