March 28, 2012 at 3:56 PM ET
Fashion advice from Tommy Hilfiger. Musical guidance from both record-label honcho Jimmy Iovine and a major recording artist each week. A mansion to live in. "American Idol" provides all this for its contestants.
But as it turns out, another perk of being on the show is "spiritual financial aid" for the hopefuls and their families, though not from the show itself. And just for those more spiritually inclined singers -- some of whom are approached, and some who seek it out.
Proud Christian Colton Dixon is the latest “Idol” singer to hook up with a Southern California ministry that provides that extra bit of help.
“Colton is the Tim Tebow of ‘American Idol,’ ” said Leesa Bellesi, who founded the Kingdom Assignment ministry in Orange County with her husband, preacher Denny Bellesi. “I have had some really unique opportunities to pray over (Colton) and give input where I can.”
Fox did not reply to a request for comment.
Kingdom Assignmentstarted at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo and has become known among the show’s inner circle simply as the “American Idol Ministry.”
The Bellesis have been known to literally pass the hat throughout their congregation, collecting donations that are used to help “Idol” families fund their trips to Los Angeles while their loved ones compete. Previous "Idol" contestants -- including Katherine McPhee, Chris Sligh and Charity Vance -- have all attended services and supported the Bellesis' cause by performing at church-sanctioned events.
So just how did the Bellesis get connected with the show? Leesa Bellesi snuck backstage during season five and presented a silver bracelet engraved with “Jeremiah 29:11” to eventual runner-up Katherine, who had once come to hear her husband’s sermon.
The contestant wasn't the only one to receive a bracelet from Bellesi. This season, she passed out white rubber bracelets with the message "God has good plans 4 me" to many of the Top 24 hopefuls, including Shannon Magrane and Heejun Han.
“The night that Jeremy Rosado (received the wild card) and became very emotional, the camera zoomed in on him and you could see he was wearing one,” Leesa told us.
As for Colton, he first met the pair in 2010. After his early elimination last season (he was cut just shy of the Top 24), Colton performed for their congregation at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
“I love Leesa,” Colton told TODAY.com. “She is known as ‘The Idol Pastor.’ She is so caring and so giving. She just wants to love on the contestants and their families. And provide a home for them if they need it.”
While current contestants are generally sequestered from the public during the competition, “I connect with him on Twitter and stuff like that,” Leesa said.
Meanwhile, Colton’s parents have been part-time guests of the Bellesis’, who have also opened their Orange County home to the families of dozens of “Idol” hopefuls, including Jason Castro and Syesha Mercado, since season five.
Leesa Bellesi told TODAY.com that despite warnings from producers that Colton's faith talk could alienate some potential voters, she “applauds” the singer for publicly representing his beliefs.
“Them telling him that was brilliant -- because it is true,” she said. “If you get into sharing your politics or your faith, there are people who are going to have feelings against that. But Colton is not going to deny what he believes in. Even with his branding, on his Facebook page, they kept it consistent: Love God, Love Music, Love People.”
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Sean Daly runs the blog SingersAndCritics.com, which covers reality singing-competition shows.