Reality Takes a Turn for the Better
Raise your right hand if the explosion of reality television shows has made you question the sanity of humanity. If you’re like me, after losing precious hours of Monday night viewing time glued to the escapades of an awkwardly handsome bachelor and his giddily hopeful bachelorettes, only to learn that Mr. Right has dumped the winning gal you have grown ridiculously attached to, the once agonizing task of helping your teenage son with his chemistry homework suddenly feels intensely, even urgently fulfilling. Far be it for me to assume that you can really fall in love in front of America and hope to stay together, but for those of us addicted to happy endings, it’s an alluring concept, and more than a little bothersome when it fails to work.
And what’s with eating bugs, anyway? It’s bad enough that we occasionally have to watch people gagging on slimy, slippery worms that slither past their lips as they struggle to win a million dollars and barely “survive.” I suppose that sitting at home with your feet up, eating your cheesy pizza and drinking your ice-cold soda while watching an emaciated group of your fellow once-indulgent citizens whining and scrounging for dirty foodstuffs on a remote island can be rather entertaining. But what maniac came up with the idea of shoving insects and small rodents into people’s mouths or covering their bodies with buckets of them on dark Hollywood sound stages? Has anyone thought about the fact that these rats and mice and worms and centipedes that have been crammed into tanks and shoved into contestants’ trembling mouths on a popular fear-related show might have had a life they were tending to before being scooped up for our torturous entertainment? Does it occur to anyone making or watching these types of shows that these creatures are actually ALIVE? Hello people…this is not the middle ages, and animals—even bugs—may be helpless, but they are fellow beings who couldn’t possibly appreciate being sacrificed for our greed.
Ooops. I think I just fell into a rant. I’m just about done, except to say that animals aside, seeing man pitted against man on the big screen in the sanctity of my home, with all the machinations involved, is giving me the creeps. Whether watching couples as they’re openly tempted to cheat on one another (the basis for one show), or viewing the lengths to which some people will go in the kill-or-be-killed competition inspired by a major mogul, I’m wondering what my grandma, if she were still alive, would think. I bet she’d sit back with a sigh and say, “Well, honey. I sure hope that anyone who bullies bugs, animals, or people can handle it if and when the meek really do inherit the earth.”
Thankfully, turning on the tube on a recent Friday night has done wonders to lessen my disdain and renew my hope in the power of television, as lovable and sometimes meek, ill, or recently unfortunate townspeople are granted their hearts’ greatest wishes (with football stadiums and parking lots overflowing with well wishers cheering them on). Although I still have a few reality-show favorites, for sure (Starting Over, for starters—as seen in our Spring issue—and anything related to helping pets, making cooking more palatable, or gifting poor people sparkling new homes), I wasn’t anticipating the emotional shift I was to experience with NBC’s latest feel-good programming. In fact, I resisted even the temptation to tune in to Three Wishes—hosted by the five-time Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, Amy Grant. I now thank God that I’m an Amy Grant fan (who especially adored her ’91 album, “Heart in Motion,” the song, “Baby Baby” and her triple platinum “Home for Christmas”), or I may not have taken the time to tune in at all. And now that I’m feeling so thankful, I thank God that NBC had the foresight to air such a truly remarkable show!
The concept of Three Wishes is not an entirely new one. People with money, power, connections and hearts full of enthusiasm (i.e. the production show staff) swoop into town to help some extremely deserving folks. The difference here, however, is in the number of storylines—at least three—and the artful way in which the stories are told and the bigness of the way they’re executed. Coming to a Wish Tent in the middle of town, we follow some extraordinary men, women and children through their life stories and wishes wished, until each situation culminates in a seemingly magical conclusion. It’s all just astounding, really. And, it’s not just me saying so, either. Entertainment Weekly named Three Wishes one of five “favorite new fall shows,” and exclaimed that it leaves viewers “beaming about the basic goodness of humankind,” and The Parents Television Council said that this show is “the best example yet of the positive potential of reality TV.” Wow. Let me just warn you, though, that if you cry at Hallmark commercials and graduations, you’re going to need a box full of tissues for this show. But your puffy eyes and red nose will be more than worth the sheer glee and elation you feel about the human race and the world in general once the credits roll.
After just having the pleasure of sitting down to a wonderful chat with Amy, who’s the show’s star host, I can see why she’s at the helm of the Three Wishes. Amy is as down-to-earth, spiritual, and kind as they come—just as she is on camera and on her records. Without making you feel guilty or wrong about who you are, she just naturally makes you want to be a better person by her example—both in the way she communicates (man, I tried so hard not to swear in front of her!) and in her humility, as you’ll see…
I start off asking Amy about the two biggest miracles of her life, to which she replies, “Oh my goodness. It would probably depend on the category. From a career standpoint, the first one would be that I ever got a record deal in the first place.” Amy was only 16 when she was first signed by a Christian label after a friend heard a demo tape she had just made for her parents. It’s been nearly three decades since, and she still can’t quite make sense of it all. “That was so baffling and mind boggling. I felt like my life personified the bible story of the little boy bringing an offering of his lunch who wound up serving over 5,000 people, with some left over. I always felt that I came with a minimal amount of raw talent. And yet there was enough to go around, and even some to spare.
“In my personal life, the biggest miracle would be that in the midst of a very busy working life, I have made my children a priority, and somehow followed through with that commitment. My secret is plenty of sleep deprivation!” she says with a laugh.
“The second miracle in that area would be that my life path ever crossed that of Vince’s [referring to Vince Gill—legendary country artist—who’s middle name is Grant, by the way!]. Meeting him was a miracle to me.” Amy, as most of you already know, was married to a man with whom she had three children. Fans were saddened to learn of her divorce (me included, since it wasn’t one of those “happy” endings I long for), but overjoyed when she met and fell in love with Nashville favorite Vince Gill. I asked her if her second union has been easier than the first.
