Saturday, March 21, 2009

More on church support

By Corey J. Hodges, pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Utah
In a recent article, highlighted the Christian singers on this season of Fox Network's "American Idol." The piece pointed out that a number of the contestants are either worship leaders or have strong affiliations to their church. The story was ridiculed by some for its suggestion that the contestants' faith will resonate with viewers and affect the final outcome of the show.

For world-renowned singers such as Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and Amy Grant, the church was their initial exposure to public singing. Houses of worship have always been a training ground of sorts for up-and-coming musicians; choirs, worship teams and church bands afford artists a unique and invaluable opportunity to hone their skills. There is of course mutual benefit -- the musician is seeking experience and most churches do not have the money to hire professional musicians and are happy to accommodate aspiring artists.

But opportunities for religious musicians outside the church are even scarcer than in the secular industry. Incomes are considerably lower and thus many religious-bred artists opt to pursue their careers in more mainstream genres. Not surprisingly, some of these aspiring singers end up on shows such as "American Idol."

Previous "American Idol" success stories such as Academy and Grammy award winner Jennifer Hudson, who began singing in her church choir at age 7, seemed considerably more polished than her peers not only vocally but also with her stage presence throughout the competition. What usually allows such individuals to break away from the pack is experience; the typical church vocalist sings in front of audiences each week and has had plenty of practice. Not only are majority of this year's finalists church singers but three of the seven "American Idol" winners -- Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Jordin Sparks -- were all known to have started singing in church.

In a follow-up article, MTV noted that some readers did not believe that a contestant's faith had anything to do with their singing or their ultimate standing on the show. This is debatable. For some contestants, their religious influence is evident during their performance either because they choose a Christian song or because of their musical style. When watching Barrino, the season three winner who began singing in her church at age 5, it was clear her singing was influenced by gospel music.

Fox also occasionally highlight's the finalist's personal lives, which sometimes reveals a commitment to faith. Some readers responding to MTV's column criticized Christians for voting for a contestant simply because of a shared faith, but this is a reality of human nature; last season most Utahns were rooting for the runner-up David Archuleta of Murray.

If "American Idol" was strictly about technique, then the singer with the best combination of talent, experience and training would always win, but popularity plays a big part. Were the stakes higher this may be problematic, but in this context, a person of faith rooting for another person of faith is natural and has no real consequence.

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