My family knows that every Tuesday evening is my “American Idol” time. I’m not embarrassed to admit, I’ve been a fan since day one. I love it! I even vote.
It’s hard not to get attached to these talented strangers, who quickly become household names. But as Simon reminds us regularly in his British accent, “this is a singing competition.” While I agree that I may never have “met” any of these contestants if it weren’t for their vocal gift, it’s not the only reason why I (and millions of others) watch and vote. For several weeks, each singer’s voice and personal stories enter our homes through the TV. We get to know who they are, where they came from, and learn about their aspirations as well as disappointments. It’s truly an emotional roller coaster ride.
Earlier this year, 17-year-old Katie Stevens sang Etta James’ “At Last” to her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. After the song, she explained to the judges how her grandmother, who helped raised her, has been so supportive of her dream. It meant the world to her to sing that song on the “American Idol” stage for her grandmother while she still recognized her. How fast did your heart melt after hearing that? I can’t imagine there was a single dry eye in the house. At least not in mine.
Another emotional moment came when 24-year-old Lee DeWyze (my favorite this season) visited his family in Chicago this March (watch the video here). The outpouring of love and support from his family and fans, left the “Idol” finalist feeling so overwhelmed and touched that he couldn’t fight back the tears. He got choked up as he entered the gymnasium full of cheering kids at his elementary school and when he was reunited with former coworkers from the paint store where he used to dream about singing. Then he performed Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” (the beloved song that his father had introduced him to and that helped inspired his passion). That’s when he finally broke down and cried as his parents mouthed the words to the song in the crowd. I’d swear I saw Simon shed a few tears as he watched the heartbreaking footage of the home visit.
Both “At Last” and “The Boxer” are two great examples of the power of song. You don’t need to be a singer to appreciate how powerful and symbolic music can be. When that song on the radio or iPod strikes a chord with you, it’s like magic. It perfectly explains how you are feeling, inspires you to act, or takes you back to a pivotal moment in time. For each of us, a song can be part of a personal journey or an inspiration for some goal we’ve set for ourselves.
And I think that is part of the pull of “American Idol.” It is no accident that the popular reality TV show continually explores old genres and artists. The producers know that these classic songs are close to many Americans’ hearts. It’s amazing to see a new generation re-interpret, connect and find inspiration in them. “American Idol” is really one of the most sentimental shows on TV.
P.S. This Wednesday night, “American Idol” will conclude it’s ninth season with a winner. No matter who that person is, the power of the song has been an important part of their journey and mine, as a devout fan.