Hope comes to America

It was, for a breathless moment, like staring into the country’s soul


Herein, the fourth in a semi-regular series chronicling the ninth season of American Idol. You can read the first instalment here, the second instalment here and the third instalment here.

“We saved the best for last,” Ryan Seacrest enthused at the start of American Idol‘s eighth episode. The previous seven episodes, covering something like eight hours of primetime television, had apparently been a tease.

“We’re saving the best for last,” Seacrest said, another 50 minutes later.

After nearly nine hours then, covering auditions in seven cities that collectively drew more than 100,000 Americans desperate to demonstrate their worthiness, American Idol had something left to show us. Something we needed to see, to hear.

And so here was Hope Johnson, a pretty 19-year-old waitress and bartender from Arlington, Texas.

Hope, we learned, had grown up with six sisters and a brother. And they were poor. “I didn’t know we were poor when I was little,” she said. “I thought a lot of kids didn’t eat dinner.”

She said used to take food from her cafeteria tray at lunch and bring it home for her little brother. A photo of her brother flashed on screen as she explained how he would cry when he was hungry.

“I felt like, you know, there’s always tomorrow,” she said. “And things are always going to be better. Just make it through tonight.” She bit her bottom lip, apologized and wiped away a tear.

“There’s a lot worse things than just going without it. There’s a lot worse,” she ventured.

“Music’s my escape,” she said. “I can sing a song and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”

She said she hoped the judges would know she was a “star,” and flashed a crooked smile.

Hope stood in an audition room in Dallas. She wore pearls and a polka dot skirt, her straight brown hair falling around her shoulders. Here, in a twangy voice she sang the first lines of the second verse of I Hope You Dance, the biggest hit of Lee Ann Womack, a popular country singer who performed for George W. Bush at his first formal White House dinner as president.

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,” she sang out, her voice rising and falling away. “Never settle for the path of least resistance.”

Simon Cowell’s mouth hung open. One of the Jonas Brothers, appearing as a guest judge, smiled slightly. Randy Jackson nodded. After a few lines Hope skipped directly to the chorus.

“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance,” she sang, stretching our her arms at her sides as she stretched out the last word.

Kara DioGuardi shook her head.

“I hope you dance,” Hope finished, softly.

It was, for a breathless moment, like staring into America’s soul.

Hope smiled and shuffled her feet as the judges seemed to struggle to explain what they had just seen and heard. Kara clutched at her throat. Randy tried to advise Hope on her phrasing. Hope nodded. “I like you,” said Simon. “Yeah, I like you. Yeah, you’re cute.” Hope smiled.

Simon called for a vote and it was unanimous, Hope would be going to Hollywood. “This is ridiculous,” she squealed. And with that she skipped off into the future, kissing Ryan Seacrest on the cheek as she went.


Hope comes to America

  1. I can't tell if Wherry is being ironic or not.

  2. Me either, I didn't think she was that good, and I don;t think the judges thought she was as good as he makes it sound either. Cute yes, touching story, yes, but she wasn't close to the best singer in the auditions.

  3. sarcasm is a powerful tool. I hope he is using it right now..

  4. This Idol crap is so contrived. What pathetic television geared toward the peon masses. But more importantly, WHY is this is a Maclean’s cover story? Just reaffirms my decision not to renew my subscription.

    • "WHY is this is a Maclean's cover story?"

      Employment equity. More jobs for women, more money for advertisers to covet, ergo more female oriented news and entertainment, ergo more reality TV, which is vastly more popular with women than men, as is watching TV itself, so Maclean's covering "stories" for bimbo oriented tv shows is only a natural consequence.

      Don't shoot the messenger, if you want better Maclean's cover stories, you need to call your MP and tell him to ixnay the workplace gender quotas.

      Personally, as for on topic commentary, I think Katy Perry's cleavage…I just think Katy Perry's cleavage.

  5. WHY is this a*

  6. I believe the people commenting are not interpreting this article correctly. This article is not about American Idol. This article is not about times changing for the better. This is not a positive article.

    This article is about everything that is wrong about America right now. Think about how her name just happens to be hope "Hope". Hope is all Americans really have right now for their country. Look at the symbolism in the song that Hope Johnson performed to the judges. Ask yourself how do the lyrics reflect American foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan? I recall Lee Ann Womack performed this for the one and only George W. Bush…

    I'll throw in more point to solidify my opinion about this misunderstood article. Hope Johnson is this beutiful looking girl who could easily qualify as your average Caucasian American female. Why is she having to share her story of growing up poor in America? Sure it tickles our emotions and make us only wish more that she does well in this competition and that we can follow her on her journey by tuning in every night. I look at it and question why did she have to grow up hungry in her country. If someone is growing up in the great country of America hungry…. That's just more symbolism in this article that things are far from right in that country.

