On the surface, it's easy to see why so many people loathe the "American Idol" semifinalist: His glasses. The heart symbol he makes with his hands. The fact that he dresses like a cross between a figure skater and Charlie Sheen on "Two and a Half Men." His demeanor — which seems to flit between humility and cockiness — doesn't do him many favors, either. When he's being humble, people call him a phony. When he's being cocky, they call him a jerk. Danny Gokey, it seems, cannot win.
Of course, this is all superficial, speculative stuff. It says nothing about his vocal ability (which is — even I will begrudgingly admit — pretty great, so long as he's not singing Aerosmith) or the fact that he's one of the final three contestants left on the show (so, you know, he must be doing something right). I don't know anyone who's actually hung out with Danny Gokey, or served him coffee, or interacted with him on any level in between. I have no first-hand accounts of him being a jerk. Yet, I — and pretty much everyone I know — seem to believe that he is. This probably isn't fair. But it is kind of true.
Because I have written plenty of nasty stuff about Gokey (check the last line of this column about Adam Lambert for proof) without ever meeting him and have been congratulated by my friends and co-workers for doing so. And this probably says more about me — and people like me — than any of us would care to admit.
Do we dislike Gokey for any tangible reason? Is he a bad tipper? Mean to the elderly? No, we hate him because he sometimes appears to be a jerk on a televised singing competition. And that apparently gives us license to say all sorts of nasty things about him, to accuse him of wearing his wedding ring or using the death of his wife to curry the favor of "Idol" voters. And that's crazy. And pretty mean.
Perhaps Danny Gokey is proof that we hate without reason. That we are given to jealousy. That we dislike those who are naturally gifted (and dare to acknowledge that fact). That we are all, on some level, elitists, and within us all lies a superiority complex, a bias against those in the so-called "red states" who somehow find Gokey's story, struggle, faith — and even his voice — inspiring and uplifting.
But maybe I'm just writing about myself now. After all, last year, I penned a column, in which I called David Cook "the reason we are obese and ignorant ... the reason the rest of the world hates us." (It was not, shall we say, one of my finer moments.) And I kind of feel the same way about Danny Gokey — only this time, I'm not going to allow myself to go down that path.
Do I want Gokey to win "American Idol"? No. Would I ever buy one of his albums? Probably not. But do I think he's a terrible person? Someone worthy of scorn or ridicule? Everything that's wrong with America? Most definitely not. Because he's taught me a little something about myself. He's exposed an ugly part of my subconscious that I really don't like. And so I'm working on it. I'm not going to hate on Danny Gokey anymore. It will make me a better person.
Because Danny Gokey is what's great about "American Idol." He is the opportunity to learn about ourselves, to grow and to come together as one. To cast aside age-old divides and forge a better tomorrow. He is unity and hope, in spectacles. He's already taught me a new way — and he can do the same thing for you. Embrace him, even if you don't want to. And even if he might be kind of a jerk. Or because he is.