There were many memorable "American Idol" contestants Wednesday night in Milwaukee, but the one that's spiking in Yahoo! Search and top-trending on Twitter is by an unassuming Illinois man named Chris Medina. However, his audition was somewhat polarizing, with some viewers (including myself) deeply moved by his incredible sob story, and other, more cynical ones accusing him of exploiting the woman in his life.
In October 2009, only two months before they were supposed to wed, Chris's 23-year-old fiancée Juliana Ramos sustained a traumatic brain injury in a horrific car crash and lapsed into a lengthy coma. She has yet to recover from her massive, life-changing injuries, and since the accident, Chris has dedicated himself to being her caretaker. "What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?" he explained.
Even in a season already packed with sob stories, this one was a doozy--in fact maybe the sobbiest sob story in all 10 "Idol" seasons. Even class-clown judge Steven Tyler became visibly choked up when Chris brought the wheelchair-bound Juliana into the audition room to say hello, hugging her and telling her through tears, "That's why he sings so good, because he sings to you."
It was a TV moment that would seemingly melt the heart of even toughie Simon Cowell. But in an "Idol" age of general sob-story fatigue, after seasons of cancer survivors, foster kids, orphans, and struggling single parents, some nasty blogs and commenters are now accusing Chris of exploiting his misfortune--or, more specifically, Juliana's--to further his musical career. It's far from the first time such accusations have been thrown around regarding "Idol"--another Milwaukee contestant, young widower Danny Gokey, who frequently spoke about his deceased wife Sofia, comes to mind.
And I suppose I see such points. Let's face it, Chris's audition was good, but not great. He was far from the best singer of the night. We wouldn't even be talking about him now if it weren't for Juliana's tragic tale. What was memorable about him wasn't his song, or his voice, or his stage presence. It was his back story. But TV producers love this sort of tearjerking tale and the buzz it creates. So if any exploitation was perpetrated, the producers are probably to blame, not Chris.
Additionally, there's the issue of who will care for Juliana if Chris competes in Hollywood for months, or that his band back home is unfortunately named the Able Body, or that the moment when Juliana was wheeled into the audition room, looking confused and unable to communicate, was a bit uncomfortable to watch. But you know what? Sometimes LIFE is uncomfortable. It's not always pretty or easy. Really now, if Chris was such a jerk, as his detractors claim, then he would have abandoned Juliana months ago. Very few men Chris's age would have the courage and character to stick by her like he has. Perhaps what makes some viewers uncomfortable is the nagging realization that they might not be so noble if they were in his shoes.
Even a quick look at the Laurus Foundation webpage set up to collect donations for Juliana's medical expenses, or the "For Juliana" Facebook tribute page co-run by Chris and Juliana's mother, Janet Barnes, indicates that Chris is the real deal. This week on the Facebook page, Janet blogged:
"There is a man in our lives that has risen from a crisis to be a hero. You know that already because I have said it a hundred times in a hundred ways through this blog. Our very own Chris Medina has spent days and nights, losing blood, sweat and oh yes A LOT of tears to beg his fiancée back to health. And through it all he has become deeper, more centered, and an even more soulful individual. This has been witnessed by all of us from his mannerisms to his music. If you didn't love him before, you do now. If you DID love him, you now adore him."
Clearly much, if not all, of America now adores Chris too. It remains to be seen if he can win this thing--like I said, his voice is not the best of the bunch--but if his "Idol" audition draws attention to Juliana's cause and helps them build a better future together, then that's a good thing. Just check out this video Chris made on what was supposed to have been his wedding day, for a song titled "What Has Become of Me" that he wrote while Juliana was still in the hospital:
Cynics, please back off.