Up until about a year ago, when people mentioned the Food Network or Fox News, I could only nod in vague understanding because, up until about a year ago, my television viewing, which could be called minimal at best, was limited to one really clear channel, two sporadically clear channels and two more on-a-cloudless-night-after-nine-o’clock-maybe channels. I was restricted to viewing what is known as network television by a tall tower of aluminum stuck into the ground just outside the dining room window and connected to the television by a long spool of coaxial cable that my poor daddy, on his back and in the dark, had had to snake through the crawl space under the house.
Things changed when, as a part of the renovations on Sandhill, the antenna was unbolted from its brace at the roof line so that the new siding could be put up. That very afternoon a stiff spring wind came up and knocked the antenna to the ground and that night, after a long day of being beaten up by the system I am sworn to support and defend, when all I wanted to do was stretch out on the couch and be mindlessly entertained, my five channels had been reduced to one.
And on that one channel that night was the season premiere of American Idol. I’d never seen it, but after the first hour of what was a two-hour show I was convinced that American culture was in quite a bit more danger than I had previously known.
All that to say that when my boss forwarded to me an e-mail containing a video clip from YouTube (another cultural phenomenon to which I have only recently been introduced) regarding the British equivalent of (and predecessor to) American Idol, I was prepared to be amazed all over again at just how far people will go to get attention.
I was amazed. But not in the way I had anticipated. I was amazed in the way that causes the hairs to stand up on your arms, the way that brings tears to your eyes, the way that reminds you that there is a seed of nobility in every human heart.
The clip was of a man named Paul Potts. He showed up at his audition and told the judges he would be singing opera. There were patronizing smiles and a slight raising of the eyebrows. And then he began to sing.
In a voice so clear and so true and so honest that it made absolutely no difference that he sang in a language most of the audience could not understand, the 36-year-old car phone salesman from Wales brought down the house.
Subsequent clips showed him moving through the competition, each night filling the auditorium with passion and humility and each night rousing the listeners to their feet to applaud as they tried to wipe their eyes. In an interview, Potts said, "My voice has always been my best friend. If I was having problems with bullies at school I always had my voice to fall back on." Confessing that self-confidence had always been "a difficult thing" for him, Potts said, "When I’m singing I don’t have that problem. I’m in the place where I should be."
Ah, yes, Paul Potts understands. He knows that we all need some place within ourselves that we can go to get away from the bullies.
The story has a happy ending: Paul Potts wins the competition, signs a record contract with Sony and sings for the queen. Not bad for a man who first sang opera at the age of 28 for a karaoke contest.
I’ve watched that YouTube clip about four times now. And I’ll watch it again. I’ll watch it every time I need to be awakened from the lethargy of mediocrity, every time I need to be jolted into the action of soulful living, every time I need to be reminded of the power of dreams.