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"American Idol" Surprise
Photo: Lynn Cummings
Oh man. It was the waiting that was the worst. I knew that at eight p.m., Tuesday night, Ryan Seacrest would introduce me. But I wasn’t going to be judged just for how well I belted out a tune by Fleetwood Mac. I was facing biblical judgment for my life.

Even while the performance was going on, I could tell I was off. I was trying to hit right notes, but was consistently flat . . . and couldn’t fix it. The song – a jukebox encapsulating of my whole life – ended awkwardly, and my mom and three brothers gamely leaped to their feet on cue, cheering and holding up signs, but even on Mom’s face I could see an ashen recognition of reality. My kid is about to be voted off "Idol."

Randy Jackson had that sympathetic but ready-to-indict look on his face. "Man . . . check it out, dawg, you just . . . I don’t know. I mean, you tried to sing a good song, but, like, you just didn’t deliver. You were good for the first little bit" – maybe I was a well-behaved baby in the maternity unit – "but, dude, like, you were pitchy all the way through. And that song . . . I’d have to say, it wasn’t your best night. It didn’t work for me, baby."

I tried to smile through the criticism, but my stomach was screaming. You messed up!

Randy tried to pass the buck. "Paula, what do you think?"

The glamorous middle judge flipped her trademark hair and shook her head gently. "David, I’ve been your biggest fan. I know you tried hard. And what I always dig about you is that you stay true to yourself. You take a song and make it your own."

I could hear a scatter of weak applause. "But tonight, that was your problem. You were you." She averted her eyes before lowering the boom. "And I’m sorry; Randy’s right. Tonight being you wasn’t enough. You needed a whole lot more."

"Ouch! That Hurts"

Sir Simon Cowell couldn’t wait to get at me. "That was terrible! That was . . . I don’t know if I have a word." He leered at his two co-judges. "Have you guys ever heard something so wretched? It sounded like bad karaoke from the Church Lady. I feel like we time-traveled back to our opening tryouts at the Bakersfield Marriott."

Tears sprang to my eyes, but Simon wasn’t done. "We’ve watched your life unfold week by week, and I frankly don’t know why you’re still here. That was simply unredeemable."

The verdict on my life hung in the air. Ryan finally came over. "Pretty rough, man. Randy, Paula, Simon, you guys have had your say. But let’s hear from the Super-Judge!"

The canned A.I. theme music blared and the studio crowd brayed in enthusiasm, voicing their approval of the new feature. Even after Mr. Cowell’s cruel criticisms, a contestant might yet be bailed out if the final authority offered mercy.

The white-clad Judge sat alone in an elevated booth, surrounded by speakers and screens. I knew he had heard every note of my life’s song; I had once caught an understanding look from him after I failed to hit a high F in the bridge. And I remembered vividly the day so long ago when I had first met him and asked him to tutor and help me in my performance. But now he had to set that relationship aside and pronounce final judgment. What would he say here? On nationwide TV?

"You’re the last word," Ryan repeated. "What’s the verdict about Contestant Number Seven?"

I was stunned by what came next. "I really have to say: I felt it was perfect." Simon jerked his head around in abrupt displeasure and squinted at the newcomer. The voice continued. "That’s right. It was perfect. It was true, it was just what I always wanted to hear from David. In fact," he went on, "the more I heard of his song, the more I saw my own son singing in him."

"Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Romans 3:22).

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By David Smith. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

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