One of the contestants on the television show “American Idol” this year is a young man who speaks with a stutter. I’m not sure if that is the correct way to state his condition but I think it conveys the situation. If you have watched the show you know who I am talking about. He has been featured often. Virtually every time he sings he is praised for his courage. The obvious inference is that it takes courage for a person with such an obvious disability to stand and sing in front of the world.
There have been singers, some quite famous, who have had a serious stutter when they talked but no apparent problem when they sang. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It makes me wonder why they don’t talk in a sing-song voice, but I don’t know if that would help or not.
This young man has a good singing voice, but not great. According to my untrained ear, and the observations by most of the shows judges, he is the worst singer among the remaining contestants. Yet, every time he sings, the words “courage” and “inspiration” are quickly used and I suspect that is why he continually receives enough votes to remain on the show.
People think they are doing handicapped folks a favor by giving them advantages. But as someone who has lived all my life with a handicap, most of us don’t want any favors. We certainly want opportunities, but handouts don’t help and are not really appreciated. For example, I am grateful they make buildings accessible with ramps but once I am in the building I expect to be evaluated on the same basis as everyone else.
The best thing the judges could do for this young man is to let him compete fairly. That means he doesn’t receive special consideration because he stutters when he is not singing. He is courageous and that is apparent every time he is asked a question but that does not necessarily make him a better singer.
For many years I travelled and preached in hundreds of churches. Since I stood on crutches while behind the pulpit, it was an unusual sight. Nearly every week I would be told how I was an inspiration or how courageous I was. I understand that but I never really appreciated hearing it. How do you respond to that anyway?
A good friend used to tell me I had a big advantage when I preached because everyone was waiting to hear if I could actually preach. He said it didn’t matter what I said they were just amazed at what I was doing. It was even more impactful when my son would carry me up to the platform. At that point, we could have just offered an invitation to trust Jesus and people would have responded.
As moving as that might have been, I could never find a church interested enough in me to allow me to be their pastor. They were inspired by my courage when I preached but they were not willing to look beyond the physical limitations to consider if I could actually do the work. Even after 13 years of successfully pastoring a church and glowing recommendations by denominational leaders, I was never even granted an interview.
If you are physically handicapped, a racial or ethnic minority, or member of an uncommon religious sect, all you really want is fairness. Give me a chance to compete on a level field. If I am good enough then give me the job. If I am not good enough, tell me how to get better. Just be honest.
If you are one of the American Idol fans who are voting for this young man because you are inspired by his story, you are not doing him any favors. You can already see in his face that he is tired of being praised for his courage. If he is not a great singer, he will not make it in the singing industry even if he wins the competition. All he probably wants is a level playing field. That means is it not tilted against him, nor is it tilted in his favor.