Christian novelist Kingsbury offers a faith-based look at an American Idol–style show and the inherent spiritual risks placed upon the contestants.
Zack Dylan loves a few things intensely: Jesus, his girlfriend, Reese, the family horse farm and singing. When creditors threaten the family ranch, Zack sees Fifteen Minutes, a popular television singing competition, as a way to earn the big bucks and also let the world know about his faith. Zach is a gifted singer-songwriter, and there is little doubt that he could win, but no one wants him to enter the competition. Reese is worried it will strain their relationship (they were college sweethearts), and Grandpa is afraid that celebrity will weaken his commitment to God. Apparently, no one can exit the celebrity sawmill unscathed. Two of the show’s new judges are testaments to the dangers of the spotlight: Chandra Olsen was a previous Fifteen Minutes winner, but since her win, a crazed stalker killed her parents, her fiance left, and she lost her faith. Kelly Morgan, nearing 40, is the daughter of a preacher and the wife of a faith-based movie producer, but stardom has made her vain and shallow; she wants to divorce her (perhaps cheating) husband and take up with a young reefer-smoking pop star. Ignoring family concerns, Zack auditions in Atlanta and meets beautiful cheerleader Zoey Davis. The two make it through the auditions, and as she begins crushing and tweeting about Zack, the show’s producers immediately create a Romeo and Juliet narrative for the season. Zack is outraged and worried that Reese will misunderstand, but he is increasingly committed to winning and hopes that when he does, he can use his new platform to tell the world about Jesus. But he changes, as was feared by all, and it is up to Chandra and Kelly (recently renewed in their faith) to help Zack.
Though Kingsbury’s writing is serviceable, Zack’s interior life, which is consumed by guilt, worry, shame, reticence and insecurity, becomes a drain on the novel’s momentum.