American Idol: First Openly LGBT Contestant

Why did it take the hit show 13 seasons before a contestant was allowed to discuss his or her orientation?

By Albert Lin

M.K. Emkay Nobilette American Idol Openly GayAmerican Idol has had its share of LGBT finalists before—notably, Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken and Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert—but on Wednesday the show welcomed the first openly LGBT contestant into its Top 30. M.K. Nobilette, a 20-year-old from San Francisco, revealed that she is a lesbian during her segment of the show.

In a prerecorded conversation with judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr., Lopez brought up that Nobilette is “not the typical American Idol.” Connick then said, “And we wonder, is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Do we think it? Will America think it? All of these questions start coming up—do you fit in? Do you not fit in?”

“I have my own thoughts on that, too,” Nobilette answered. “I’m very obviously gay, and there are always going to be people in America and everywhere else who are definitely going to hate me,” she said. “But I think that in the last two years there have been a lot of things that have really changed that and have really made it a positive thing.”

Connick responded, “Thank goodness.”

The camera then cut to Lopez, who said, “This is a tough day.” After a long, awkward pause, Lopez added, “The world is changing, I think. We think that you could be an American Idol, and we’d like you to be in our top 15 girls.”

The relevant segment starts at the 2:10 mark:

Here’s more about Nobilette, whose first name has also been spelled out as Emkay, from her San Francisco audition:

It’s unclear if Nobilette had planned to discuss her orientation all along or if she was merely responding to the judges’ questions. American Idol is not known for being LGBT friendly, and for many years gay banter between former judge Simon Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest was commonplace. Previous LGBT contestants never discussed their sexuality, “seemingly by the show’s design,” according to Annie Barrett of Entertainment Weekly. Fellow singing competition The Voice, meanwhile, has drawn praise for its inclusion of openly LGBT contestants.

American Idol has also been accused of discriminating against Black hopefuls. Last July, 10 former contestants filed a $250 million discrimination lawsuit against the show, which is still pending.

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