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About the Author

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Andrea Useem, creator and publisher of, is a freelance journalist and editor based in Northern Virginia who specializes in writing about religion. Andrea holds a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, as well as a Bachelors degree in religion from Dartmouth College. Previously, Andrea worked as a freelance journalist in Eastern Africa for four years; she has also lived in Muscat, Oman. She is married and has three sons.

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The Religion of American Idol: Random Faith Facts about Season 7 Finalists

UPDATE April 22: For the first time (I think) Jason Castro wore a cross during the show — maybe a shout out to his fellow Christians?

No distraction is more satisfying for me right now than watching American Idol, which I look forward to watching tonight with my neighbor and husband while folding laundry. I’ve written elsewhere about how American Idol is not only a successful example of the type of “pro-am collaboration” meant to be the future of journalism, but also shows how a more democratic process of “electing” superstars can result in a cleaner, less sexified entertainment universe.

But although American Idol offers a couple hours a week of distraction from my busy work/family life, my religion radar is still on while I watch. The opening auditions provided plenty of interesting faith moments, as when one contestant, Bruce Dickson, was mocked by the judges for his pledge of abstinence until marriage (to be fair to the judges — he was gratingly sincere and even a little creepy: Dickson and his father each wear matching locket pieces to signify Bruce’s abstinence pledge). But auditions are long gone, and now it’s all about the finalists. Here are my best guesses about a few of the finalists’ religious beliefs and backgrounds:

Brooke White: The 24-year-old from Mesa AZ, was the first to trigger the religion radar, when she told the judges during her audition that she’s never seen an R-rated movie or tasted alcohol. Gee, what could explain that? For those in the know, it was clear from the get-go that White is an observant Mormon and proud of it. Gushes one Mormon blogger: “For those of you who just were not quite ready, to take to a Mormon for President… how about a Mormon American Idol, who happens to be women, blond, talented and proud of her LDS Values!”

David Archuleta, a 17-year-old from Murray, Utah (okay, that makes it easy,) has kept his Mormon faith a bit quieter. But that hasn’t stopped Mormon bloggers from excitedly pointing out his faith, even calling him “a Mormon hottie.”

Of course, Mormons have made reality TV history before, including:

  • Ken Jennings, the biggest winner ever on Jeopardy!, who tithed ten percent of his winnings on the show to the LDS church.
  • Ryan Benson, winner of the 2005 season of the reality TV weight-loss show The Biggest Loser
  • Canadian-born Carmen Rasmusen, finalist on American Idol, Season 2 (2003), and
  • Jon Peter Lewis, finalist on American Idol, Season 3 (2004).

Carly Smithson was born in Dublin, so is most likely a Catholic? But she’s revealed no hint of interest in religion. Smithson sports a number of tattoos, as does her husband. Are tattoos allowed in the Catholic faith? Father Timothy Johnson, a priest in Eastern North Dakota who answers faith questions online, has this to say on the matter: ” Tattooing is regarded in Sacred Scripture as a pagan practice… It is considered to be a mutilation of the body in contravention of the Fifth Commandment.” To be fair to Carly, however, the church has no official teaching on the matter. As a nun in Yucca Valley, Calif., said, tattooing is practiced by traditional cultures that have embraced Catholicism, and they are part of the “universal church.”

Chikezie Eze (booted from the show in late March) is the son of immigrant Nigerian parents. Given that his name is Igbo, it’s fair to assume he grew up in a charismatic Protestant household, since most Igbos embraced Christianity after it was introduced during British colonial occupation (though there is a famous group of Igbo Jews as well.) In the traditional Igbo faith, the supreme being is known as Chukwu, and Igbo parents often give children names that incorporate the name for God. In a conference call with reporters, Chikeze said his first name means “something well created by God.”

Know anything else about the religious backgrounds of Idol finalists? Let us know…

UPDATE: Yes, JB, thanks for the tip. A video of Idol finalist Jason Castro singing “Clumsy” by Christian singer Chris Rice is all over the web: see it here on GodTube. Commenters after the video say they are so happy to learn that Castro is “Christian” — i.e. an evangelical Protestant. Writes one commenter: “I didn’t know he was christian… now he’s my favorite.” And another: “its awesome how he uses his talent 2 praise God!!!!!!!!!!” Though Castro was born in Texas, both of his parents are native Columbians, who were most likely born Catholics, but may have, like many in Latin and South America, converted to charismatic/evangelical Protestantism. According to the Dallas Morning News, Castro is a member of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas.

There Are 7 Responses So Far. »

  1. I’m pretty sure Jason Castro is a Christian. There are UTube videos of him singing in his church and of him singing a Chris Rice song! Go Jason!

  2. Yes He goes to Lake Pointe Church in Texas and he is on the worship team and he is a Christian.You can see him singing on God Tube and on You Tube.

  3. I have been looking for confromation on David Archuleta and Brooke White being lds and now I found out about another one thanks!!

  4. I stumbled across this site. You people are scary. Can’t you enjoy your own face without trying to obliterate others? Some guy in North Dakota says tattoos are evil so that is the final word? Some girl is “blond” so she is more desirable. Scary this cult goes on in our country. I’m gay and when I see someone wearing a cross I feel like a Jew seeing someone wearing a Swaztica. I know that person thinks I’m evil and that I’m going to hell. People who wear are proudly showing their hating heart for all the world to see. I know to run from this weirdo as fast as I can. Can’t you just watch a singing competition without dividing the contestants into the “heavens” and “Hells” Thanks God they got those children away from the rapists and child molesters in Texas, they are coming for YOU next.

  5. Jason always looks stoned and lately has been acting like he couldn’t care less. I hope that is just my impression and not the truth. If he is a Christian he should give his best for the Lord and stop being such a slacker. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but he is a well-known person now and his witness will be impaired if people see him that way.

  6. Hmm, Michael Johns is from Australia, which is home to Darlene Zschech and Hillsong Church, so that means that he is probably … I’m sorry, but I think that this is a little silly.

    I just read an interview with Mandisa and other Christians from past seasons, and she identified Chris Daughtry, Katharine McPhee, and Kellie Pickler as the other believers from her year. I recalled some controversy about whether McPhee was a Scientologist, but I had no idea.

  7. Amazing discussions about American idols. Thanks!

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