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Summary: Given the popularity of reality TV shows, this series challenges Christians to look at God’s True Reality.

Rev. Lin Smalec Salem Church, Waynesboro, PA


23 October 2005

One of the most popular types of TV shows today are reality shows. Many of us have become caught up in the drama and excitement of shows like American Idol, Extreme Makeover, The Amazing Race, and Survivor. And even the reality shows of lesser quality can be addictive - how many of us have tuned in for at least one episode of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or American Princess?

The premise behind all of these shows is that they are not scripted - these are not actors featured in the show, but real people put into unreal circumstances. Part of the attraction of the reality shows is how these normal people react in such abnormal situations. We can relate with many of the competitors, because they are usually people like us. I know as a fan of Survivor, I often watch the show and imagine how I would react if I was left on a deserted island with a bunch of strangers, forced to compete as a team and individually, not only to win a bunch of money, but even just to survive the experience!

But one thing that we sometimes forget is that reality TV is not reality! Reality is defined as “the fact, state or quality of being real or genuine”. (1) Reality TV shows may be unscripted and the characters may not be actors, but that does not mean that the show is not heavily edited, and the situations are set up by the directors in order to make the show more entertaining. Reality TV is not truly real or genuine! But reality TV can be instructive for us as we examine true reality - that which is real and genuine for us as Christians living in God’s world. So this morning we will begin our study of true reality by looking at the smash hit “American Idol”

How many of you have ever watched “American Idol”? For those who haven’t, let me describe the show. “American Idol” began on the Fox network in June 2002, as an adaptation of a popular English show called “Pop Idol”. Months before the show airs, there are tryouts held in cities across the nation. Thousands of people who think they can sing come out for the tryouts. Frankly, it is the tryouts that I find most amusing, and the only part of this show that I really watch when I can. Some of these poor people are clueless - they think they have great talent, and are truly surprised when they are told “no, thank you!”

Out of the thousands of tryouts, 120 are selected to go before the infamous judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul. Thirty semifinalists are then chosen to actually compete in the show. They are divided into groups of 10, and each week one group sings on the show. The TV audience calls or text messages in to vote for their favorite three from that group. After three are selected from each group of 10, the judges select one other person to be a “wild-card” competitor. These 10 finalists then go into the most intense part of the competition. Each week they are given a specific style of music in which they must perform. The judges are brutal in their feedback, and the TV audience gets to vote for their favorites. Each week the person with the fewest votes is eliminated, until, in the grand finale, one person is selected as the newest “American Idol”, and given a lucrative recording contract.

While the show can be entertaining, it is the title of the show that fascinates me. “American Idol”. What is an idol? An idol is defined as “an image representing a god and worshipped as divine” or “one who is loved or admired to an excessive degree”. (1) It is of course this second definition that applies to the music contest of “American Idol”.

But can we, as Christians, hear the phrase “American Idol” without hearing an echo in our hearts and minds of God’s words in the Ten Commandments - “You shall have no other gods before Me”? (Exodus 20:3) Now when God spoke these words to the ancient people of Israel, He was concerned that they would follow foreign gods, building statues and images of them to bow down to and worship.

But idols can take many forms. You see, idols of all kinds can take our attention from God and they can take our energy away from Godly things. The essence of idolatry is misguided worship of things and people other than God, and misguided gratitude for what we experience or achieve. Idolatry is turning to the world for help rather than to God. Idolatry is putting other people or things on the same level as God.

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