American Idol

Why American Idol Is the Worship Leader’s Best Friend


America’s venerable talent TV show is also the worship leader’s best friend.

If you’ve been a church music director or worship leader for any amount of time you’ve experienced the person who’s convinced they can sing (or even that singing is their special ministry) and they… can’t.

I’ve been involved with worship music for 20 years and it’s been an issue in every church. It’s probably the most perplexing problem I ever faced as a music director. If I wasn’t into music I’d probably be a psychologist – I’m fascinated with the workings of the human mind, and I’m fascinated with a tone deaf person who’s convinced they can sing. Not content to even be in a choir, why do they insist, and more often than not, demand, to be on mic singing solos and on the praise team?

I was talking to a friend who has a degree in Psychology about this. The phenomena seems to be a sort of musical psychosis – a person is detached from the reality that they’re tone deaf, but are convinced they should be singing solos (a psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, usually including false beliefs about what is taking place.) Specifically the problem seems quite close to the Dunning–Kruger Effect – a cognitive bias in which the unskilled suffer from illusory superiority.

An example from my career comes to mind. I heard through the grapevine that the wife of one of the pastors was upset she wasn’t on the praise team. I was “encouraged” to let her sing (read between the lines.) She was pretty bad – not even flat or sharp – she simply couldn’t hit the right notes. Try leading worship with that blaring in your monitor. And she was literally petrified to be on stage… and said she couldn’t sleep the Saturday night before. What on earth would posses someone to demand to be put in that situation? (Thankfully she had a breakthrough (or breakdown) and realized she wasn’t cut out for it.)

“Oh, just turn her mic off” you might suggest. You may be in a ministry situation where you have to do that, and I’ve done it myself on occasion. But isn’t that wrong on so many levels… you’re basically being dishonest. Why not just tell the truth and help the person understand that singing is not their ministry niche and perhaps the nursery, youth group or whatever really needs their help. Plus, you’ll never attract people who >can< sing to your team – people with real talent don’t want to sing with someone who can’t.

Many pastors, as well as the typical doctor/lawyer elder/deacon think they’re music experts because they listen to the radio. So the problems begin when the rejected off-pitch vocalist throws a temper tantrum, threatens to leave your church and/or tries to get you fired (yes, all have happened to me!) After all, the deacons/elders wonder, why aren’t you letting Aunt Sally use her “gifts?” As I’ve said many times here at WorshipIdeas, it’s a pretty black and white issue with me – if you can sing, you’re on the praise team. If you can’t sing, you’re not on the praise team (whether you have a heart for ministry or not is a whole other post.)

Thank heavens for American Idol. Finally, the common man can see and understand what we’ve all been enduring for years. Encourage your church leadership to watch the early audition stages of the show or force them to watch it on YouTube! Most of these contestants are not faking. When they howl off pitch like banshees, are rejected and stomp angrily out of the room, they’re honestly outraged their “talent” has not been acknowledged. Trust me, I’ve sat through many American Idol auditions when a friend of mine was on the show a few years ago (I was actually there, watching in real life what you see on television) and it’s no joke.

I remember sitting in an elder’s meeting a few years ago being grilled as to why I’m not letting people use their vocal “gifts.” I brought up the American Idol analogy and I could see the lights come on. “Just because someone wants to sing doesn’t mean they necessarily can or should” I argued. “Should anyone who wants to preach be allowed to preach?” Case closed and my job was secure (at least until the next disgruntled person raised Cain over me not doing enough hymns or cranking the music too loud!)

Bottom Line: If the pastor/deacon/elder who’s been giving you fits about your worship team personnel choices sees talentless people act the way they do on American Idol, maybe they’ll realize the same thing is happening in your church.


Essential reading for worship leaders since 2002.


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