Mormons on TV: Latter-day Saints who have found fame on television

By Stephanie Moreton and Kaylene Morrill

Published: Thursday, Feb. 10 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Of all places, many Mormons have found their success on television.

Quite a few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have become well-known and sparked conversations about the LDS Church through the small screen. From trivia buffs to singers, here is a sampling of everyday Mormons who have experienced the spotlight thanks to television.

Ken Jennings

Seventy-four consecutive "Jeopardy!" wins and more than $2.5 million in earnings catapulted Ken Jennings from average Salt Lake software engineer to television folk hero in 2004. A Brigham Young University graduate, Jennings had always been a trivia fanatic, practicing pressing the buzzer while standing behind his chair in his living room while watching "Jeopardy!" as he grew up. Never thinking he would ultimately be named "the Michael Jordan of trivia," Jennings went on "Jeopardy!" to put his uncanny trivia knowledge to the test. Needless to say, he did very well.

While on his winning streak, Jennings used extra flash cards in categories such as "potent potables" to compensate for his lack of knowledge regarding alcoholic beverages. Despite his surprising success with the category, everyone seemed to know he was a Mormon.

The Associated Press noted, "Not bad for a Mormon teetotaler who's oddly proficient in alcohol-related questions."

Indeed, Jennings' LDS beliefs came on the radar as his "Jeopardy!" success grew. But his rise to fame gave him a voice, and he has used it to advocate for the LDS Church and its members.

During the past presidential election, when Mitt Romney came under the public eye, Jennings wrote an opinion piece for New York Daily News defending his faith when it came under fire.

"This is a strange season to be a Mormon," he wrote. "During my lifetime, I thought The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had effectively mainstreamed itself. Being a Mormon was like being Canadian, or a vegetarian or a unicyclist — it made you a bit of a conversation piece at dinner, but you didn't come in for any lip-curling scorn."

Staunchly defending his religion, Jennings has never shied away from admitting his beliefs in the Mormon Church.

Other post-"Jeopardy!" accomplishments included publishing two books and appearances on other game shows.

Most recently, Jennings joined with another "Jeopardy!" superstar, Brad Rutter, the highest winning contestant in "Jeopardy!" history, to take on "Watson," the IBM computer. The show will air Feb. 14-16.

Looking ahead, Jennings' overarching goal for his "Jeopardy!" fame is to forever remain in the halls of trivia geekdom. He told USA Today in an interview, "It would be like the Holy Grail for a trivia person to become trivia. In 10 years, some Trivial Pursuit game is going to hinge on who can remember the name of the geeky Mormon guy who won on 'Jeopardy!' in 2004."

David Archuleta

For David Archuleta, an attention to music began one day at age 7 when his father put on a "Les Misérables" tape. Archuleta was drawn to the tape and has loved music ever since.

Five years after his interest was piqued, Archuleta performed in the junior category of "Star Search" and ended up on top, winning the competition. An article in the Deseret News from March 2008 reported that after Archuleta won "Star Search" and consequently won $100,000, he stated that the first thing he was going to do with the money was pay his tithing.

"American Idol" was the show that changed Archuleta's life — as overall runner-up, Archuleta grabbed the attention of many inside and outside the music industry. Aside from releasing albums, Archuleta has also performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the annual Christmas concert last year.

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