  7. I really can not believe I am hearing all this ca ca. Here is a young girl singing her heart out, not for herself, but for her and her family. I know poor, I know what it is like to have nothing. So, to all the naysayers and pooh hass I say spblshshs one giant raspberry. i say you go for it girl and be proud of what you do.

  8. I don't think he was sarcastic at all. It was a touching story, that maybe symbolizes some improvement in the lives of America's poor in the past little while.

  9. Who is this America you talk about?? North America, South America or Central America?
    R Nelson

  10. I'm still loving this, and reading the comments just makes it better.

    Keep it up!

  11. Employment equity? That's a leap!

    • Must break your beta heart, fella, but it is so, and no more a leap than 2+2=4. And that's the meta analysis – on a smaller scale, you have to remember that Kady O'Malley wrote here for years, and she is like a magnet to reality tv types. Prolly a quota hired female editor made the call to run this piece, I guarantee you no two fisted het male did.

      So, yeah, the "Occam's razor" explanation, the most logical and concise explanation, as to why Maclean's runs these kinds of bimbo oriented bits is because of employment equity, both from a "push" (abstract thought-deficient editatrixes) and a "pull" (bimbo quota hire readers with newfound ill-begotten loot to spend) perspective.

  12. Bimbo? Wow. I thought in this day and age, women were finally considered as intelligent as men and certainly capable of understanding topics beyond American Idol.

    If we're taking a step backwards toward name-calling, what kind of story would you "redneck" men have Maclean's run? Perhaps, a coverstory on the size of the Stephen Harper's… ?

    Here's a novel idea: Why don't we stick to news intelligent people, regardless of sex, can appreciate?

  13. Why is it Americans like to romanticize growing up poor and hungry and turn it into a theme of the American dream of stardom? Shouldn't the question really be about why so many kids still grow up hungry in the richest nation in the world?

  14. "Shouldn't the question really be about why so many kids still grow up hungry in the richest nation in the world? "

    Divorce, which is initiated in 70% of cases by women in America (among college educated spouses, it's 90%), is, along with having children out of wedlock, the greatest cause of childhood poverty in America. So the short answer, in most cases, to your question is "women", more specifically, "feminists", who advocate and vote for policies that are horribly harmful to children.

    But they are! I know, I know, you guys probably don't like this answer either, but hey, you're the ones asking questions, I'm only trying to help you. And if you think childhood poverty in America is bad, just wait until the HST hits Ontario and BC, that's an extremely regressive tax that is seriously going to hurt Canadian children in low income families.

    Say what you will about Mike Harris and Stephen Harper, but they actually cut taxes, instead of raising taxes, on the poor, as McGuinty has done twice now.

    • Oh, I get it! If anyone was giving you the benefit of the doubt through your first two comments — where you blame employment equity (?!) and female journos for the woes of America — it's blatantly obvious by the third: you sir are a mentally ill woman hater, a true misogynist, who blames the world's troubles on women. Specifically educated women.

      Why don't you and your steroid-shrivelled limp-dyck go jerk off to some muscle mags now? You know you wanna! Ever since your WIFEY took your kids and left to pursue a career as something better and more successful than you, and more importantly, WITHOUT YOU!

    • Tiny -Tony,

      I was sickened by your first comment basically saying equality for women is the downfall of everything. But now I read your second comment saying women are responsible for children out of wedlock and divorce (it does take two to tango) and I realized oh wait this guy isn't just a woman-hater, he's an anal-retentive and fearful conservative…it figures. You are exactly the kind of person that has made the US a country split between elite wealthy and the poor masses. Crawl back into your cave and eat some red meat….the world doesn't need a venomous thing like you.

  15. Winston Smith was dead wrong when he asserted: If there is hope,it lies with the Proles. Too many living in our Prole dominated society are just as naive as he was.

  16. Not sure how they expect to get intelligent comments about a no mind show. Slow news day perhaps?

  17. This is a good sign. I never followed American Idol series. I wonder who won?

  18. I very much love the content you have posted.I can see some lovable conversation here.

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