To liberally paraphrase the author of Ecclesiastes, of the making of talent competitions on network television there is no end. While there are minor variations in judging and format, they and the singers who appear on them are pretty much indistinguishable.
But every once in a while, something happens to remind us that we don’t have to settle for the addicting silliness and artistic anemia pop culture offers.
A recent audition episode of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” featured the usual fare: talented-enough wannabe pop stars. But then a trio called “Forte” trotted on stage.
According to celebrity judge Howard Stern, they looked like “schlubs.” What’s more, they had only met in person a few days before the competition. Prior to that, they had only known and been in touch with each other online. This audition – on a national television show – was their first time performing for an audience.
The judges seemed somewhere between skeptical and bemused by the trio.
But that all changed about ten seconds into their performance when New Yorker Josh Page began to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s arrangement of “Pie Jesu,” which is derived from the Requiem Mass.
Page’s operatic tenor literally turned the judges’ heads. When Fernando Varela, a church music director from Puerto Rico via Orlando joined in, the look of astonishment on their faces was priceless. Finally, when South Korean Hana Ryu turned the duo into a trio, the judges arms rose as if they had been levitated. The shock-jock Howard Stern had a look on his face that could be described as “beatific.”
While the judges were shocked by the performance of what Varela calls “an operatic boy band,” the audience was in rapture. People were in tears, a response normally not associated with talent competitions.
But then again, when was the last time someone auditioned for one of these shows by singing a prayer in Latin, much less a prayer whose English translation is “Pious Lord Jesus, give them rest. Pious Lord Jesus give them everlasting rest. Pious Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, give them rest. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give them everlasting rest.”
In his book, “Simply Christian,” N.T. Wright speaks about the various “voices” that point to something greater and better than the stuff of everyday life. Among these are beauty and truth.
Beauty, both natural and man-made, he writes, is “sometimes so powerful that it evokes our deepest feelings of awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverence.” It both “calls us out of ourselves” and “appeals to feelings deep within us.”
This kind of transcendence lifts people beyond the distracting noise and sensationalist drivel of popular culture, which almost by definition is superficial, intended to grab our attention long enough to part us from our money.
Forte’s audition has gone viral. And it’s a powerful reminder that there is an alternative to the superficial. The fact that the lyrics sung came from the Church’s liturgy remind us that so much of the West’s enduring beauty was inspired by, and created in service to, Christian truth. And this story should remind us that, in the end – despite the layers of distraction, lies, and confusion – this is still God’s world and every person is made in His image.
The link between Christianity and beauty is so indisputable that, instead of denying it, skeptics and critics will often simply downplay or deny the importance of beauty altogether. But as Wright put it, this is a voice that cannot be silenced. You're likely to hear it in the most unexpected places—for instance, talent competitions on network television.
Come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we'll link you to Forte’s inspiring audition. For once, there really is such a thing as “must-see TV.”
(This broadcast originally aired August 15, 2013.)
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: July 29, 2014