Even before Ryan Seacrest gave the lead-in to the show’s new “Spiritual Advisors”, I knew there was something different about this season of American Idol. Toward the beginning of the February 18th show, Randy Jackson joined Ryan Secrest on stage and explained how he had helped put together a workshop in California at the Terranea Palos Verdes Resort. The workshop was for “the kids” to help them in a variety of ways. The show then cut to a large indoor room where Randy was explaining how he wanted to step back from being a judge and to help the contestants more closely. Waving his hand to the 15 individuals standing behind him, he explained, “we’ve assembled a group of amazing professionals” and with the crowd cheering, the various professionals are next introduced: Vocal coaches, Musical Director Rickey Minor, Stylists, Hair & Make-up, Movement Coaches… and then Ryan Seacrest says, “And for the first time ever we’ve provided the contestants with a different kind of mentor.”
The video then cuts to a couple standing before an expanse of ocean in the background, with block letters across the bottom of the screen: SPIRITUAL ADVISORS
The two introduce themselves.
“My name’s Billy Mauldin.”
“And I’m Julie Mauldin.”
Billy continues, “And we are the non-denominational spiritual advisors for American idol this year. For these folks, this is a dream opportunity. But it comes with a lot of pressure. We’re here to try and answer, and help them through some of that.”
I remember hitting the pause button on my remote. Spiritual Advisors? On American Idol? I rewound the footage and watched again. Who were these folks?
Earlier in the season it had struck me that something seemed different about American Idol. As I stopped to give it some thought, I realized that the missing ingredient was “meanness”. In the early days, Idol seemed to revel in putting down and embarrassing singers (or would-be singers) on a regular basis. Some of these angry contestants came out of their auditions with middle fingers up and multi-BEEP-BEEP-censored words screamed into the camera lens. Why? Did the judges really have to be so course and critical, and mean?
Enter the 2014 season… and I’m impressed. The current judges of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. conduct themselves differently — they’ve got class. Sure they don’t like everyone who crosses the stage (who could?) but they didn’t seem to pour on the sarcasm and character assassination like in previous years.
So, to hear that Spiritual Advisors were being made available to the contestants – wow! I’m liking this.
Who is Billy Mauldin?
Jeff Gluck, in a USA Today Sports article explains that Billy Mauldin heads up Motor Racing Outreach and has been helping people in the high-octane environment of NASCAR since 1999. Mauldin said, concerning his work with American Idol, “The expectations here are the same for what we do for NASCAR: To be there for the people, be present, help with the spiritual side of life and some of the struggles they may deal with as they’re going through the competition.”
The idea for American Idol’s Spiritual Advisors came from former Fox Sports chairman, David Hill. He’d noticed from past seasons that many contestants grew up in faith-based environments and began singing in church. From the USA Today article, Hill explains that Mauldin isn’t there to proselytize. He’s there for comfort. “As a dad, if my daughter was 17 and she was living in Los Angeles for the next three months and performing in front of 15 million people who were watching every move she makes, I’d want to surround her with as much soul protection as I possibly could,” Hill said. “You want them to be able to give the best of themselves.”
A thumbs up for the Motor Racing Association
To show my support, I reached out and phoned the Motor Racing Outreach association in Concord, NC. A kind woman answered and explained that, yes; president and CEO Billy Mauldin and his wife Julie had been travelling back and forth to Los Angeles helping where they could with the American Idol folks.
“Have you gotten a lot of positive calls?” I asked the receptionist.
“We hear from both sides. He’s been getting a lot of folks who’d like to have him on their radio shows.”
“Please pass along my thumbs up,” I told her. “I’m glad the Idol folks have this kind of opportunity.”
Spiritual Advisors – from Race Cars to Idol Stages
Spiritual advisors come in a lot of shapes and styles. I’d categorize them as listeners, caring folks, someone who can give you an entirely different perspective on where life can be found. This is what I’m thrilled to be hearing. It’s what I’d expect to see of people who care about people. After all, nearly all of the contestants crossing the Idol stage will eventually be going home. That’s the nature of the competition. I would imagine that many may feel crushed and defeated, their dreams seemingly down the drain. But if you knew there was a listener you could speak to — someone you could talk with – who wouldn’t want that opportunity? I know I certainly would. Finding someone who truly listens is a rare thing in this day and age. I’m thrilled to know that the folks at Fox have gone with this approach.
Those contestants who are voted off each week – they’re people who have just been delivered quite a blow. And though I don’t have any way of proving this, I can almost see Billy and Julie seeking out those individuals. Maybe knocking on their door. Maybe asking if they’d like to talk. Maybe sharing a cup of coffee and laughing at some NASCAR story. Maybe helping those leaving to learn and see that there is hope even in the darkest moments of a singing competition.
It’s my prayer that the Mauldins and the folks at Fox will see something immeasurably more important than “Spiritual Advisors trending on Twitter”. I hope they continue to see that people matter. Life matters. That love is never wasted when helping someone along life’s road.