Whether we like to admit it or not, Christian music is influenced by popular culture, to the point where it's often imitative rather than innovative. Perhaps the most clear-cut example of this is the new "Christian alternatives" to American Idol— including Gifted (TBN) and Gospel Dream (Gospel Music Channel).

Can you blame producers for trying? Idol is a cultural sensation, the most popular show on TV. Fox Television's programs surrounding it typically benefit from the massive audience. And Idol is a goldmine for advertisers.

It's also the only reality show I can stand, not merely for the musical focus, but for its "purity" as well. Like programs from the golden age of television, Idol doesn't rely on backbiting contestants, outrageous behavior, or shocking developments, though it's had its share over six seasons. Ultimately, it's a glorified singing contest; in the end, contestants sing and viewers vote—simple as that.

The concept is so simple you'd think American Idol would face serious competition. Yet the networks—Fox included—have failed to deliver alternatives that rival Idol's enduring popularity. Many (including Idol's producers) have tried to adapt the format to everything from dancing to inventions. Success has been fleeting at best.

Remember "Today's Superstar," the 2002 sing-off on The Today Show that crowned Christian pop vocalist Kristy Starling? Or Oprah Winfrey's "Pop Star Challenge" in 2003, which named LaShell Griffin winner? We've seen talent competitions for country stars, rock bands, even an official spin-off for younger viewers called American Idol Juniors. They're all little more than faint memories now.

So it's no surprise that we also now have Christian talent searches like Gifted ...

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