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Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan on "American Idol." / Eric McCandless/ABC/TNS

I have two appointment TV shows: "Shark Tank" and "American Idol," both on ABC.

I feel so "20th century," sitting in front of the TV at 8 p.m. on Sunday evenings for "American Idol" or Friday nights at 8 p.m. for "Shark Tank." Even watching network programming seems like a throwback.

Yes, I do have a DVR. And, no, I don't use it for my two favorite shows. I like the old-school anticipation of live TV.

But there I am, both nights, sitting in my recliner with remote control in hand. I'm usually eating a bowl of non-dairy ice cream while our poodle mix sits at my feet hoping I will drop a dollop.

Any member of my family who happens to be in the room often gets sucked in, too. If not, I'll "shush" them to turn down their smartphones.

I've given some thought as to why these two shows seem so compelling. I think it's because they both showcase "strivers," people looking for their little slice of the American Dream.

Too, the producers of these shows have hit on a formula. They look for real people with real human-interest stories to highlight — sick children, broken families, mental health issues, disabilities.

"American Idol" especially has turned into a big old cryfest. And that's why I like it. I can't make it through an episode without reaching for a Kleenex. It's like therapy.

The singing isn't that great — the talent is much better on NBC's "The Voice" for example. But the storytelling on "American Idol" is first rate.

Last week, an autistic 28-year-old man from Gwinnett County, Georgia, sang the last song. He was obviously nervous and said he wanted to do well so his mother would be proud of him. He sang "Rainbow" by Kacey Musgraves.

Any time a child is auditioning as a tribute to a parent, it melts me. And sure enough, before he finished singing I was dabbing my eyes with my Kleenex.

"American Idol" is celebrating its 20th season this year, but it's not the same show it was in the beginning, probably because people in 2022 are a little beaten down and prefer feel-good TV. The scoldings dished out by Simon Cowell when he was a judge on the show back in the day would seem tone-deaf now.

Instead, judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan bring a kinder and gentler approach. At the end of last week's show, Richie told the autistic man, Sam Finelli, "We are so proud of you, man. Sam, you were born enough. What we consider your handicap is your gift."

If "American Idol" is a warm hug, "Shark Tank" is a big bucket of tough love. The "sharks," a group of well-known entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, often encourage their contestants but never coddle them.

If a contestant has an amazing idea for a product — like Bombas socks (which shares with the homeless) or the Comfy (wearable blankets) — the sharks grill them for financial data and scalability. Woe to the "Shark Tank" guest who doesn't have a good grasp of their company's balance sheet.

But there's something about watching those cheesy "Shark Tank" pitches, and seeing contestants click their heels when they walk away with an offer that seems authentically American.

And there in a nutshell are our greatest national strengths, hard work (embodied by entrepreneurship) and empathy (rooting for the underdogs).

If those virtues don't make you a little misty, well, go play on your phone.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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