After a member of the embattled Hillsong Church won the latest season of “The Voice Australia,” social media buzzed with allegations that the show is rigged and promotes the evangelical megachurch. Meanwhile, supporters of the singing competition and its latest winner, Bella Taylor Smith, say she had the “best talent” and her faith is irrelevant.
Smith, a 23-year-old singing teacher, was coached by Guy Sebastian, who also has links to Hillsong and whose brother previously won the contest. For winning “The Voice Australia,” Smith receives $100,000 plus a recording contract with EMI Records. She says she plans to continue teaching, calling it “one of my passions.”
Some Viewers Question Hillsong’s Role
After Smith was crowned the winner Sunday evening, social media users expressed suspicions about the connections. “Yet again you cheated the system,” one person tweets at Hillsong. “Let’s face it,” another writes, “the real winner here is Hillsong.” Another person says, “Hillsong Church member auditions for a Hillsong coach, then Hillsong coach has to act like the Hillsong connection isn’t there until grand finale night but okay.”
Other social media comments accuse “The Voice Australia” of being “a vehicle” for the church’s musicians and of being overly religious. “The Pentecostal symbolism is barely subtle with this song choice,” one person writes about Smith’s performance of Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer.” The comment continues: “I hate to see [that song] used so blatantly for Hillsong-related purposes like this.”
Sydney-based Hillsong has faced several recent scandals. Carl Lentz, the church’s New York City pastor, was ousted last year for “breaches of trust” and “moral failures,” including an extramarital affair. Hillsong Dallas closed earlier this year after its pastors resigned for misusing funds. And Brian Houston, Hillsong’s co-founder, now faces charges in Australia for allegedly failing to report his father’s sexual abuse of children during the 1970s.
Supporters: ‘There Is Nothing Wrong With Having Faith’
Smith’s fans clapped back, saying she has a “fantastic voice” and that the “conspiracy theorists” should back off. They also say Bella’s faith and church connections are irrelevant. “Doesn’t matter what religion she is,” one writes. “Bella was amazing,” says another. “She deserved to win. She was the best talent.”
Another supporter writes, “Don’t bring religion into this,” adding, “I don’t think Bella won because she sang the religious song. We knew all along because of her big, beautiful voice that she would be the winner, even if she sang another song.”
About Smith’s beliefs, one person writes, “There is nothing wrong with having faith.” Another says, “I really appreciate how open she is about her faith. A winner in every sense.”
About the church connection, one fan notes, “I don’t recall Hillsong being mentioned during the finals and even if it was, so what? Bella wowed everyone with her voice and she gave thanks to the one who ultimately graced her with the gift!”
After the finale aired, Smith expressed gratitude to her supporters, her “church community,” and to Jesus. “I absolutely cannot wait to continue to share and celebrate with you,” she writes on Instagram.