It didn’t work out so well for France’s Joan of Arc, and it didn’t work out so well for American Idol’s Anastacia Freeman either. In the last round of auditions before Hollywood, the show made use of one contestant’s belief in hearing messages from God as material for one of its ridicule-bits, leaving viewers with an uneasy sense of the show’s tone toward faith.
The segment was awkward and uncertain from the start, beginning with a shot of Idol-hopeful Freeman falling to the ground as she entered the judges area. This cued viewers in that the contestant was in for a beating, and her rather unpleasant version of Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” didn’t save the day. Having their prompt-sheet from production, the judges asked if anyone had told Freeman to audition, which she then answered honestly by saying, that God told her to (watch the Idol clip HERE).
It was all over. Randy couldn’t stop chuckling, and while some of the other judges seemed unsure how to react, the show’s editors gave clear directions to home viewers by splicing in an over-the-top mock-umentary dramatization of “Freeman” sitting in front of her television hearing the voice of God. Laugh at her, says the editing.
Admittedly, most will easily agree that Freeman’s musical abilities are rather non-existent. Some people simply are not musical, and some of those people really don’t know it. The judges are faced with these folks routinely, but only because of the structure of the show. Not every contestant who auditions steps before this year’s panel of Randy Jackson, Nikki Minaj, Mariah Carey, and Keith Urban – but many of the less talented contestants do.
The problem is that the casting team lets through three types of contestants: 1) the clearly-talented, 2) the we’re-pretty-sure-they’re-clearly-talented, and 3) the ridiculously-not-talented. That third category ought to raise some ethical flags for producers and viewers, but it seems that often the only concern is whether or not it raises the ratings.
A whole host of possibly unstable characters fits into that third category. The editors of this episode seemed to think Freeman was one, and used her belief that God told her to audition as a source for mockery. The show has never had a shortage of mockery, judges often laughing at contestants DURING the audition. This episode’s mockery of Freeman’s belief was simply a cruel way of making something out of a rather monotone episode.
It’s not that American Idol is hostile toward religion. The judges often show love for a singer’s gospel roots, Nikki Minaj reacting strongly and sincerely to a contestant’s spiritual song earlier this season, Randy Jackson praising crossover Christian artists Switchfoot in a critique of Colton Dixon last season (check out CD’s recent CCM release on iTunes), and contemporary gospel singer Mandisa finishing ninth on the fifth season of the show.
That said, mocking a contestant for such a common spiritual idea – that God speaks to people in various ways – seemed a bit messy in this episode. Ideally, the practice of letting unwittingly untalented folks on the show for the sake of laughing at them would be avoided altogether. Mocking what seemed to be a spiritual experience that Freeman believed to be real seems to have gone a bit far (even if Freeman herself seemed a bit off-kilter).
Most of the judges seemed uncertain and uncomfortable in the situation, and perhaps that should have been a cue to the production team to avoid casting such a judgment on the contestant in editing. The bit took a cheap shot at Freeman, and may have stung a few viewers with religious faith in the process.
Fill up the Comments with your thoughts on the episode. Did the contestant accept the risk of ridicule by signing up for the show? Did the production team set her up? Or is it a good thing to scoff at claims of religious experience from folks who seem a bit unstable? What about the inspiring contestant with cystic fibrosis who came right after Freeman who said “God put me here for this” – did that redeem the episode’s take on respect for religious belief or did it just seem more muddled?