It’s the middle of the new season of American Idol, and Simon Cowell has declared at least five people the worst singer in the world. Like its British counterpart Pop Idol, American Idol is basically a glorified talent show where the viewers select the winner and the judges tell it like it is. Last season’s final episodes boasted 25 million viewers, according to the show’s website, some who, no doubt, tuned in for Cowell’s scathing remarks.
After being named the first American Idol, Texas waitress Kelly Clarkson broke the record held by the Beatles with her first CD single, “A Moment Like This,” and this April, Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini will star in their first movie, From Justin to Kelly.
It’s enough saccharine to give cancer to a lab rat, but I’m hooked. I’m not quite sure why I like it so much. Several Idol-wannabes are competent singers, rare for pop stars these days. It’s also amusing that, with their conflicts and squabbles, I can imagine all of the contestants in a high school cafeteria. They’re an unlikely crew with one common goal: superstardom.
Like it or not, we as Christians are influenced by pop culture trends, and the American Idol star mentality has seeped into the Church. People volunteer in droves to sing a solo. Every college, it seems, has five or six Christian bands, hoping to make it “to the big time.” Yet, even though there are more people singing songs about surrender and devotion, it seems like it’s harder than ever to find volunteers to paint a wall, wash the dishes, or deliver some food baskets.
When I was in high school, everyone at my church wanted to be a singer, but Rachael eclipsed us all. She hit the high notes with a slight twinge of pain that made the ladies at our church dab their eyes. I loved to write, but the hours in front of the computer screen seemed less glamorous than the microphone, the soundtrack, and the sniffling ladies. It took me years of reading and considering Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12 to realize that I, too, was a vital part of Christ’s Body.
Perhaps I’ll never really get out of the performance mindset, although now I’d rather have Flannery O’Connor’s talent than Kelly Clarkson’s. At my weakest, I bite my fingernails and lie awake in bed, wanting to write the next great American novel and have my name on everyone’s lips—to do something that I think will matter. I feel like I need to be in the spotlight and “do something for God” when in reality, I want to glorify myself.
I know that I am not alone. I’m also convinced that part of the reason for our insecurity is that we don’t really understand God’s greatness and love. We live on platitudes, belting out songs and confidently writing stories, forgetting why we have been called to sing or write. If we continually fix our eyes upon the God whose holiness made the earthquake and the lightning flash on Sinai, the God who sits on His throne with thousands of angels hanging on His words, we will be different. When we feel the warm water as the calloused fingers of the Almighty wash the dirt from between our toes, when we hear His voice rising and falling as He prays for us in the garden, we realize that our attempts at greatness are both worthless and unnecessary. Only then can we stop straining and be free to see others’ pain, free to love.
I watched two weeks of American Idol before I saw something that affected me. In Detroit, the final audition site, the last contestant to sing was a tough-looking, tattooed mother, who left her little boy in the adjoining room while she sang. She wasn’t especially terrible or exceptional, and after about a minute, Simon & Co. sent her on her way. As she walked away from the building, she carried her child on one hip and talked to the camera. “I’m gonna make it,” she said. “There’s no opportunity in Detroit. I have to get out of here.”
There was a note of desperation in her voice, and as I watched the next couple episodes, I heard it in the other singers’ voices as they called home, hysterical about going back to college or a job they hated. Although I usually hate melodrama, something caught in my throat as they cried. Even with flawless dress and hair, they looked like children: broken, lost and afraid.
I am starting to realize that maybe it doesn’t matter if I ever get that bestseller. I will keep writing simply because that is what I am called to do. But maybe I will have a different legacy: giving a little girl a hug, being a role model, showing her that she doesn’t have to be Britney or J. Lo to be loved. Maybe I will be God’s instrument to show her that she has a gift: that, no matter how seemingly insignificant we are, we are all part of the Body.
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