Nine Black former American Idol contestants have accused the show of racism and plan to file a discrimination lawsuit against American Idol. They claim the show tried to improve its ratings by exploiting Blacks. But it seems that these Idol outcasts may have inadvertently exploited one of their own: Jermaine Jones, a former contestant who was disqualified from the show in March 2012, says he’s “offended” his name publicly has been tied to the lawsuit.
New York attorney James H. Freeman submitted a formal letter to the EEOC last week requesting permission to sue both American Idol and Fox on behalf of nine Black men: Corey Clark (Season 2), Jaered Andrews (Season 2), Donnie Williams (Season 3), Terrell Brittenum (Season 5), Derrell Brittenum (Season 5), Thomas Daniels (Season 6), Akron Watson (Season 6), Ju’Not Joyner (Season 8) and Chris Golightly (Season 9). Jones’ name—and elimination—was included in that letter without his permission or involvement in the discrimination lawsuit.
“I am offended they tried to paint me as a victim of discrimination. I appreciate the experience from Idol and embraced the good and bad from it,” says Jones. “I have moved on with my life … and have not authorized them to include me in the accusations.”
American Idol Racist?
The nine Black complainants all had been contestants on American Idol at some point throughout the show’s previous 11 seasons—and all were booted from the competition because of background checks, arrest records, information obtained by American Idol’s private investigators, etc. For example, Clark was disqualified in 2003 after Idol producers uncovered a previous arrest for allegedly assaulting his sister; or Jones, who was tossed in 2012 because he had multiple outstanding warrants.
The unusually high number of Black men disqualified from the show, Freeman claims, serves to continue a trend of “destructive stereotypes” against Blacks. He also says that the show made his clients appear to be “violent criminals, liars and sexual deviants.”
A Black woman, Frenchie Davis (Season 2), also was removed from the show, when producers learned that she had posed for nude photos four years earlier. Idol has disqualified one white woman: Season 8’s Joanna Pacitti, when it was revealed that she had close ties with two executives at the company that produces Idol.
American Idol: About Talent … Or Race?
Are contestants really being booted off American Idol because of their race?
“We treat everybody the same,” Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe says, “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.”
The American Idol judges panel features a diverse representation—including Mary J. Blige (Black, guest judge), Lionel Richie (Black, guest judge), Jennifer Lopez (Latina), Paula Abdul (Syrian and Jewish) in previous years, along with 2013 judges Randy Jackson (Black), Mariah Carey (biracial), Nicki Minaj (Black and Asian Indian descent)—Black contestants have won the show. These include Ruben Studdard (winner, Season 2), Fantasia Barrino (winner, Season 3) and Jordin Sparks (winner, Season 6).
American Idol finalists and winners wholeheartedly disagree with the Idol Nine. “It is shocking to see such allegations. In my experience on the show, the Idol team strives to champion everyone, regardless of race. However, each contestant is explicitly told that the withholding of information that may compromise the show or artist can and will result in immediate disqualification,” says Melinda Doolittle, a Season 6 finalist.
Season 4 finalist Vonzell Solomon similarly stated that there was no sense of discrimination and attested to the conditions of the background-check results. “I was clearly informed of all grounds for disqualifications in our contracts. Idol has changed my life for the better. I didn’t feel like there was special attention given to someone because of race. I cannot see where this is coming from,” he says.
Racism Lawsuit: Will American Idol Go to Court?
If the lawsuit does make it to a courtroom, do Freeman and the nine Black men have a chance to win?
It’s unlikely, according to California attorney Anahita Sedaghatfar: “As we saw in the court’s ruling in the infamous race-discrimination lawsuit filed against the show The Bachelor, which was not brought under employment-discrimination laws but under civil-rights statutes, casting decisions by television shows and their producers are protected by the First Amendment. So even if this case is brought under civil-rights laws, it will still be highly unlikely they would prevail.”