I was not planning to watch the new season of "American Idol." I want to say that upfront.
With the deluge of reality tv contests that inundate our tv screens (the best of which, I think, is "So You Think You Can Dance" and the worst "America's Got Talent"), I'd just decided I had better ways to spend my time then sit through one more season. Besides, I'd grown tired of the sort of hyper-criticism these shows thrive on, each with their own version of a Simon Cowell who enjoys making amatuers feel about two inches tall.
But as it turns out, I did happen to catch the first episodes of the new "Idol" (it's easier than going to the gym) and I was pleasantly surprised. Despite what I had assumed, no effort was made to mold either of the new judges in Cowell's image. This was a "kindler, gentler" show, with no one waiting to pounce with glee on deluded contestants, blanketing them with colorful metaphors to explain just how awful they sang. Who would have guessed that Stephen Tyler would be the sweetest judge, especially with the contestants that clearly cannot sing.
Can we hope this is part of the at least temporary turn toward civility in our land? Perhaps we no longer get such a thrill out of seeing other people torn down for our amusement. I have worked for years to encourage youth in my care to try to end the habit of insulting each other as a form of playfulness. Teens put each other down all the time and then respond "I was only joking," but we can never know how other teens are receiving those words. This is why I think we need to work to make our youth ministries "put down free zones," where we hug a friend instead of punching them in the arm or tell someone we love them rather than zinging them with an insult. Creating these pockets of positivity in our teens' lives might actually be an opportunity to give them a glimpse into the Kingdom of God where all are welcome and all are loved unconditionally.