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A Look Back at Idol

April 22, 2009

I wrote this last year and posted it on my Facebook. I thought I would “re-run” it on this blog since we are in the thick of the search for the new American Idol. 

Written and posted on April 15, 2008

I have to admit it; I watch American Idol. Okay, if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m somewhat addicted to the show. I actually even vote for my favorites. My attraction to the show caught me by surprise. A couple of years ago I was watching the audition rounds of the shows with my kids. It seems that was the only portion of the season they actually enjoyed. Unlike my kids, I found myself beginning to root for some of the contestants that made it to Hollywood. While my children became disinterested after the competition began, I started voting for my favorites. 

This past week was the “Idol Gives Back” episode. This is the 2nd annual show in which Idol brings together talented individuals in the music and television industry to try to raise money to help children and young people in poverty in America and around the world. During the closing on Wednesday, April 9th, the top 8 American Idols sang one of my favorite worship songs, “Shout to the Lord” by Darlene Zschech. The producers had the Idols change the words of the song. They substituted the word “Jesus” with “Shepherd”. To be honest, I really didn’t notice the change that night. I think I was so struck by them singing an openly praise and worship song, that I missed they took out the one word that distinguishes this song as a Christian song. The next night was the week’s “reveal” show. This is the weekly show in which they announce the results of the voting and reveal who goes home and who goes on for another week. During this show, one night after they took the word “Jesus” out of the song, they started the show off with the same song, but this time they sang the song as Darlene Zschech wrote it, putting Jesus’ name back in the song. 

Needless to say this tinkering with the song caused a lot of discussion on the Idol blogs. I read many of the blogs with interest but none of the comments expressed my feelings on the subject. I am in the middle of studying the book of Exodus and the week prior to this episode of Idol, I was studying Exodus 20, which is the chapter in which Moses receives the 10 Commandments from God. In Exodus 20:7, God is commanding us not to take “the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Some of the Hebrew meanings for the word “vain” are: nothingness, vanity, falsehood, emptiness of speech (lying), and worthlessness of conduct. Usually when we think about this commandment we think of people using God’s name when they are cursing. While this is definitely an example of breaking the 3rd commandment, it is not the only way in which we disrespect God and His name. In Deuteronomy 28:58 it reminds us that to honor and respect the “awesome name, the LORD your God”, is to obey Him. When we utter the name of God in a flippant way we are treating it lightly as if the meaning was empty or vain. Also, when we make claims of worshiping Him but have no real relationship with Him that causes us to obey Him, we are taking His name in vain. 

This brings me back to Wednesday and Thursday’s performance of “Shout to the Lord” on Idol. As I was watching the contestants sing I increasingly became uncomfortable. It is hard for me to explain this without sounding judgmental. I do not know these contestants nor do I know their heart or their relationship with Jesus. I have watched them over the past couple of months and I have my opinions about their faith, but that is from a long-distance perspective, which is very unreliable. However, I think I can sense when someone is singing a song such as this with a heart full of worship and adoration of Jesus their personal Savior, and also a person who is performing a song, which happens to be religious. It is all in the motivation. Are they worshiping Jesus, the Christ, or are they just performing a song? As I watched the performance, I heard a pretty song, sung well. In some of their faces, I sensed worship, and in others I sensed performance. It was then that I thought, “That is an example of taking the LORD’s name in vain”. I then searched YouTube for a performance of the song by Hillsong. As I watched Darlene Zschech and the others sing this song, my heart was warmed and I felt the presence of God.

This brings me to a different conclusion than many of the bloggers who are complaining about the producers substituting “Shepherd” for “Jesus”. Most of the bloggers are focusing on the word substitution. I’ve come to the conclusion that the producers shouldn’t have selected this song as a “group song” in the first place. I think the selection of an openly Christian worship song should be the choice of the singer. When individuals who have experienced redemption and forgiveness from God sing songs like “Shout to the Lord”, the listeners get a glimpse of the awesomeness of God. The focus is put where it belongs, on Him. When non-believers sing it, the focus is on the singer, and thus the meaning of the name of God is “empty” or vain. 

April 9, 2008 version on American Idol 

April 10, 2008 version on American Idol

Darlene Zschech and Hillsong’s version 

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