Christians regularly lament their lack of representation in mainstream entertainment, but this season, the most popular show on television features a cast of vocal Christians.
Surprised? While Christians are certainly not strangers to the American Idol stage, six of this season's top 10 - Kris Allen (shown right), Matt Giraud, Danny Gokey, Scott MacIntyre, Michael Sarver, and Lil Rounds - profess Christian faith, and many of them lead worship at their home churches.
Two weeks ago MTV.com ran an article highlighting the pronounced role of faith in this eighth season of the show. The story implicitly suggested that Christians watch the show and vote for these performers because of their faith, which elicited strong reactions both for and against the idea. Critics insisted that American Idol is a singing contest, and votes should go to the best singer, regardless of personal convictions. But many Christians support like-minded contestants because of what they represent: they are lights in the darkness, hope that Christians can eschew the perceived excesses of the music business and still succeed. "Christian music has always had this cheesy label attached to it," said Joanne Brokaw, who blogs about American Idol for Beliefnet's Gospel Soundcheck. "This shows that a Christian singer can have artistic integrity and they are people who can really sing." For a show notoriously fueled by personality at least as much as by music, is this really so terrible? If the objective is to produce a successful recording artist, we need look no further than the numbers.
The Christian music industry has been good to former Idol contestants. Mandisa, who finished ninth in season five, released a gospel album that debuted at #1 on the Top Christian Albums chart and sold 160,000 units, a moderate success for a CCM album. Compare that to the 700,000 units sold by season five winner Taylor Hicks, considered a major disappointment in the secular music industry. More recently, Jordin Sparks and David Archuleta have found success in the mainstream by selecting material that is consistent with their respective professions of faith (Sparks is a Christian and Archuleta a Mormon).
During the singing portion of the show, it is difficult to distinguish the Christians from the rest of the bunch, as all contestants sing secular hits; this week they will select their songs from the Motown genre. The role of faith is limited to personal bios and brief on-air interviews, though occasionally a theme night allows for a religious selection, as when season six contestant Chris Sligh performed the dc Talk song "Wanna Be Loved" in the semifinal round.
While we can certainly celebrate the positive morals being portrayed by the Christian contestants on American Idol, it may not always be a good thing to see Christian culture broadcast on television's largest stage. Beliefnet posted a list of the top 10 religious moments on American Idol, and among them is last year's group performance of "Shout to the Lord," which both excited Christians by featuring a Christian worship song and annoyed them when they replaced Jesus' name with the word shepherd. Contestants could also potentially abuse "the Christian vote" to get ahead in the contest, or begin to feel pressure to adhere to a certain religious standard perceived as required to get votes.
This argument echoes the familiar refrains of this past election season, in which the candidates' professions and practices of faith, or lack thereof, were the source of much debate. Do we prefer our pop stars, like our politicians, to share our faith? Or is the show, ultimately, nothing more than a singing competition?
How do you feel about the portrayal of Christianity on TV's biggest stage? Does a contestant's faith influence your vote? Discuss!
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