Ouachita grad, on ‘American Idol,’ stirs talk about his faith

BRYANT, Ark. (BP)--What started out as a joke of sorts has landed an Arkansas Baptist on television’s hit show “American Idol.”

Sean Michel, 27, of Bryant, Ark., was among the 16,000-plus people who auditioned for the show last fall in Memphis, Tenn. A member of First Southern Baptist Church in Bryant, Michel was chosen to go to Hollywood to compete in the next round. Clips from his audition aired Jan. 23.

“It really started out as a joke,” said Michel, who prior to his audition was not a big fan of the show.

“My buddies and I were watching the Razorback/USC game back in September when a friend ... mentioned that a few Ouachita Baptist University students were going to try out for Idol the next day,” he said, adding that his friends teased him about auditioning.

Michel, a graduate of Ouachita, didn’t take the suggestion seriously until about 3 a.m. the next morning when he agreed to make the trip with some friends. They arrived just in time for the 7 a.m. tryouts, and Michel was dead last in line.

“We didn’t know what we were doing ... or the protocol for the auditions,” said Michel’s manager and friend, Jay Newman, a member of First Baptist Church in Monticello, Ark. “We had not planned on going. We just went for fun. We didn’t know what we were doing, but ... Sean got in.”

During a preliminary audition, Michel sang “Movin’ on Up,” the theme song from the 1970s television show “The Jeffersons.” In his final audition, some of which aired on the show, Michel was dressed in a thrift store Army shirt and sported his long hair and long beard while performing an a cappella rendition of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.

“Some people have said I looked like Castro or Osama bin Laden ...,” Michel said. “Others thought I was a homeless guy.”

Whatever the resemblance, his performance caught the judges’ eye. Since the show aired, Michel has become popular on websites such as MySpace, where people have left posts referring to his faith.

“A few people want to know about Jesus,” Newman said. “That is really cool. We are just trying to be honest without being condemning. But we do tell them what we believe is true.

“One comment from a guy online noted, ‘I’ve never been into Jesus or religion, but this guy is making me think about it.’ That’s exactly what we want,” Newman said. “We don’t think we are the guys out there who are going to reach large harvests of decisions, but if we can get people thinking about Christ who normally would not be thinking about Christ, then mission accomplished.”

Michel, a worship leader, said he has been trying to take the recent attention off him and put it on Christ, and he hopes to glorify God through his appearances on American Idol.

Another Southern Baptist, Chris Sligh of Tigerville, S.C., joined Michel in winning a chance at the next American Idol round in Hollywood. Sligh, a former student at North Greenville University, passed the first round Jan. 30.

Stella Prather is associate editor at the Arkansas Baptist News, online at www.arkansasbaptist.org.

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