Reality TV may be better known for debauchery than devotion, but here comes Amy Grant to class up the joint.

The singer, best known for a Christian music career spanning more than a quarter of a century, is starring in the new NBC series "Three Wishes" (Fridays at 9 pm /8 pm Central time). The formula for the show is straightforward: Grant and crew roll into a small town, set up a large tent, and a huge throng of people show up, each with a wish, a need they're seeking to be fulfilled. Producers choose three wishes to tackle each week--three sob-inducing, heartstring-pulling, mercy-demanding, altruism-inducing wishes.

Wish-granter is a role Grant has been priming for her whole life, she said in a recent conference call with the media.

"I have never in my life felt so equipped for a job, ever," Grant says she told her mother after landing the gig. "I've never walked into a recording studio and felt like I was completely adequate for the job, ever. Because I don't have a very high range and I can't do a lot of vocal tricks.... But with this, I just felt very equipped, and it was great."

She is well aware of reality TV's less-than-Christian image-- "Temptation Island" anyone?--but believes "Three Wishes" bucks the trend. And, she says, she's not the only one who thinks that.

"Some of the people [who work on 'Three Wishes'] have worked on other reality shows, and I think we even have some people in the crew from 'Survivor,' and it's very typical for somebody to show up at their first day of work [on 'Three Wishes'] and go, 'Oh, thank goodness, a guilt-free job,'" she says. "Not every reality show could feel like that."

But while sex and scheming reign on reality shows like "Survivor" and "The Bachelor," there is a growing genre of programs that play to the heartstrings, with benevolent networks helping the needy fulfill their dreams (with an assist, always, from ubiquitous product placement). "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" comes to mind: the show builds new homes for worthy families, many of whom have disabled or sick children. Each home is tailored to the family's special needs, with plenty of frills and amenities thrown in, of course. The show seems to focus on--and play up--ever-more tragic stories every week; it's not just a new home, it's a new life for a well-deserving, wholesome family to whom life has dealt a cruel set of cards.

"Three Wishes," you might say, is "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" times 10. Or maybe 100. The latter takes sad stories and gives them a new home--much needed and very helpful, but ultimately leaving the blind child blind and the deaf parent deaf. "Three Wishes" takes those stories and aims to solve their problems, to the extent that is possible. The blind might not quite get the gift of sight, but disabled 10-year-old Abby Castleberry gets her life-altering surgery.

Abby is the focus of the show's first episode, its most dramatic and tear-inducing story. Horribly injured in a car accident, the 10-year-old survived but her activities are severely restricted and she--formerly a stand-out athlete--must wear a helmet to protect her now-fragile skull. "Three Wishes" gives her the best that medicine can offer, in the hopes that she will be able to live a fuller, more active life. And, along the way, Grant and colleagues build her a fully equipped play-house (big enough to be the envy of any adult, urban apartment dweller) that combines safety, fun, and physical therapy.

For Grant, the show is more than just a day job. Minutes before the phone conference with reporters, Grant says she got a call from Abby's mother--her daughter was heading into her final surgery. "I just said, 'Call me when she goes in, and I'll call home and get my family praying,'" Grant says.

Even the most cynical TV watcher will be rooting for Abby, whose eloquence and innocence make her perfect for the show. The episode's second wish, about a boy who wants to show his love and appreciation to his stepfather, begins to feel a bit contrived, but it is saved by the sweet earnestness and likeability of the boy and his family.

"There are no fingers crossed behind anybody's back."

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