The Gospel According to American Idol

This is an article written by Enation drummer, Richard Lee Jackson

As a serious musical artist, I’m not supposed to be a fan of American Idol. I care about art form and independence, originality and substance. Often times the popular iconic reality show is anything but that. It can be corny, contrived, insulting, unoriginal, and way too en masse. ‘If the masses love it, I shouldn’t,’ is a common feeling among the artistic community. I get that. I really
do. But I am a fan.

Not every year have I been glued to the TV twice a week to see who is going to rise to the occasion or fall, but this year happens to be one of the years where I am. There are many reasons why I am a fan of American Idol (side note: I could care less about the beginning stages of the competition where the worst contestants are there to get either 15 seconds of fame or be utterly
humiliated and insulted on national TV. When the show hits its stride in Hollywood week, that’s when it becomes interesting to me.) One of the main reasons I enjoy the show is because the whole premise is centered around people going out on a limb to follow their dreams, giving ordinary people, Moms, Dads, plumbers, students, teachers, architects, you name it, a chance to make it in an unforgiving world through God-given talent and a lot of hard work––a theme my life often revolves around as an artist in several fields. The show is unforgiving to its contestants. Week after week, month after month, these contestants withstand global pressure, a grueling work schedule, being away from their families, and their new found fame only to have it all end in a moments notice when their name is read by host Ryan Seacrest as the lowest vote getter for the week, followed by an often times calloused, “Pack your bags” or “You should have done better” remark from super judge and harsh critic Simon Cowell.

But this year American Idol has brought a whole new element to the show: GRACE. The viewers became aware of a new rule
implemented in season eight called the ‘judges save’––essentially the four judges can choose one contestant to give a ‘save’ to even if that contestant has gotten the lowest number of votes, thus giving that person another week to keep his or her dream
alive. It has to be unanimous, and it can only be used once, we were told. There had already beenseveral very talented contestants who had hoped for the judges save but were told it was the ‘end of the road’. Now, months into the competition and
down to only seven contestants left, it was bluesy soulful singer Matt Giraud who stood on stage during the results show and heard his name called as the contestant with the lowest number of votes. In seasons past, that would have been the end of it. It would be time to pack your bags and go home. Game over. No mercy. You failed. Goodbye.

But the torture for young Matt was that there was still hope. He was given the microphone and told to sing for his life, which he did. After much deliberation from the four judges, and some high drama, Simon turned to his microphone and looked right at the nervous contestant standing before him. “Matt… it’s good news,” Simon said. Matt’s visceral response to that good news? He
wept on stage, overwhelmed and thankful for the gift of a second chance. In pondering that moment, I thought to myself, ‘That’s grace in action’.

Interestingly enough, if translated from Greek, Simon could have just as easily said, “Matt, it’s gospel.” Gospel literally means “good news”. When Christians talk about the gospel of Jesus, they are talking about the same kind of gut reaction Matt had on stage that anyone would have to receiving the news of being loved, saved, forgiven, freed from the bondage of guilt and sin,
cherished, adored, and valued unconditionally. Not because we deserve it, not because we have “earned it”––but because it is a gift coming from a God Who wants us with Him and was willing to die for us to make it so.

As I watched Matt’s reaction to grace, I couldn’t help but see myself in that moment. I too have felt the sweet release of undeserved favor. I have felt the thankfulness in my heart rise up in unspeakable terms, where all that is left to do is weep for joy at the new lease on life I have been given by God. I have heard in my heart, “Richard, it’s good news.”

Did Matt Giraud deserve the save? In the sense of the rule of law, or justice, the answer is no. He was already voted off. But the judges saw something in him that was worth saving. It’s the same way God sees us. In the sense of justice and the law, we fall short of perfection. But God sees something in us of such infinite value and worth that He chose to offer us the gift of grace. But that’s the whole nature of grace; it is undeserved, but motivated by love. That’s the gospel. That’s grace. The judges could have looked on him and had no mercy. God could look on us and have no mercy. But through the sacrifice of Jesus, God showed us His incredible love. And, in some strange way, the judges of American Idol represented that same kind of grace and unmerited favor towards Matt.

Funny, I never would have expected to find such a thing from American Idol. And certainly not from Simon Cowell. But I did.
No wonder I’m a fan.

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