We are used to American Idol pulling our heartstrings during the audition round, and in last night’s stop in Milwaukee (fittingly, the home of Danny Gokey), we got one that probably made you cry like a baby. Contestant Chris Medina has been with his fiancée for eight years, almost three of which they’ve been engaged. In October 2009, two months before their vows, she was in an accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury that left her in a coma for a month-and-a-half. Medina and her mother are now her caregivers. “What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?” he said, after footage of him helping her walk down stairs and getting her comfortable in her wheelchair played. His fiancée was among those he brought with him to the audition. If he made it to Hollywood, it would give her something to be happy about again, and he would feel like he had already won something, he said. After Medina nailed his rendition of The Script’s “Breakeven,” the judges told him they wanted to meet his fiancée. Medina said “that would make her day,” and she was wheeled in. Watch below. The judges introduced themselves, and Steven Tyler sweetly kissed her on the head and told her that Medina had sung beautifully, which he suspected was because he sings to her all the time. When Medina exited to the cheers of his family, it was his fiancée holding the golden ticket and raising it victoriously. She whispered something to him — “I knew it.”
What was your reaction to what is obviously a painful, touching story that deserves a happy ending? We have to look at it from two sides: Medina’s and the producers. We have to trust that Medina wasn’t using his fiancée to get producers’ attention, and that she really wanted to be there to support him so he could remember why those lyrics meant something to him. Even if he was subconsciously hoping his difficult story would garner a little favoritism from the producers and judges, can you truly fault him (again, assuming she wanted to be there)? There are thousands and thousands of people auditioning. He knows he has the voice to back it up. And this is his story. If he’s helping to care for her, she’s never NOT on his mind. To him, I’m sure the moment felt nothing but true and genuine. And that’s what makes the Idol producers feel okay about showing it. That, and it’s “good TV.”
As a viewer, did I feel manipulated? Yes. It’s a dangerous game Medina and producers are playing. Some viewers will root harder for him, knowing both his character and what kind of difference winning this competition could make in his (and her) life. Others, who like to think of American Idol as a singing competition and not a TV show, may resent the fact that he didn’t try to make it through the audition round at least on his talent alone — when he has the voice to do it. Instead, we had to hold our breath, praying that he could actually sing after hearing his story. If he makes it to the viewer voting rounds, there will always be the question of why people are dialing his number.
One final thought, which may be one I should keep to myself, but I’m gonna be honest: I have enough drama in my own life right now with an ill father. I don’t know that I can handle getting invested in Medina’s story and worrying about whether he’ll make it through the next round for his fiancée’s sake. It’s stress I don’t need, and I have to fight the urge not to resent him and the producers for it. I just want to tune into Idol and hear people sing, preferably well, so Tyler leans forward in his chair. (It’s that little action, truthfully, that has breathed new life into the show for me. He genuinely appreciates it when someone’s good.) Am I the only who feels like that? Or is anyone else planning on forgoing the rest of the audition shows because you know they’ll always go for the waterworks with that final contestant?