Beauty, Truth, and Operatic Boy Bands

A Lesson from America’s Got Talent

The power of beauty and truth can overwhelm even the most skeptical among us. Including the celebrity judges on “America’s Got Talent.” Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

 

John Stonestreet

To liberally paraphrase the author of Ecclesiastes, of the making of talent competitions on network television there is no end. While there are minor variations in judging and format, they and the singers who appear on them are pretty much indistinguishable.

But every once in a while, something happens to remind us that we don’t have to settle for the addicting silliness and artistic anemia pop culture offers.

A recent audition episode of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” featured the usual fare: talented-enough wannabe pop stars. But then a trio called “Forte” trotted on stage.

According to celebrity judge Howard Stern, they looked like “schlubs.” What’s more, they had only met in person a few days before the competition. Prior to that, they had only known and been in touch with each other online. This audition – on a national television show – was their first time performing for an audience.

The judges seemed somewhere between skeptical and bemused by the trio.

But that all changed about ten seconds into their performance when New Yorker Josh Page began to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s arrangement of “Pie Jesu,” which is derived from the Requiem Mass.

Page’s operatic tenor literally turned the judges’ heads. When Fernando Varela, a church music director from Puerto Rico via Orlando joined in, the look of astonishment on their faces was priceless. Finally, when South Korean Hana Ryu turned the duo into a trio, the judges arms rose as if they had been levitated. The shock-jock Howard Stern had a look on his face that could be described as “beatific.”

While the judges were shocked by the performance of what Varela calls “an operatic boy band,” the audience was in rapture. People were in tears, a response normally not associated with talent competitions.

But then again, when was the last time someone auditioned for one of these shows by singing a prayer in Latin, much less a prayer whose English translation is “Pious Lord Jesus, give them rest. Pious Lord Jesus give them everlasting rest. Pious Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, give them rest. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give them everlasting rest.”

In his book, “Simply Christian,” N.T. Wright speaks about the various “voices” that point to something greater and better than the stuff of everyday life. Among these are beauty and truth.

Beauty, both natural and man-made, he writes, is “sometimes so powerful that it evokes our  deepest feelings of awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverence.” It both “calls us out of ourselves” and “appeals to feelings deep within us.”

This kind of transcendence lifts people beyond the distracting noise and sensationalist drivel of popular culture, which almost by definition is superficial, intended to grab our attention long enough to part us from our money.

Forte’s audition has gone viral. And it’s a powerful reminder that there is an alternative to the superficial. The fact that the lyrics sung came from the Church’s liturgy remind us that so much of the West’s enduring beauty was inspired by, and created in service to, Christian truth. And this story should remind us that, in the end – despite the layers of distraction, lies, and confusion – this is still God’s world and every person is made in His image.

The link between Christianity and beauty is so indisputable that, instead of denying it, skeptics and critics will often simply downplay or deny the importance of beauty altogether. But as Wright put it, this is a voice that cannot be silenced. You’re likely to hear it in the most unexpected places—for instance, talent competitions on network television.

Come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to Forte’s inspiring audition. For once, there really is such a thing as “must-see TV.”

Further Reading and Information

Beauty, Truth, and Operatic Boy Bands: A Lesson from America’s Got Talent – Next Steps

God is the creator of all beauty, and the arts bear witness to that fact. That beauty, expressed through music, touches us deeply, and can even overwhelm.

To experience what John has highlighted in the commentary, click on this Youtube link for Forte’s “America’s Got Talent” audition video.

For an in-depth study on beauty in the arts, check out T. M. Moore’s series, linked below.

Videos:

Pie Jesu
Forte Tenors | America’s Got Talent Audition | July 2013

Articles:

God, the Arts, and Us
Eric Metaxas| BreakPoint.org | July 24, 2013

Books:

Simply Christian
N. T. Wright | HarperOne | February 2010

Other Resources:

Art and Truth
T. M. Moore | ViewPoint study series | BreakPoint.org

Art in the Life of Faith
T. M. Moore | ViewPoint study series | BreakPoint.org


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