“I think that for anyone who is married, the more things you have in common with that person, the easier it is,” she answers. “That could be sharing a similar background; it could be a shared work ethic, or mental and emotional things like compatible thought processes and high levels of respect for each other. You can’t change the fact that when you’re married, you’re trying to blend two individuals into one home, so it can get hard sometimes, but it’s not very often that it’s actually hard with Vince. The good thing is that if your heart is really in it, you feel a sense of purpose for your union even in the hard times.”
Knowing that Amy started her singing career as a contemporary Christian artist (the first to have a platinum record and sing at the Grammy’s), I wanted to know if her divorce tested her faith. “Sure,” she says. “Mostly it was tested because I hadn’t yet really understood what forgiveness was about. And, because I was dealing with so much personal change. I think a lot of people don’t realize that change can be such a compelling force in life. I mean, it’s the thing that makes you try new things—things you would never have attempted before. Being in a 17-year marriage that crumbled and failed, in public even, was a real crisis for me, and exposed me to a great learning curve about human nature, especially my own. Forgiveness is divine, and I’m so grateful for those years. I mean, there is nothing like falling on your faith. It’s the doorway to becoming a whole person. Up until that point, when you’re treading water, you don’t have any experience of being lifted up after drowning. Whatever tendency I had toward being judgmental just evaporated. Being lifted up, for me, made me feel so hopeful for every person, every situation.”
It’s easy to see how someone with this mindset ended up on a show about granting wishes. I have my favorite episodes, like the one where a girl is in a massive car accident just days before her high school graduation, and the only major hope she’s talked about since becoming paralyzed is wanting to graduate. The show’s angelic crew not only reenacts this girl’s graduation day (by building the stands and inviting her graduation class to return to the scene from their colleges across the U.S.), but through flying in the best doctors money can buy, she actually walked (a first since the accident) out of her wheelchair to receive her diploma. Dry eye in the stands? No way.
You Just Never Know
I asked Amy about her favorites wishes granted, and how the show has changed her life…”There are many,” she says, “but I was really blindsided by a story that I covered in Covington, Georgia. I met a woman there named Olivia Bishop, who came to the Wish Tent wanting to find her birth mother. I have several friends who are adopted, and there is always the issue of ‘to find or not to find.’ This woman didn’t know that she was adopted until she was in her thirties because she was the youngest of multiple siblings, and both of her adoptive parents had passed away. I was completely unprepared for the reaction of her mother, who we found through the help of a private investigator from a company in Texas. The investigator was amazing, so full of life and so compelling. He does a lot of counseling in this line of work and told me that a child’s greatest fear is usually that the mother did not love them. The birth mother’s greatest fear is that the child will judge her. We found the mother, who was now in her fifties, and she explained that at 17, when she gave the child up for adoption, her own mother was terminally ill and her father was an alcoholic. She felt that she had no options, and was made to sign a legal document that she would never pursue making contact with the child. So, out of the blue, for me to go to her house and say that I knew the child she had given birth to 33 years ago, who wanted to know her, was incredible. Meeting her daughter was also her greatest wish. Her name was Alice and she reminded me of Bonnie Raitt. I thought, ‘Oh, what a cool person to find!’
“The show has been one big lesson in not sweating the small stuff. Also, my base-line appreciation level has gone way up because I’ve seen the lives of so many people that just turned on a dime, completely beyond their control. Thankfully, my family and I are all in good health, but that could all change tomorrow morning.”
In light of the bigger-than-life tragedies we’ve seen in the news over the past year—the Asian Tsunami, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistani earthquake, to name a few—Amy and I talked about how grateful we’ve become for things that once stressed us out—housework, for one. Being a mom of four kids [she and Vince have had a little girl of their own] with a busy career can make a gal feel like a slave to dishes, diapers and date books, but nowadays there’s an opportunity for a little perspective. “I’ve been traveling a lot,” she admits sheepishly. “I didn’t know that the TV show was going to come along, and I had already booked concerts per the amount of time that I was willing to be away from home. I didn’t want to turn the show down, so I’ve really been working overtime. I came home from the airport recently and I only had a quick 36-hour turnaround. I was sitting on the sofa looking at a roaring fire and something inside of me was about to have a wha, wha, wha moment because I wanted so badly to stay home. In a flash, however, I thought, ‘Well, there’s so many other options to this scenario other than how I’m sitting on the sofa having a glass of wine and I’ve got to do my laundry and pack. I could be dead or paralyzed or have just lost everything to a fire—like people I had just met. Let me rethink this. I am so glad to be on my sofa, with a whole 32 hours at home!'”
We’re in This Together
With this newly inspired perspective, what’s in Amy’s future? “Well, once you begin to engage in helping other people, I think you can never stop. This sounds kind of lofty, but I’ve just seen how we really are a part of the family of man. I believe now more than ever that we were created to work in community with each other. As long as everything is hunky dory and you’re speeding along freely, you might not realize how dependent we all are, but when you experience a life that’s been hit with tragedy, you see that there is no way for some people to put one foot in front of the other without others becoming involved. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump to your mind saying, ‘Wow, doesn’t it make sense to invest our lives in other people in such a way that when our time comes for tragedy—which, with the world turning the way it does, seems to be inevitable for all of us—then, in a very trusting way we can know that people will reach out to us as we’ve done for others.’ ”
I’m so looking forward to next Friday night. With popcorn and a box of Kleenex by my side, I’ll be sniffling and sobbing and snorting with millions of other people, breathing a huge sigh of relief for the spiritual power behind some remarkable reality TV.