- (Photo: Leesa Bellesi via The Christian Post)
"American Idol" contestants need spiritual support and need to be ministered to, claims Leesa Bellesi, who is also known as the "Idol Pastor." The Orange County-based minister found herself convinced at one point, six years ago, that she should take up the task to protect the young contestants' faith and mental health from the cruelty of the industry and, as it later became clear, from cyber bullying, she has told The Christian Post.
Bellesi decided to get involved with "American Idol" during season five, after a string of occurrences which, she is convinced, were God's doing.
From being serendipitously linked to her first contestant, Katharine McPhee, in her husband's church in 2006 through the Bible verse from Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you plans to give you a hope and a future," to opening her home for the contestants' families, Bellesi has worked behind the scenes of the popular reality TV show for the past seven seasons.
It was her calling to minister to the participants, she publicly announced at the beginning of her mission, and she sticks to that to this day. She founded an exclusive online ministry – the American Idol Ministry- for that purpose. The ministry's website is available only to contestants.
"God absolutely put me in this situation but I'm coming from an aspect of really being a servant and extending oneself in your money, in your stuff, in your time," Bellesi told CP.
When ministering to the Idols, Bellesi encourages the Christian contestants to pick their favorite scripture passages.
"Jordin Sparks does that, she always has from the beginning," she told CP. "It wasn't something I told her to but her favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11 and that verse brought her and I together."
Bellesi gave Sparks as well as other contestants silver bracelets custom-made by her friend Deborah Harter, a jewelry designer specializing in designs inspired by the Bible. Throughout the show, contestants can be seen wearing the jewelry featuring Scripture passages.
"I worked in the [show business] industry for a long time and God propped me there," she said. Bellesi used to work for award shows in the Los Angeles area and "was among Oscar-winners" on almost a regular basis, she told CP. That kind of environment put her in situations where she had to "be intentional on how I was gracious to them and serve them and always be able to serve the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. No matter where you are. No matter where God puts you. That is our calling as Christians."
"I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, it's not like I was transplanted," she emphasized. "I've been around. I grew up with kids that went to my high school that went to be very famous actors. So I knew they were just like everybody else. We're all in a need of a Savior. No-one is any different than anybody else. I think everybody on their journey is going to be confronted with eternity."
But the world of show business is full of traps and ill-willed people, she explained. There is far more negativity online surrounding the "American Idol" contestants than most realize, Bellesi told CP. She calls the world of "trolls" – people who occupy themselves with putting others down by anonymous commentary online – "a dark, evil world." Not only her spiritual "kids," as she calls the "American Idol" contestants, but she herself had to face that dark world.
"I always remind them [the contestants], that that girl who says she's 17, her name is Amy, she's from Ohio and she says something critical, it's really a 52-year-old man wearing sweats and living in his Mom's basement. And his whole goal is to destroy the emotional stability of that person," she said.
Trolling has to be ignored, she added. "I watch people write horrible things about these kids," she said. "It's evil. ... God loves unity and he loves peace makers."
Bellesi told CP that she experienced a lot of hatred from the online community by ministering online.
She and husband Denny, a preacher, founded the Kingdom Assignment ministry in 2000, a non-denominational online ministry sharing inspirational stories of its members. The ministry was featured in People Magazine and on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Kingdom Assignment hosts annual "The Well Done" awards, where "we celebrate people who do good things that are maybe unrecognized sometimes by other people," Bellesi said. In relation to that initiative, Bellesi has received actual death threats, she told CP. People would comment on her YouTube clips or other online media: "I am going to kill you," which even prompted her to call the police at one point.
The minister also experienced criticism from those who said that by associating herself with "American Idol" she was looking for profits for her ministries. Bellesi denied she had ever received any major financial gains through the ministry.
"The finances, the money has always come from us," she told CP. "Occasionally we've had people that had helped us," by making their cars available or offering gas money, for example, she said. But she never "passed the plate" among the contestants' families and others, she assured. She did not need to. "God has an ability-- when he knows that your heart is right for it, or if you have the influence, you have the ability to accomplish something, then he will connect the dots. That's exactly what happened to me," she said.
A number of contestants' families were also camping in her house during competitions and cheering their children. At that time, they were all living, eating and praying together like a big family, Bellesi described.
Though the accusations of her trying to profiteer were "hard" for her, Bellesi did not "go around answering the blogs," the main platform on which anyone could freely and anonymously criticize her. She quoted Exodus 14:14 to CP –"The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
"This is what You called me to do and I'm gonna do it," Bellesi kept repeating to herself, she revealed.
Bellesi ended up behind the scenes of "American Idol" by what most see as a string of uncanny coincidences, but what she is convinced is proof that God wanted her to be there to bring spiritual support to the contestants. The minister had suffered an accident after a clown fell on her during a Cirque du Soleil show, leaving her bed-ridden and in pain for three years. When she encountered "American Idol" during her recovery, and when serendipitous events started taking place-- like Katharine McPhee attending her husband's service, Bellesi chance-winning a pass to the show just at the right time, or stumbling upon Paula Abdul by accident-- she became convinced about her calling.
"We're all just going where the Lord sends us. Some are sent on missions around the world. Somehow I was sent to 'American Idol'," Bellesi told Richard Rushfield, author of the book American Idol: The Untold Story, which includes a chapter telling her own unusual story.