What does a pastor's wife in Lake Forest have to do with Fox's top-rated singing contest?
Enough to fill an entire chapter in American Idol: The Untold Story, the new book by LA Times writer Richard Rushfield that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the now--sob!--Simon-less show.
Leesa Bellesi, who runs a Christian nonprofit with her husband, Denny, the founding pastor of Aliso Viejo's Coast Hills Community Church, has provided spiritual and financial support to numerous Idol stars and their families, believing she was "sent by God" to do so.
Over the past five seasons, the 50-something dancer/author has prayed with Paula Abdul; housed the families of Jason Castro and Syesha Mercado; and welcomed Katharine McPhee, Chris Sligh and Charity Vance to church services. McPhee and Jordin Sparks both graced the Idol stage wearing the bracelets she gave them, engraved with the words of Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans not to harm you, but to give you a future and a hope." (The New York Post summarizes Bellesi's Idol journey well, though gets her name wrong.)
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The chapter in the book is called "The Pastor":
"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."
Leesa Bellesi, an engaging blonde in her early fifties who resembles a young Florence Henderson, sits back at her kitchen table and begins her story. Her home, located in a hilly, semirural section of south Orange County, seems another world from the American Idol bubble. But at this table, a long line of mothers and fathers of Idol contestants have prayed for their children, watched them perform, and mourned when the Idol journeys ended.
The unofficial host to dozens of Idol families, Leesa Bellesi has in her time penetrated the protected space of the most high-profile show in the world. She has roamed backstage, attended Idol dinners and sat in the audience beside Idol families.
Rushfield writes his thoughts about Bellesi on his blog:
For me, this was one of the most fascinating tales in the book, first because it was such a great, heartwarming story and because Leesa and her husband are incredibly warm, special people whom it has been a pleasure to get to know. But also because this story says so much about Idol and the entertainment world's uneasy, often-fraught relationship with religion and spiritual themes, a subject I find endlessly fascinating.