During her appearance on American Idol last week, Lady Gaga told the audience, without being prompted, that she wasn't interested in judging the contestants, only in bringing out what was special about each of them. "I want to free [my fans] of their fears and make them feel … that they can create their own space in the world," Gaga has said, a goal that sounds nearly salvific in nature. When an interviewer recently called Lady Gaga the "Billy Graham of pop," she claimed, "I'm teaching people to worship themselves."

This successful mode of evangelism—the discipleship of Gaga, so to speak—is significant because even though Lady Gaga proclaims a fairly conventional "peace and love" message, her marketability relies on her ability to make that message outrageous (thus, the bizarre makeup and leotard she wore during American Idol).

Gaga has even referred to her Monster Ball concert tour as a "religious experience" and "pop culture church." And the result Lady Gaga promises in return is a transformation not all that far removed from Oprah Winfrey's message of self-empowerment through extreme makeovers and confession.

It might seem an unusual comparison, but Lady Gaga and Oprah—who both appear in the top 10 on Forbes's most powerful women list—have crafted similar cultural personas when it comes to outrageous extravagance, cultivating an audience-as-family dynamic (Oprah with her personal appeals and studio setting, Lady Gaga referring to her fans as "little monsters") and supposedly all-inclusive non-judgmental outlook.

In the new book Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, religion scholar Kathryn Lofton writes, "Celebrities are indistinguishable from corporate brands. What separates Winfrey's work is the soul-salving ...

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