Singer Pat Boone, one of America's best-known Christian entertainers, has been taken off the air by a national religious television network after showing up at the American Music Awards dressed like a heavy metal rock singer.
Boone's weekly half-hour show was dropped by the Trinity Broadcasting Network on Tuesday after the network received thousands of phone calls and letters from contributors who were shocked by Boone's bare-chested leather costume--augmented by faux tattoos and a studded dog collar--at the awards show, broadcast Jan. 27 by ABC.
"A lot of our [prayer] 'partners' had a real problem with that, more than a lot," said an employee of Trinity, whose programming is carried by nearly 400 cable systems and television stations worldwide.
Even before the emergence of the black-leathered Boone, a lawyer for the network said, its viewers had been dismayed by the shifting musical genre on the entertainer's weekly show, "Gospel America," which has been carried by Santa Ana-based Trinity for four years. Boone had moved away from traditional and pop gospel to more emphasis on lyrics from heavy metal rock hits--versions of which he has released on a new recording.
When they were besieged with the new complaints, Trinity President Paul Crouch and other network executives moved to strike Boone's show from its broadcast schedule, at least until he "explains" his actions to their satisfaction. In the meantime, viewers who called the network were being urged to pray for Boone.
Boone said Wednesday that Trinity's move was "real unexpected," and that he told Crouch ahead of time not to be "stampeded" by "people who would jump to the wrong conclusions" by his appearance on the network show--which most observers construed as a spoof on the fresh-scrubbed image that made him a singing idol in the 1950s at the age of 20.
"They see garish looking pictures [of me] and say, 'Oh no! Pat Boone has totally sold out, lost his salvation and has gone over to the devil," Boone said Wednesday. "So they bombard Trinity with hundreds of calls and say if he's on the air you've seen our last nickel."
Boone also disclosed that the Bethel School and Orphanage in Chattanooga, Tenn., which he has aided for 20 years by sponsoring a golf tournament, may also sever ties with him.
"It's not the administrators' objections. It's all the donors, their support base, that are threatening them with never sending them another check if they continue to associate with that degenerate metal-head Pat Boone," Boone said.
Known for decades for his boy-next-door appearance, Boone, 62, stepped onto the stage at the American Music Awards in leather pants, open vest, applique tattoos--and the studded dog collar and bracelets. It was all part of Boone's promotion of his album "In a Metal Mood/No More Mr. Nice Guy," in which he combines heavy metal lyrics with what he calls "a big-band, Pat Boone vocal version of some terrific songs." The album was 125 on Billboard magazine's top 200 sales rankings Feb. 8, but has since dropped off the chart.
Boone said his goal was to introduce inoffensive heavy metal lyrics to his fans--people not likely to embrace or understand in-your-face hard rock, like that performed by the group Black Sabbath, which many see as evidence of America's moral decay.
As it turned out, what some of Boone's fans didn't understand was him. They couldn't reconcile the hard rock attire and heavy metal lyrics with the entertainer they had come to admire. By the thousands, they began flooding the network with complaints.
"The only reason they took the show off the air," Boone said, "was not because Paul and Jan Crouch don't get what I'm doing, but because they got hundreds of calls from their 'little partners,' little old ladies and folks who contribute to TBN ministries who were so concerned about me in heavy metal clothing. They didn't get the joke."
Paul Shefrin, spokesman for American Music Awards, called Trinity's decision unfortunate. Boone's attire was just promotional, he said.
"He dressed to fit that mode, and also just to get an audience reaction, whether a cheer or a laugh," Shefrin said. At another point in the awards show, Shefrin noted, Boone wore a tuxedo.
"Pat has done those songs in his style. He isn't singing in a way or using expletives that might be a turnoff to the middle-of-the-road, easy-listening-type audience he's had his appeal to," Shefrin said.
Trinity officials said Boone still could redeem himself. He has been invited to appear on the network's flagship show, "Praise," formerly known as "Praise the Lord," hosted by the silver-haired Crouch and his wife, Jan, whose trademarks are an enormous bouffant hairdo and heavy eye makeup.
"Until that takes place, the overwhelming number of respondents and people who have called in to the [network] have complained about the change and have otherwise requested that his program be discontinued," Trinity attorney Colby May said Wednesday from Washington. "Trinity has assented to that request."