Though at times they’ve looked for laughs when contestants have claimed to hear the “voice of God,” FOX’s American Idol openly embraced the Spirit as it wrapped its season 12 time in Vegas and moved back to LA. Demonstrating the power of song to move an audience and the potential for television to transcend itself, the success of Idol’s soulful singers proves yet again that the American home viewers will embrace rich and genuine religious content on primetime network programming when it’s offered to them.
Among the Top 10 who made it through based on “America’s vote” are several contestants who sang with a bit of spiritual gusto on the nights before. Included in this mix are Burnell Taylor and Candice Glover, the preacherly-inclined Curtis Finch Jr., and the web-favorite Angie K. Miller.
Angie K. Miller took the interwebs by storm with her original song during Hollywood week (view it HERE). When she was ushered into the Top 10, Keith Urban teared up, noting that she was ready to make an impact.
And an impact she sure has made. Singing a Colton Dixon song as part of the Top 20 (see it HERE), Angie reassured fans that she had a path she would follow. Her Twitter profile proclaims that “loving God and being a good influence to others is [her] goal!!” (@AngieAI12) and she has amassed tens of thousands of online followers in just weeks. Whether or not she learns from Dixon’s mistake of treading on the Gaga-wildside for the promise of votes is yet to be seen.
The fans’ reactions and the judge’s affirming reactions should go a long way toward convincing Angie and others that hers is a worthwhile path.
During the last night in Vegas, the judges brought the commercial focus of the show to a meaningful halt after Curtis belted out R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” (view it HERE). Complete with an interjected “with GOD I can [fly]!” from Curtis, the song had the judges to their feet. Echoing the sentiments of her fellow judges, Maria Carey told the Idol-hopeful that his song operated outside of a simple TV show, impacting her personally in a time of need.
For Mariah, the votes didn’t matter when listening to Curtis – the way the song impacted her in her own real human moment was what mattered. That’s the power of music, and the power of a message… and the judges celebrated it beyond its worth to their own show.
Drawing on a moving musicality that has undergirded African American churches for decades, Curtis’s song did what Angie’s did in Hollywood week, reaching more than a possible recording contract – it reached people.
It was the felt-authenticity from performances like Angie’s and Curtis’s that moved eccentric rapper-judge Nicki Minaj. Teary, she told Curtis that his was a gift from a higher power, more important than the competition. For all Minaj’s Roman/Barb eccentricities, there were likely quite a few pew-fillers at home finding themselves saying AMEN after hearing the judge’s words of wisdom.
And not to miss the direct cue, Randy Jackson brought attention to Curtis’s “with GOD” interjection in the song, saying from the judge’s table, “praise God!” with a real sense of genuineness. It is these affirming moments from mainstream industry figures that do well by the viewing audience and the contestants, bit by bit reducing the hostility or fear related to having a genuine spiritual identity in a diverse mainstream consumer culture.
Of course, much of the identity-threatening commercial component of the show is still there, but the powerful musical talent of these contestants and the positive reinforcement from the judges seems to be opening up important avenues. Last season, Colton Dixon thought he had to stray from his faith-based music to find acceptance; this season seems to be sending a different message right out of the gate.
And what are your thoughts? Does Idol force contestants to dilute their spiritual sides too much? Or do you think the would-be-artists might not be genuine at all, hoping to cash in on the big market share that religious music has to offer? Are you part of the Twitterati that thinks Curtis could use a dose of humility with his gospel? Or did his performances move you too? Are you voting for Angie or Curtis? Maybe Burnell, Candice, or one of the others?
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