by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

It often ranks as the most watched show on television, with millions, perhaps billions, of loyal fans tuning in each week. A television reality series, a talent show, it has exploded into a full-fledged pop culture phenomenon. I suspect you’ve guessed by now I’m referring to “American Idol.”

If you’re one of the few who has never watched “American Idol,” I’ll clue you in. It’s a singing competition that had its debut in 2002. Part of the “Idol” franchise, it originated from the UK reality program “Pop Idol.” The goal? To discover the best young singer in the country.

The program begins with a series of nationwide auditions before three judges. The latter stages of the competition are wholly determined by public voting. At that point, the show is not just a singing competition but also a voting contest. In other words, each week Americans elect their favorite singers, and each week the contestant with the fewest votes goes home.

By the time Americans vote, the stage has been set by the judges, who select the best of the best. While all the singers are talented in their own style and genre, Americans literally vote their preference. And clearly, we pick our “Idol” based on a variety of reasons — not just on talent. But then again, who is the most talented is really dependent on the listeners’ subjective tastes. Undoubtedly, not all will agree on who is the most talented or who should win the competition.

But in my opinion, winning “American Idol” is not what the program is all about. Yes, I’m a fan. And yes, I spend two hours each week dialing and redialing with my votes. I love supporting young people who are going for their dreams. And I love the idea of giving any young person in the country the opportunity to shine. And shine they do on “American Idol.”

For the past three years, “American Idol” has landed the No. 1 spot for kids aged 6 to 17. For me, this is also reason to celebrate and support this program. I would much prefer our country’s youth to be inspired by watching other young people strive to fulfill their dream than watching crude humor or violent programming. So, even if my personal favorite doesn’t win the competition, I will always remain a fan of the show.

Take note, graduates of the Class of 2007! There are lessons to be learned from “American Idol” contestants — not only from watching them during the show but also from seeing what many accomplish after the show concludes.

The “American Idol” contestants are daring to believe that anything is possible. It’s inspiring to watch their faith put into action week after week, in spite of ridicule and criticism. I’ve been even more inspired to watch contestants after the show. Many who were not the “winners” have continued to pursue and achieve their dreams, some with even greater success than those who actually won the competition. “American Idol” is more about an opportunity than anything else. And in this life of ours, we will have many opportunities and many possible doors to walk through to get where we want to go.

To the young graduate, the future may seem so big and vast that it may be daunting to know where to begin or which door to open first. I’m always encouraged by the example of the young shepherd boy David as he took on and, in fact, conquered the giant soldier Goliath in battle. David wasn’t tentative as he approached his fierce competitor. He ran to meet him! (1 Samuel 17:48) And that is my point.

How did young David have the confidence and fortitude to run to meet his formidable foe? No doubt, his faith was based upon his knowledge that God was directing and empowering his every step. He understood that his aims and ambitions were impelled by a divine purpose. And while, throughout the course of David’s life, that purpose took him down many different paths, he remained receptive, willing and ready for whatever God provided and wherever God guided him.

We must never stop running to reach our goals, regardless of failures, setbacks or even our age. Nor should we allow fear of failure to slow us down. Goals are not reached if we don’t keep moving toward them. Faith and willingness to go where God leads us increase our ability to see the many opportunities before us. There is no one last chance to accomplish a dream — unless we make it so. If one opportunity doesn’t pan out the way we think we want it to, like “Idol” contestants who didn’t win, we can move on to the next opportunity and achieve success through other doors.

So, to graduates and “American Idol” contestants, I say opportunities are infinite. Never give up. Keep your faith strong. Don’t let anything or any one opinion lessen your faith. Keep running toward your dreams and goals. God only wants good for His children, so stay open for an adventure you never imagined. God’s plan for you is bigger and grander than your own!