SPOILER ALERT: This post reveals the winner of season eight.
When it comes to American Idol, does Jesus take the wheel?
I've been supporting Kris Allen for months but it wasn't because he was a Christian. (I didn't know he was a worship leader or has done missionary work in numerous countries around the world. And I'm pretty sure he didn't know I was an altar boy for years and now collect the money when the basket is handed around at my church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.)
But for a theory about how Kris pulled an upset over the wildly popular Adam Lambert, the Christian vote is a pretty good one. It's certainly one factor. (So is talent, Tiger Beat ready looks and viewers who get tired of being told someone is a lock when they haven't even voted yet.) In fact, look at seasons past and where there's a clear Christian vs secular showdown, the Christians have been winning handily. Take that, Charles Darwin! Sometimes the survival of the fittest goes to the person with the best telephone prayer chain. Check it out. (And please keep in mind I'm not talking about their personal faith, just our perception of it from what we told on the show at the time they were competing. Someone I describe as worldly might be exceptionally devout while the contestant prominently sporting a cross might be at the juke joint on Saturday and never even make it to church on Sunday.)
Season One featured wholesome Kelly Clarkson vs the worldly, media savvy Justin Guarini. Clarkson won big time and set the standard for Idols to come.
Season Two: Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard both held forth on their faith. Ruben had an edge perhaps from the tight-knit black churches that came out strong for him. But this was a Christian vs Christian finale so you can't draw any conclusions from this one.
Season Three: trailer park gal Diana Degarmo vs Fantasia, who had all those years of experience singing in church to draw upon. Fantasia wins it.
Season Four: Good ole country boy Bo Bice (who looks like he might have been smuggling moonshine before getting tapped for the show) vs Carrie Underwood. Her signature tune? "Jesus Take The Wheel. The winner? Duh.
Season Five: Katharine McPhee vs Taylor Hicks. This felt like a secular showdown to me: McPhee was a Broadway baby with a dad in the TV industry and Hicks loved the blues/rock circuit. But is it any coincidence he won thanks to constant shout-outs to the Soul Patrol?
Season Six: Blake Lewis vs Jordin Sparks. Blake Lewis likes to beatbox and is down the with the latest sounds. You can easily picture him partying down to all hours of the morning. Sparks is an evangelical Christian sporting a purity ring. The winner? Sparks.
Season Seven: David Cook vs David Archuleta. Cook got his start in a Christmas pageant in the second grade. David Archuleta is a Mormon and that actually might have hurt him since there is little sense of community and indeed a lot of antagonism for Mormonism from other Christian sects. Just ask Mitt Romney. The winner: David Cook.
Season Eight: Adam Lambert vs. Kris Allen. Lambert has performed in road show productions of secular Broadway musicals like Wicked. Kris Allen has done missionary work in Burma, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain and Thailand. The winner? Missionary man Kris.
Obviously, this is a playful analysis of the people who make it to the finals. And no one gets to the finals without millions of viewers supporting them week after week. So don't cry foul or horrible prejudice when your favorite gets to be on stage for four months, becomes a household name and gets tens of millions of votes. Anyone who makes the final 12 has at least an outside chance of stardom. Still, the next time there's an Idol final, I'm not gonna listen to their singing, I'm gonna look into their soul. Maybe, just maybe the one that appeals to the heartland more has the better shot.