Last night we saw history in the making – a new pop idol was born. Already tipped by the bookies to beat consummate idol and heart throb of girls everywhere, Robbie Williams, to the all-important Christmas number one slot, and with the support of over four and a half million of us, how can he possibly fail?
Last night was truly a momentous occasion – a truly national event. An estimated twenty million people switched on to ITV to see cheeky chappies Ant and Dec present the final Pop Idol show of the series. Eight point seven million people phoned in to vote for their chosen idol – so many that, according to BT, the sheer volume of calls threatened the national network, and they were forced to limit the number of calls that got through (I wonder whose calls they prevented from getting through!). The National Grid even called ITV to check the times of the commercial breaks amid fears of a power cut caused by huge surges in electricity demand.
It’s been fascinating over the last few months watching the Pop Idol judges and audience whittle down the thousands of contestants to the final fifty, then the final ten, then the final two, and then, of course, to help us make our decision as to who to vote for in the grand final. Like in many other homes throughout the UK, everyone in my house was glued to the television throughout the series, even holding a “Pop Idol Party” complete with a Chinese takeaway (with fortune cookies!) on the night of the final. The sheer quality of the singing of the final few contestants was absolutely brilliant, and as far as I’m concerned, Will and Gareth are both stars. It will be interesting to see which of them does the best in the years to come (Gareth has been offered a recording contract by judge and record company boss Simon Cowell). I offer my congratulations to both of them, and wish them every success in their careers.
But does winning Pop Idol really guarantee success? Some of you may recall a while ago a similar programme was aired on television called Popstars. This programme, rather than producing a single pop star, produced a band – a band that went on to be known as Hear’Say. After initial successes, the band has hardly done brilliantly, with a couple of disappointing singles, and a pretty disastrous second album release.
There are many reasons for Hear’Say’s fall from grace. We live in a society obsessed with the cult of celebrity. Every day, the tabloid press (and frequently the broadsheets too) are full of stories about pop stars, film stars, footballers, and their lives, loves, successes and failures. Britney Spears is scarcely ever off the front pages. The number of celebrity magazines and the ever increasing number of celebrity news television programmes is testimony to our insatiable appetite for the innermost secrets of these people. But the key to celebrity status is that we have to perceive these people as being different from ourselves. People just aren’t interested in reading about the lives of “ordinary” people. We’re happy for “ordinary” people to have their five minutes of fame (does anybody remember Maureen Rees, the star of Driving School? Or Jeremy Spake, one-time airline employee and star of Airport?), but after that we’re just not interested. We know about these people. We know where they came from. They’re just “ordinary.” They don’t have the mysticism of proper stars, like Robbie, Kylie, Madonna and the like. It is precisely for this reason that Hear’Say have fallen from grace. We know they’re not really celebrities – they’re normal, just like you and me! And it I precisely for this reason that Will, I’m afraid to say, will also disappear. After all, he’s just an ordinary person pretending to be a pop idol! He’s not really famous, is he?
The mysticism of the cult of celebrity is easy enough to understand – after all, we all need someone to look up to. We all need someone to respect. We all need someone to worship. But people who get too caught up in their adoration of their pop idol miss the point, and fall into a potentially dangerous trap.
We are specifically warned against the cult of celebrity. In the second commandment, God commands us not to worship idols: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or on the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6). I’m sure that most people would deny bowing down before or worshipping a pop star, but it is certainly worth thinking about. How many of us are happy to say that we idolise someone? Surely that implies that we have made this person an idol, and have therefore broken a commandment of God? Even the name of the television programme suggests that this is the case – Pop Idol. The programme set out with the specific intention of creating an idol.
Celebrities may come and go. Will may get the coveted Christmas number one this year. Hear’Say may have totally disappeared by Christmas. But there is something that we’re promised that lasts forever. Something that not only lasts forever, but will fill that hole in us that makes us feel we need to worship something. This something is far greater than any wannabe from a TV game show. This something is something far greater even than the real pop idols – the Robbie Williamses of this world.
This something is the creator of the universe. This something created us. Created the earth we live on. Gave us the food we eat. The water we drink. This something sent his only son so that we, sinners that we are, can have eternal life. This something is God. His son is Jesus Christ. This is whom we should be idolising. Jesus died for us. I don’t know about you, but he’s the only person who has ever done this for me. No matter what I do, no matter who gets Christmas number one, this someone will love me just the same.
So, when Will’s debut single, Evergreen/Anything is Possible, is released on 25th February, rush out and buy it, and give Will the number one that he so rightly deserves. But at the same time, remember the one who has done infinitely more than Will will ever do for you, and give him the love, respect and attention that he so rightly deserves.