Jesus, Your American Idol

It is rare in this country for mass popular culture to cross paths with Christianity, but it did a couple times this past week, and it’s got me thinking. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Okay, I’ll admit it. I watch American Idol. But in a critical musician way, not a teenage girl way– basically a way that still lets me think I’m better than other people who watch reality TV. In all actuality, I don’t even watch it on television, I watch it on YouTube. I’ll get on the day after the show airs and just watch the performances and what the judges say–skipping the commercials, product placement, interviews, basically all the fluff. It takes a two hour show and condenses it to about twenty minutes. It’s nice, you should try it out. Anyway, this last week was “Idol Gives Back” week, where they get a bunch of celebrities to help raise money for a number of worthy charities. And frankly, you’ve got to hand it to them–they’re the only enormously popular show on television that uses its popularity for something like that. And it pays off. They raise millions of dollars. Even Britney Spears donated. (after she talked to her dad and googled ‘malaria’ to find out what it was)

Anyway, at the end of the show this week came the video clip above, of eight pristine, talented youngsters dressed in white, belting out perhaps the most notoriously cheesy song in all of Christiandom. And I watched it, and I didn’t know what to think. Half of me thought, “Wow, JC gets a shout-out on the most watched television program in America. That’s pretty sweet.”

The other half thought that it was a ridiculous, preposterous premise, and was blatant integration of commercialism in Christianity, which is no good, no good at all. This half of me was thinking that there’s eight people singing on that stage, and statistics say that it’s unlikely (yet not impossible) all of them are Christians (at least one of them is a Mormon). So if there are non-Christians up there, and they’re singing, ‘nothing compares to the promise I have in You,’ then who is the you that they’re singing about? Ryan Seacrest?

Let’s not forget, American Idol is a singing contest, and the contestants know that they’re constantly being scrutinized. They know that if they aren’t singing with gusto every chance they have to perform, they could get voted off and lose their chance for superstardom. So if you’re a non-Christian, or even if you are a Christian, and you have that as your motivation while you’re singing that song, then aren’t you… faking it?

So in a way, the show’s executives are using Jesus. To be blunt, they know that Christians are stupid. They know that a lot of church going folk out there will see that and think American Idol is the greatest show on television, and spread the word to their friends, hence more viewers, hence more commercials, hence more cashola. But is it really just about earning money for the show’s producers? Is it that simple?

It’s easy to say that it’s not cool to play off people’s sympathies to earn text message votes on a reality TV show, or to get more people watching and increase your commercial revenue, but they did it during ‘Idol Gives Back’ week, where the focus is on the charity, not entirely on the singers… so if using Jesus gets people to donate money to a worthy cause, is it okay? They’re aiming to raise $100 million. If they can do that in one night, and give it all to a bunch of worthy charities, is it okay to tug at the Jesus reflex a little?

It worked on Britney, after all…


1 Response to “Jesus, Your American Idol”

  1. 1 beth
    April 17, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I saw that too, and like you I was conflicted on what exactly to think about it. Then I heard the pastor of Hillsong (the church where that song was written) speak, and he was absolutely THRILLED that American Idol used the song, so I decided to be thrilled too. Any postive reference to God is a good thing, right?

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