The FOX TV-hit “American Idol,” which draws millions of viewers every week will now have a new line of celebrities in a different version of the show – Christian idols. Instead of televising secular music, the show will be transformed into one that will put young Christian artists on the spotlight.
“Gifted” is the shows name to be produced by The Wright Entertainment Group (Britney Spears, N’Sync) and is scheduled to debut in October by the world’s largest religious TV channel Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
A spokesman for Orlando-based Wright Entertainment, Philip McIntyre, confirmed Thursday that the company is part of a joint venture with Matt Crouch, son of the founders of TBN, to create the talent-search show. The joint venture, now called Wright Generation, is negotiating with a private investor, whom McIntyre declined to name, to finance the project. The producers said that additional details will not be revealed until the deal to produce the show is finalized.
Featuring well-known evangelists such as Benny Hinn and reaching over 70 million homes, TBN is a Costa Mesa-based conglomerate in California. The station began in Orange County, Calif., founded by Paul and Jan Crouch and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1973. The Bakkers left the station while the Crouch family continued broadcasting and nurturing the station’s growth. In 1994, Trinity purchased Twitty City, the estate of country singer Conway Twitty, and turned it into an entertainment and production complex. Currently, TBNS has over hundreds of stations in the United States and the world with cable and satellite systems.
The broadcasted content and target of the newly created show is meant to promote Contemporary Christian music (CCM). Estimated to be a billion-dollar industry especially flourishing in the Sunbelt, CCM is seen by many evangelicals as a positive alternative to sex-and-violence-saturated commercial rock and hip-hop.
The joint venture’s mission statement supports the evangelical voice for the show, “Gifted,” reading: "God gives us so many gifts, but we reach for the one with the prettiest wrapping. In a world where MTV dictates trends and pop stars become idols, Christianity seems to be wrapped in conditions and judgments. It is our goal to wrap God's message - His love - in acceptance, and in a way that blends seamlessly into `pop' culture while still upholding the values we, as Christians, value most."
Through recognizable icons and stars, Wright Entertainment reasons that interweaving religion with popular culture will be facilitated. In a letter addressed on June 22 to pastors, the venture stated that the purpose of including mainstream market ‘A List’ celebrities on the Christian star-making show is to portray the ‘coolness’ to adolescents of being true to their faith.
Meanwhile, plans for the talent-recruiting show include a vast summer bus tour, beginning July 26, around the country visiting 11 Trinity stations auditioning contestants ranging from ages 18-24 in 11 different states (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New York, California and Washington.) The genre of music contestants perform will be solely gospel or contemporary spiritual songs.
Producers plan to canvass large congregations, college campuses and youth programs before every audition, choosing 2 finalists. The completed bus tour will find a total of 24 contestants and they will be flown to Hollywood for the final live-contest show, where they will perform in front of an audience and critiqued by celebrity judges.
After screenings, eight finalists will enter the finals, where the audiences from television are able to choose the ultimate winner. Winner of the ‘Gifted’ show will have the opportunity to work with Wright and Crouch who both have extensive experience in the music and entertainment business.
Wright has managed such artists as Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men and P.Diddy, and is now working on re-launching the Backstreet Boys.
Crouch has long been known as an innovator in Christian entertainment. He began doing a show on Trinity featuring Christian music videos in the 1990s. His 1999 feature film, "The Omega Code," earned $12 million at the box office in the United States. Several years ago, he developed a television show for Trinity loosely based on the hit reality show "Amazing Race," using young missionaries as contestants.