25 After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. — Deuteronomy 4:25-26
Leesa Bellesi threw her hands up in the air and prayed: “Here I am Lord, send me to the backstage of ‘American Idol.’ ”
She was watching Season 5 of the ultra-popular television show in her Laguna Beach home at the time.
It was her calling, she thought, “to minister to the needs of the people on that show.”
Several weeks later, out of the blue, a pretty girl named Katharine McPhee walked into Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena where Leesa’s husband, Denny, founder of Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, was serving as the interim teaching pastor. Katharine asked Leesa and Denny to pray for her – as she was about to go into seclusion for “American Idol.”
In case you’re waving this away as nothing more than a coincidence, along came random Idol encounter No. 2.
Leesa was given a silver bracelet that March with Jeremiah 29:11 engraved on it: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to give you a hope and a future.” One morning a few days later she woke up and thought “I need to give this to Katharine. It’s not mine. It’s hers.” She turned on the TV. The Fox morning news happened to be giving away two tickets that night to “American Idol.” “I jumped up and wrote the number down, thinking ‘This is impossible.’ ” She had to be the 11th caller. “All of a sudden, they said, ‘Hi, you’re the 11th caller.’ I was completely blown away.”
That night after the show, Leesa waited by the back entrance where all the contestants come out and slipped the bracelet into Katharine’s hands. The next time Katharine took the stage, she was wearing the bracelet.
But the “Idol” magic didn’t stop there.
The following season, Leesa was working handing out swag at the Four Seasons when she met “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul by chance. Before the evening was over, Paula invited Leesa to come be her guest at the show. Backstage at Idol a few weeks later, Leesa ran into contestant Jordin Sparks. The ebullient teenager with the powerful voice signed Leesa’s ticket. The next morning Leesa looked closely at her ticket and saw that under Jordin’s signature she wrote: Jeremiah 29:11.
Tingling, Leesa wrote a letter to Jordin telling her about the bracelet she had given to Katharine. She put it in an envelope along with a duplicate of the bracelet she had given Katharine. Jordin, who went on to become that season’s “American Idol,” wore the bracelet on stage every week thereafter.
That same season, Leesa also met fellow Christian and top 10 “Idol” contestant Chris Sligh backstage. How can I help you, she asked him?
“And he actually told me,” she recalls, laughing.
Sligh told Leesa he had been apart from his wife, Sarah, for nearly seven weeks. Did Leesa have an extra bed so she could fly out from South Carolina? Leesa picked Sarah up at LAX the following Tuesday and drove her to her Sherman Oaks house, which was up for sale, while she and Denny were in the process of moving back to Lake Forest.
To come to Hollywood, the 24 finalists sometimes say goodbye to spouses, even children, for up to four months, depending on when they get voted off. The show provides hotel rooms, meals and transportation for contestants, but not for members of the family they leave behind. They also leave behind jobs, and paychecks.
“For a lot of people that’s a very, very tough position. For those first few weeks, financially it’s a scary thing … obviously when you’re not making a salary that can be difficult paying bills back home.”
With no income, and bills mounting, most contestants don’t have extra cash to be flying family members around and putting them up in hotels.
That’s where Leesa comes in.
• • •
After so many “Idol” encounters, Leesa is launching a Web site, aiministryresource.com, on Feb. 14, the day after the top 24 are announced, to offer them spiritual encouragement and financial support as they sing for votes and a shot at a life-changing record deal.
“I think it’s great,” says Sligh, who last week flew from Nashville, Tenn., where he is recording a Christian rock album, to stay a few days at the Leesa’s mobile home getaway overlooking oceanfront resort Montage Laguna Beach. “To have people who are willing to come to you financially when you’re in that position; it is a struggle.”
The public is welcome to visit the site where they will find photos and quotes. But only “Idol” finalists will be given passwords (Leesa is not saying how) to confidentially list their needs and the needs of their families. “We won’t be flying out boyfriends or anything like that,” Leesa said.
Leesa says she and a small band of ministry partners are prepared to get plane tickets for “Idol” family members who otherwise can’t afford one. A local car dealership has offered to make rental cars available to visiting family members. Members of the ministry will also be on hand to pick family members up from the airport and put them up in their homes. And finalists can also ask for a pastor or make prayer requests (Please pray that Simon is nice to me this week).
Leesa is asking those on board to sign a contract that they expect nothing in return. “No autographs,” she says, laughing.
She’s laughing because she is exactly the sort of person who would drool over an Idol autograph. This is a woman who several seasons ago set her cell phone alarm to go off every Tuesday fifteen minutes before the show starts so she could get to a TV. She never changed the setting, so that even in the middle of summer now the alarm goes off, bringing back Idol memories, and making her laugh.
Leesa never saw the first season, but her two grown daughters were fans. She watched the finale with them that year when Kelly Clarkson won. “And I don’t think I’ve missed a single show since them.”
Why? “You’re seeing someone be so vulnerable in front of people and giving it everything they’ve got and then seeing their dreams fulfilled.”
A friend who lives in Arizona and gets the New York feed calls Leesa every week to tell her what happens before the show goes on the air here because she can’t stand to wait for results. “Especially Kat’s year,” she says. “It was always such a panic.”
On the night of the finale, Leesa voted for Katharine 1,200 times, double fisting her cell phone and the land line. Not surprisingly, the two have remained friends (in fact Denny is Katharine and her fiancé Nick Cokas’ pastor).
“I’m a crazy voter,” Leesa says. Before the finale, she would vote “easy, 600 times” in one night. “Denny laughs at me a lot.”
But there is no doubt, in her mind, that God heard her prayer that long ago night in Laguna and put her to work. “Seeing God put the pieces together … there’s no way I could of made all of that happen.”
The Bellesis are the authors of The Kingdom Assignment trilogy, three Christian books that inspire people to use their God-given talent, treasures and time. “This is our message. We’re all on assignment every day of our lives. (The Web site) is one of my assignments. It’s an absolute calling.”
And Sligh predicts this season’s contestants will answer the phone. “It’s definitely going to be a blessing for these guys.”
Just when I thought Orange County Religion couldn’t get any worse, they ratchet up into another level of awful!