Kris Allen's "American Idol" Victory Marks the Return of People of Faith to American Popular Music

By Mark JosephProducer/Author/Editor,

I don't watch American Idol, but I have been keeping up with what the L.A. Times, Newsweekand "The O'Reilly Factor "have been saying about an alleged red-state/blue-state showdown between the two finalists, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. Allen, it turns out is a "worship leader" at his church, which in non-Evangeli-speak roughly translates to "guy who leads the singing," while Adam Lambert is the contestant who has seen photographs of himself allegedly kissing other guys splashed across the Internet. Although Lambert didn't exactly confirm his sexual orientation other than to say that he knows who he is, it was widely seen as the showdown between the gay guy and the Christian guy, with a judgment to be rendered by middle America.


Apparently it took the Allen-Lambert showdown for Newsweek to figure out what has been happening all along with "American Idol" -- the return of people of faith into the mainstream of American popular music, both as voters and performers. I've written about the trend in two books, The Rock Roll Rebellionand Faith, God Rock 'n' Roll,and I look closely at how religion has affected "American Idol" in my next one, "Rock Gets Religion."

"...Most of his groupies have overlooked a possible roadblock to the title," Newsweek observed about Lambert's chances of winning. "Idol is the No. 1 show on TV at least in part because it's so family-friendly, and it also appeals to a large demographic of Christian viewers....Many of Idol's previous winners--Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard--are devout Christians. Coincidence? Perhaps. But we don't know much about Lambert's faith, and that might hurt him with Christian voters. He could be extremely religious, but he's kept his religious beliefs quiet."

If my Facebook wall is any indication, Christians did indeed vote in large numbers for the "Christian" AI contestant for yesterday alone I saw several Facebookers urging fellow Christians to vote for the "worship leader" Allen.

Not that there's anything wrong with affinity voting -- after all 96% of African-Americans voted for Obama. Still, the voting patterns of "Idol" viewers and the large presence of Christian performers heralds a new era of integration into mainstream culture by people of faith which, I think, is a welcome one, but which is already producing radically different pop icons from those of a generation ago.

Beginning in the late 1960's as many devout artists left mainstream music to join the "Christian music" sub-culture -- often never to be heard from again -- their influence on pop culture waned. But for the last decade the trend of Christian artists leaving the subculture behind and singing for mainstream record labels -- and talent contests has been unmistakable. To be sure there have been attempts to create faux "Christianized" versions of " American Idol" like this one, called Gifted, but they flopped and the net result means that, a strong presence by the most devout segments of our culture, both as performers and voters, will result in "American Idol" winners who go on to become pop icons of a radically kind different kind compared to those who were created in the 70's, 80's and 90's when the music business was run by highly secularized record executives who picked future stars instead of fans from the heartland as with "American Idol."

For those who like their rock and religion served separately, the future of rock music may be bleak as more and more people of faith step up to the microphone and the "Idol" voting booth. But they can also take heart from at least one outcome of the Allen-Lambert showdown, the fact that the allegedly-gay guy and the Christian guy have been the best of friends throughout the competition, even rooming together at one point. If more Americans can hold to their strongly held beliefs and still build bridges of friendship as Allen and Lambert apparently have, it may portend well for the country and the red-blue divide.