When my hands-down favorite, Metal-Rocker/Mainstream crooner, James Durbin, was eliminated from last night’s American Idol, it concluded my first experience in trying to follow a reality TV show through an entire season.
This morning, the sadness I feel over his elimination is almost embarrassing to me. But it has me wondering a few things: have those who proudly proclaim all reality TV is junk ever tried to watch an entire season? Because if you’re only watching a couple of episodes, or worse yet, catching sound bytes, it would be hard to argue your premise. The thing is, if you watch them as I think they were intended to be watched, as unfolding dramas of real people, they can increase your sensitivity to people who struggle with issues you’ve never grappled with yourself.
That said, I admit: there are some reality shows I do not watch because the very premise is offensive: Wife Swap, Jersey Shore (though I’ve seen enough to get the gist), and 16 and Pregnant come to mind.
But American Idol and Survivor do show us the inside story on people’s lives, their motivations, their view of the world in ways that can be good for us. Our presumptions about “types” of people are challenged. Sometimes, they are confirmed. When the reality shows’ premise seeks to find and polish diamonds in the rough or to unveil a seemingly ordinary person’s unique gifts and abilities, we have a chance to have their story connect with ours in ways that help us grow by facing the question: how am I and this person I do not yet know or understand walking the same road?
As a pastor who routinely fights for the misunderstood, James’ story grabbed me immediately. At the audition, we heard how this quirky but handsome 22-year-old struggles with Asberger’s and Tourette’s; how he lost his father tragically when both were too young; and how his devoted girlfriend and the mother of his 2-year old son became his champion by her unrelenting faith in his musical talent.
We watched him transform every week when he took the stage. Gone were the facial tics and awkward body movements; in their place was passion and confidence and charisma. And what a voice.
Perhaps he lost because his musical genre of choice was heavy metal. Perhaps he lost because we assumed he’d win, and so we lost our own drive to make the call and vote for him as the show demands. Perhaps we lost because it’s rigged as some have suggested.
Or perhaps he lost because it was time for him to leave that place and take the next fork in the road of his life.
At any rate, watching Idol this season taught me a couple of things about myself. 1. Don’t presume reality shows have nothing to offer our society. It may be true with some; but it isn’t true with all. 2. Don’t presume that even the most outwardly confident, gifted musician is equally confident within. More likely, their internal struggle is much like yours or mine. 3. Don’t presume the outcast will forever be the outcast and that society has not changed in the last 22 years. While the world will always have its share of haters, many people really do seek to understand those differences that separate us from one another, and along with that understanding comes compassion.
Thank you, James Durbin. For showing the world (or at least 72 million voters), another side of the Autism prism.
I pray you well. Shine on you crazy diamond…
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