As citizens of the United States, we’re proud of our culture of using the democratic process in most situations where there is a diversity of opinions and values. However, our democratic process of majority rules gave me pause as I watched or read about how the call-in votes were going on the television show American Idol. As most of the viewers of this show, my judgment about who should be in the bottom three and who should be competing to be the next American Idol is based on what sounds good and what is an entertaining performance. I have been blown away by the talent of all of the seven who were left this week, and when I learned that 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez with her outsized talent had to be saved by the judges last week, I couldn’t believe it! How could anyone doubt that she would be vying for the title?
All along, I have thought that Colton Dixon – the young man with the really weird outfits, the multicolored hair, and good teeth – from Murfreesboro, TN, was possibly the best musician of the bunch because he could play the piano and sing. I didn’t realize, according to an article in USA Today, that Colton was playing to a Christian audience for their vote. According to the news article, Colton thinks he lost the Christian vote when he sang a Lady Gaga song, Bad Romance.
The Idol judges were visibly upset when the votes were not there for Colton. If the judges – people who are supposed to know music – had made the decision, Colton would be among the finalists. Because the decision for Colton to leave the competition was based on a democratic process in which the majority of votes decides, it seems that a worthy candidate for winning the American Idol competition was eliminated.
This turn of events brought to my mind this year’s presidential election. Who will we voters select as our country’s leader? Will the democratic process of majority rule be based on criteria that has less to do with who has the potential to be the best qualified leader for our times or some other criteria? Will our democratic process yield a president based on whether or not the candidate sings a religious or secular song? Will we vote based on what talent the candidate has or what kind of music the candidate selects? Perhaps most important, will our college students exercise their rights and responsibilities of becoming familiar with the candidates and following through and actually voting?
Colleges and universities, and student affairs in particular, can use the opportunity of this election year to encourage students to rehearse what it means to be an engaged and responsible citizen in a democracy by exercising their rights to vote. Ideally, we can engage them in learning that will help them use their critical thinking skills to make a studied judgment as to the candidate for whom they will vote.