Faith, Fame and 'American Idol'
Part three of a series chronicling the many angles of “American Idol.” To read part 1: "Why We Love American Idol," click here. To read part 2: "The American Idol Makeover," click here.
During the ten-year history of the popular show, many contestants have talked openly about their Christian faith, or pointed to their beliefs through the songs they choose to sing. Many have gone on to score record deals with labels focused on Christian & Gospel, and attracted mainstream listeners who might not have otherwise explored the genre. But several questions remain in this occasionally troublesome scenario, which can be just as consumed with amassing fame (after all, the show does have “Idol” in the title) as with reaching the lost. Is the church making its mark through “Idol,” or does it bring about the undoing of some of the faithful? Several familiar faces with ties to the show weigh in for this exclusive www.watchgmctv.com report.
Making a difference
The longer a contestant is on “American Idol,” the more the public gleans of their personality, whether that's musical interests, fashion sense, family background, and for those who are more vocal, issues of morality and personal beliefs. For instance, in the seventh season, viewers met the extremely outgoing and dreadlocked Jason Castro, who wound up placing fourth overall and has since signed a deal with Atlantic Records in the general market (Word Label Group) on the Christian end.
“People who watch ‘American Idol’ really get to know the contestants while they are on the show and this opens up a great opportunity to introduce new people to Christ’s message,” he confirms. “Since they already know you, they are willing to listen to your music before closing the door.”
Music is clearly a bridge builder in reaching those who might not sit down and listen to a gospel message, or in extreme cases, those who are dead set against faith of any kind. And even if a contestant isn’t singing an overtly Christian song, the way they carry themselves on the show may sow some seeds, according to sixth season finalist and fellow Word signee Chris Sligh.
“I think if an ‘Idol’ contestant sings well and America responds, then as a Christian artist, it opens up another platform to make an impact,” he asserts. “‘American Idols’ are role models and by showing America how faith has impacted our individual lives, we can make a difference. It is a subtle but important message.”
When posed the question of the program’s direct impact on non-believers, fifth season finalist and Sparrow recording artist Mandisa approaches her response by looking beyond the sphere of music alone. “What I do know is that I hear from fans who first knew me from ‘American Idol’ but still follow my career now,” she says. “I just have to pray that what they see and hear from me goes beyond mere entertainment.”
Challenges and temptations
During a contestant's time on “Idol,” the pressure to succeed is certainly evident, from the extremely long hours of rehearsal and tapings, to the lengthy time away from one’s normal routine. If a contestant’s not grounded to begin with, there are of course opportunities that could allow bad habits to take hold, which could create a distance from the faith they hold dear.
“Challenges include being away from family and not being able to go to church for a long period of time,” admits Sligh. “I worked every day for the nearly nine weeks I was on ‘Idol’ and only got to go to church once in that time frame. Not being in consistent fellowship with other believers is definitely tough.”
For season nine contestant Charity Vance, the weight of competition was certainly burdensome, but she made a conscious daily decision to realign her priorities with a more eternal perspective. “The greatest pressure I’ve faced is to conform,” she unveils. “Sometimes when you find yourself so wrapped up in the urgency of the competition, it can be easy to forget the priorities of a Christian lifestyle. Waking up every morning and remembering my purpose, while surrounding myself with verses in my journal were some of the things that helped me.”
Staying level-headed both during and after the competition is certainly a struggle, if only for the instantaneous fame and notoriety. Add in mounds of press coverage, social networking buzz, record label courting and offers of various artistic avenues on the table, and it’s vital for a faith-based star to say on target.
“It’s a challenge to live for Jesus when the ‘American Idol’ machine is more about living for yourself,” ponders Mandisa. “Fame can make you sell out really quickly if you don’t keep a daily focus on what and who is really important. You have to make a lot of decisions fairly quickly, and if you depend on your own thoughts and not the Lord’s, it is easy to start veering off into a dangerous direction.”
Adds newcomer/“American Idol” camp alum Katelynne Cox: “It would be easy to become influenced by your new friends and new surroundings, perhaps compromising your sense of self. As with anyone who is in the public eye, artists on ‘American Idol’ are under close scrutiny. Their every word and every move are monitored closely. Christian artists on ‘American Idol’ must be particularly mindful that their words and actions reflect those of someone professing the faith.”
Living the life
For those who can survive the media firestorm with their faith intact (which has thankfully been all of the above), the best way to spread the Good News is simply by living the life. The songwriting team of Scott Krippayne and Jeff Peabody may not have actually competed on the show, but after having penned “This Is My Now” (which was performed during the season six finale and recorded by Jordin Sparks) have noticed “Idol’s” impact can be two-fold.
“It can certainly come through in the lyrical message of a song, but could also be the way an artist conducts themselves and how they treat others behind the scenes, all in hopes of living out the love of Christ in a real and tangible way,” muses Krippayne. “We might never see much of the latter on the television program, but it could have a profound impact on the lives of those they encounter throughout the process.”
Besides being a songwriter, Peabody also serves as a pastor who boils down the entire premise of the “American Idol” influence, to the way we treat one another. “I think when you talk about impact, it always comes back to Jesus saying the way the world will know we’re His disciples is in the way we love one another,” he explains. “Songs can move people, but living a life that demonstrates the love of Christ has so much more power. One great example of how that came through on the show was when Mandisa chose to forgive [former judge] Simon [Cowell, who made a rude remark about her weight]. I bet most viewers couldn’t tell you what she sang that night, but they remember her grace.”
Perhaps Castro best sums up the intention of all believers who’ve made waves on “American Idol,” which is also the most telling in terms of their potential to impact the world at large. “I think we are letting people know that we, Christians, are not different people. We love music and singing just like everyone else and I think that is a huge invitation to check out our faith.”
Copyright 2011, watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
News You May Also Like
For many people, the holiday season is often defined by their favorite music, so it’s no wonder most artists look forward to recording their first Christmas album, and Scotty McCreery is no exception. “I got lucky. A lot of people have to wait a long time,” says the American Idol...
Jordin Sparks“Do You Hear What I Hear?”(2012)After going through the vast A Very Special Christmas annals, it’s only fitting that this list and the special end with a brand new rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” from one time “American Idol” winner...
Since its inaugural event in 1995, the growth of the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular has been nothing short of incredible. Founded by contemporary Christian pop/worship pioneers NewSong (pictured left), the multi-artist show has not only inspired arena audiences from coast to coast with a message...
Urban, Hip-hop and Gospel music's finest artists including Kirk Franklin, Lecrae, Mary Mary,...
Catch the latest pop music videos from Amy Grant, Brandon Heath, MercyMe, Francesca Battistelli,...
The Walton family befriends a young, black preacher who wants to earn money to start his own church...
Thinking himself a failure compared to his more successful former classmates, John Walton is...
Eric and Annie make plans to leave Glenoak.
Download of the Week
Pivotal scenes in a movie are even more exciting and inspiring with great music. Listen and download a song from the...