American Idol producers are currently being deluged by a class-action lawsuit from disqualified contestants, who are claiming they were kicked out because the programme is racist.
On The Daily Beast, Kevin Fallon puts up a strong defence on behalf of the programme.
How can the show be racist, he asks, when so many winners are African-American? And, sure, 10 of the 12 contestants who have been canned for not having revealed the truth about their arrest histories are non-white, but other contestants have also been dropped for not being open and honest about, for example, having record deals in the past. It's a rule thing, not a race thing.
Fallon ends by calling an expert witness, Nigel Lythgoe:
Back, in January, Nigel Lythgoe, former executive producer of the show, said he was “shocked” by the charges, saying, “We treat everyone the same no matter the race, religion, or sex. I think we’ve always had a fantastic share of talent from contestants both black and white. I don’t think I’ve ever seen racism at the show.”And all that is quite compelling, but... it doesn't really get to the heart of the allegation in the lawsuit. Entertainment Weekly reports:
As someone who will now sheepishly admit that he has, in fact, seen every episode of American Idol — and don’t you dare calculate how much time of my life that amounts to — I can unequivocally agree with Lythgoe. I haven’t seen any, either.
Furthermore, Freeman wrote, the show illegally dug up arrest histories for those 10 men, using them to humiliate the singers — but never attempted to dig up similar dirt about white contestants. Allegedly, only black contestants were questioned about their criminal histories.(It's worth pointing out the Idol producers claim they obtained all their information through legal methods.)
Freeman called these actions “cruel and inhumane,” accusing Idol of exploiting black contestants, perpetuating “destructive stereotypes,” and making them appear to be “violent criminals, liars, and sexual deviants” — though none of the 10 men he represents had been convicted of charges stemming from their arrests.
That claim - that some black contestants were effectively brought onto the show and then beaten down - is one that you can't wave away by saying 'but black contestants won'. You can see, at least, the possibility that Idol has constructed a way of having an inclusive storyline while still pandering to prejudice.
There's a couple of questions that need to be answered: does Idol only investigate its black contestants in this way? How is it obtaining the information? And why isn't this done before putting a camera into people's faces?