Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Turning the Other Cheek on ‘Idol’

posted by ellen leventry

American Idol contestant Mandisa Hundley threw the book at brash Brit judge Simon Cowell Wednesday night–a bit of the Good Book, that is. After the full-figured Hundley’s initial audition in Chicago, Cowell raised eyebrows and ire by asking if the stage was “Going to be bigger this year” and responding to Paula Abdul’s comment that she sounded like former Idol contestant Frenchie Davis by saying “Forget Frenchie, she’s like France.”

Last night, after the contestants made their way to a semi-final group of 44, Mandisa and the other Idol hopefuls faced judges Randy Jackson, Paula, and Simon one last time to find out whether they had made it to the final group of 24. Instead of releasing a string of expletives at Simon, a common occurrence on the show, Mandisa calmly addressed him saying:

A lot of people want me to say a lot of things to you. But this is what I want to say to you. Yes, you hurt me and I cried and it was painful… But I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you, and that you don’t need someone to apologize to forgive them. And I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, then I could certainly extend that same grace to you.

A very refreshing sentiment on a show where God’s name is usually invoked by braggarts. Jackson responded to Mandisa’s spiel with an “Amen,” while Cowell confessed, “I’m humbled… I’m just so appalling aren’t I?”

Apparently, Hundley has discovered the one thing that cows Simon Cowell–forgiveness.

CCM Artists Get a “Second Chance”

posted by kris rasmussen

Because I spent my formative teen years avidly listening to Christian music artist Michael W. Smith and Christian rocker/satirist Steve Taylor, I watched “The Second Chance,” a movie which stars Smith and was directed by Taylor, hoping it would not be another cheesy, small-budget Christian flick that would do nothing to convince Hollywood that Christians know anything about storytelling. The movie, which opens in very limited release tomorrow, attempts to earnestly look at church politics, racial division, and urban outreach to the poor by throwing Ethan (played by Smith)–a prodigal son/former musician/associate pastor–together with an unorthodox and often angry African-American pastor, Jake. (Ethan has been sent by his wealthy suburban church to “observe and learn” at Jake’s inner-city church, The Second Chance Community Church.)

Though the acting performances, including Smith’s, are all surprisingly respectable–and I have seen far worse overtly Christian films than this one–there is still much to be critical of in this movie, which beats us over the head again and again with every spiritual cliché possible. But then again, this movie is clearly intended solely for the conservative Christian church community. It is obvious that “Second Chance” was not conceived as a platform to reach the secular marketplace and has no interest in what Hollywood might think of it. So maybe it will touch its intended audience in some way and prompt some healthy conversation among those churchgoers who attend the movie.

But for me, the disappointment lingered long after the final credits rolled, because I want to see Taylor one day direct a truly great indie film that says something fresh about the Christian journey. I have to believe anyone who wrote the lyrics to “I blew up the clinic real good” and “I want to be a clone” has it in him. So when his next flick comes out, I will still give Taylor a second chance and watch it.

The New Teen ‘Vagina Monologues’?

posted by donna freitas

I had the fortune to attend the stage debut in Burlington, VT, last weekend of “A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl” (Wendy Lamb/Random House), based on Tanya Lee Stone’s novel of the same name. The story–about three high school girls who all have the misfortune (or is it fortune?) to date and get their hearts broken by the same “bad boy”–was performed with humor, style, and grace by four local teen actors, and I left the show thinking this novel-turned-play is the next “Vagina Monologues,” though this one’s for the teen crowd.

The setup was simple: Three stools–Josie, “The Freshman”; Nicolette, “The Girl Who Gets Around”; and Aviva, “The Girl Everybody Likes”–sat on stools (or used them as props) and delivered a series of monologues, while the resident “Bad Boy” lurked silently in the background, making faces and looking over their shoulders, as they debated, pined, and agonized over whether or not to succumb to his charms and give him what he really wanted–sex.

For all the many recently released young adult novels that take on the topic of teens and sex (“Rainbow Party” by Paul Ruditis, “Sandpiper” by Ellen Wittlinger to name two)-and which often include graphic descriptions of sexual encounters–Stone’s novel, told entirely in verse, is laugh-out-loud funny, emotionally engaging, and sensitive, as it portrays the girls’ feelings as the “Bad Boy” gambles with their hearts and depicts the girls sexual experiences–of which there are many.

A highlight from Josie in “Testing the Waters”: “We’re totally alone, and I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to hold out on him. According to him, he’s been unbelievably ultra patient.” And from Aviva in “Short Week”: “I’m hyped up from all this attention. It’s not just all the attention he’s paying me, either. It’s like suddenly I’m not just a Criss-Crosser. Suddenly I’m major Mainstream.” These are vivid examples of the show’s many reflections on how a relationship, sex, and being “picked” by a certain boy can change a girl’s social status, wreak havoc on her sense of self, make her feel at one moment thrilled and at another crushed, and tempt her into decisions she will later regret.

The best part of all? Despite the heartbreak, the decisions to have sex with the wrong boy (one girl holds out and gets dumped as a result–you’ll have to read to find out which one resists), all three girls find astonishing empowerment, community, and a much-needed space to talk openly and honestly about being a girl who’s thinking about having sex–or not–in high school. I imagine this book will be widely read (perhaps clandestinely so) by teen girls everywhere, but most of all, I hope to see stage performances of “A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl” coming soon to high schools all over, because it’s the perfect and much-needed conversation starter for discussing sex, for adults and teens alike.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy’s Mystical Side

posted by donna freitas

For fantasy fans who have yet to discover newcomer Jonathan Stroud’s “The Bartimaeus Trilogy,” get ready to indulge. Stroud’s writing is superb, his characters–and his demons–are funny and variant, and now the final installment in this three-book saga about the trials and tribulations of magicians, commoners, and several species of demons in Britain is out and available.

Fantasy geeks like myself generally appreciate the way that fantasy literature plays with, and often reinterprets, religious traditions, institutions, rituals, and divinities, as well as the idea of religious experience itself. Stroud’s third installment in particular, “Ptolemy’s Gate,” has its own interesting leap into the realm of mysticism, exploring the ideal of a mystical “Reality” or “Oneness.” This is represented by what Bartimaeus calls “The Other Place”–the place where all demons go when magicians relieve them of their duties on earth, a place where “there are no divisions” and where life is “not about doing. It’s about being.” In a rare act of fellowship between human to djinn (spirit), Kitty Jones, a pivotal character in the story, travels to this “Other Place,” and she finds herself trying to describe an experience that mystics across traditions claim is rather beyond words. She echoes their sentiment:

She found herself in–well, in did not seem quite appropriate: she found herself part of a ceaseless swirl of movement, neither ending nor beginning, in which nothing was fixed or static. It was an infinite ocean of lights, colors, and textures, perpetually forming, racing, and dissolving in upon themselves, though the effect was neither as thick or solid as liquid nor as traceless as a gas; if anything it was a combination of the two, in which fleeting wisps of substance endlessly parted and converged.”

There is much to recommend this trilogy. In addition to its religious undertones, don’t forget to read every last footnote in Bartimaeus’s chapters, since they provide some of the best humor throughout the entire series.

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