Sunday, January 30, 2011

'American Idol 10' - The buzz over Chris Medina

Chris Medina shows the 'Idol' judges Juliana's engagement ring

We're two weeks into American Idol 10, and already, this season is generating more of a buzz than Season 9 did in its entirety. The tragic tale of Chris Medina and his fiancée, Juliana Ramos, continues to trend and fans seem to be split into two camps. In one camp are those who feel the producers exploited Juliana for maximum ratings benefit. On the flip side are those who have latched onto this story as an example of true love in its purest form.

I've been following Janet Spencer Barnes' (Juliana's mother) blog on the For Juliana Facebook page for a week or so. Janet has been documenting Juli's progress since the accident and the story is compelling. Juli was a beautiful young woman, full of life and spirit, and the accident broke her both physically and emotionally.

The mother's struggles are heartbreaking, and for every step forward, there seem to be two steps back. Janet struggles with her daughter on a daily basis, trying to get her to keep moving in order that she might realize the maximum potential of the therapies she is enduring. Some days are better than others and their biggest fight right now seems to be Juli's depression. It appears the only person in her life who is able lift her spirits is Chris.

But with Chris' golden ticket comes what will certainly be at least six months away from home. As one of her primary caregivers, Chris' absence as part of her daily routine could be very damaging to her recovery process, upsetting the very delicate balance that has prevailed. One wonders whether or not he thought all this out before signing on for this journey.

Sure, appearing on Idol could be financially beneficial, but any long term monetary gain could be offset by how it affects Juli's recovery. We don't really know how much she understands about all of this. If she is fully aware of the ramifications and has given Chris her blessing, then so be it. Still, I don't think anyone can be prepared for all the publicity that comes with being part of the Idol circus no matter what their physical or mental condition.

A lot of people found Chris' audition and the footage of Juliana meeting the judges to be upsetting. Some blame Chris, while others blame the producers. Certainly, the show's producers recognize a compelling story when they see it and never fail to jump all over it. But Chris and Juli's family had to have had some say in all of this. Did Juli understand the significance of all of this at the time? Did she consent to being filmed? We really don't know.

What I do know is that as a result of this segment, Chris Medina has guaranteed himself a spot in the Top 12. No one since Clay Aiken has developed this level of mania this early in the competition. Fans have flocked to the FB page in droves, pouring out their messages of love and support and Juli's Laurus Foundation fund that was set up months ago has tripled since the segment aired. If nothing else, the family will benefit from this outpouring of love; in fact, Juli's mother has written that some of this money will be used to make their home more accessible.

Through all of this, there is little discussion of Chris' actual singing ability. His audition was okay, and he probably would have advanced to Hollywood without the sob story. But in a season where the producers seem determined to force feed viewers a plethora of 15-year-olds, I don't think Chris would have stood out enough to counterbalance that pressure. At this point, however, it's a moot point. The producers have to be aware of Chris' massive fan base and would be insane not to put him through to the first voting round. And, once there, Chris will have no problem moving into the Top 12.

Can he win? It's certainly possible. If, as I suspect, his fanbase is comprised of the same demographic (i.e. middle aged women) that fell hard for the likes of Clay Aiken, Danny Gokey, etc., there's not a whole lot that can stop him other than a string of disastrous performances. But don't rule out the tweens to whom this season appears to be dedicated. We'll see which of the 15-year-olds takes the lead once all is said and done.

I'm sympathetic to Juliana's plight and respect Chris' devotion to her through it all. But using one's personal tragedy to secure a spot on a TV talent show doesn't set well with me. I have a lot more respect for those who refuse to use their back stories as a tool to advance. For example, David Cook would not talk about his brother's struggle with cancer and Scott McIntyre did not reveal that he'd had a kidney transplant just one year before his audition. Sometimes less is definitely more.

American Idol: The Untold Story

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