<em>American Idol</em> "Shout to the Lord" Controversy and Results

Asking all the kids to do a group sing on a born-again evangelical Christian number is wrong for many reasons. As a practicing Catholic I was stunned and upset for the performers.
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Ok, first a rundown of the results show and then the controversy. Ryan Seacrest announced they'd raised $60 mil so far. I assume after all is said and done they'll raise more than last year, which is the Jerry Lewis Standard of Success for a telethon.

Brooke White, David Cook and David Archuleta were all pronounced safe. Then Jordin Sparks did a fine duet with Chris Brown of her smash hit "No Air." I think Jordin is going to prove a much more durable artist than those who dismissed her as a teeny-bopper will expect. She's already had several huge pop hits (including "No Air" and "Tattoo") and sure her album has only gone gold but people aren't buying albums right now. She looked great and sounded great.

Then Jason Castro was safe. Is this guy gonna slide his way in mellow fashion all the way to the final three? Sure feels like it. He's barely placed a foot wrong. Ryan teased Kristy Lee Cook before admitting she had avoided the bottom three -- where she lives -- and was safe.

THE BOTTOM THREE -- Syesha Mercado, Carly Smithson and Michael Johns. I had predicted Syesha and Carly and Brooke, with Syesha sadly going home. We saw promos from all three Presidential candidates with John McCain pretending he watches the show (joking about Simon when he wasn't joking about voting scandals in Florida and Michigan) and Barack Obama proving the only one to stand next to the American flag.

Then Boom! Ryan dropped the news that Michael Johns was going home so abruptly that people weren't quite sure for a moment what had happened. Very annoyingly, Ryan then reminded us that last year they had not sent anyone home before pausing dramatically...and then telling Michael he was going home anyway. They should have made clear at the top of the show that someone was going home. Using it to torture the loser was especially mean. Syesha really dodged a bullet (and I've got a crush on her) while Carly was convinced the entire night she was going home and was the only one to really cry at the end. Then Michael sang a defiant "Dream On." This wasn't really a shock. Was Michael Johns going to make the finals? Nope. So then going home before the finals (in whatever order) isn't a shock or a scandal.

THE "JESUS" CONTROVERSY -- Confession: I fast-forwarded through Idol Gives Back because life is too short to watch telethons. I caught the kids singing "Seasons of Love" from Rent but apparently missed another finale where they sang "Shout To The Lord," an evangelical Christian tune written by Darlene Zschechand covered by Ruben Studdard. The first line of the wildly popular tune is "My Jesus, my Savior." On the telethon show, the lyrics were changed from "My Jesus" to "My Shepherd."

That's their first big mistake. If you're going to sing a gospel tune, sing it. Why change that word? Just a week earlier, at least two songs by Dolly Parton were performed that mentioned Jesus. Not surprisingly, some evangelical Christians were annoyed, debating among themselves whether it was better than nothing to hear the song with the word "Jesus" dropped and so on.

Bizarrely, they began tonight's show with all the kids singing "Shout To The Lord" AGAIN, this time reinstating the proper words "My Jesus, my Savior." Big mistake number two and in fact it really compounded the mistake they made the night before by making the song a group performance.

Thursday night was the first time I heard them perform this tune and as a practicing Catholic I was stunned, annoyed, upset for the performers and angry that this show had stumbled in such a stupid way.

Don't get me wrong: during Dolly week I suggested that some day they have a theme week devoted to songs of faith/gospel, which is practically what Inspirational Week is anyway. I love gospel music and have dozens of CDs ranging from classics by Mahalia Jackson to the soundtrack to the terrific documentary Say Amen, Somebody to the great Marion Williams and more recent artists. (Not to mention religious music from around the world and many other faiths.) I'm happy to hear individual singers perform gospel tunes, even if they do come from a more evangelical wing of Christianity than I adhere to. And of course with the kids free to choose whatever song they want, songs of faith could be anything from the spiritual "Didn't It Rain" to Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" to Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus" to XTC's acerbic "Dear God." But asking all the kids to do a group sing on a born-again evangelical Christian number is wrong for many reasons.

1. It's unfair to the performers who want to win -- Pressuring them to sing an evangelical number is wrong. Who wants to be revealed as the Idol who refused to sing a song about Jesus? Think that might hurt their chances with Middle America? They should never have been put in that position.

2. It's unfair to the performers of conscience -- I'm a Catholic and that's a tune we would never sing in Church, though none of its lyrics are of the sort that conflict with my faith. (Though many evangelical tunes, in fact, do and entire trends in Christian music are embraced by liberal evangelicals, rejected by conservative evangelicals and vice versa.) But what about the Idols who aren't Christian? Maybe some of them are Buddhist or agnostic or Jewish or Muslim or god forbid, atheist.

3. It's offensive to the viewers -- I'm a Catholic and I was offended. I don't turn on Idol to be converted or evangelized to by the show -- and that's exactly what a group sing-along is. It's a statement by the show, not individual kids. America is the most religiously diverse country in the world (and I live in Queens, New York -- the most religiously and ethnically diverse corner of the world). That's something to celebrate and it also means respecting other faiths and people of no faith. You don't do that by hijacking Idol to make all the kids sing about Jesus. Even if each and every one of them is born again and dying to sing the praises of the Lord, you don't alienate the viewers like me -- and most Americans are not evangelicals -- who don't identity with that particular strand of Christianity.

Dropping the "Jesus" from "Shout to the Lord" was a big mistake. Making all the Idol contestants sing it together in the first place was an even bigger one. If any individual Idol wanted to sing it, fine. But a group sing-along? Wrong. What do you think?

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