'American Idol' could be sued for racism by nine black former contestants

Norman Byrd's picture

Comes a complaint from nine former "American Idol" contestants that they were unfairly kicked off of "American Idol" because they were black -- but hasn't a black person won "Idol?"

At first it would appear that a lawsuit lodged against the producers of the hit Fox Television show "American Idol" might be a clear example of a shyster lawyer taking advantage of those unfamiliar with the law (that is, bilking his clients). But the allegations made by nine former contestants on the show that they were kicked off the show because of race just might have some merit. Maybe.

At first glance, the easy answer to the lawsuit would be: a judge will dismiss the case because "American Idol" has had a black man and two black women (well, one woman -- Fantasia Barrino -- and one young woman -- Jordin Sparks -- who was 17 at the time she won) as winners. But the allegations go a bit deeper than that.

According to TMZ, who broke the story Friday (Jan. 25), New York attorney James H. Freeman has petitioned the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (part of the legal process in these matters) to file a lawsuit against the "Idol" producers for racist practices in order to boost their ratings.

In his request, Freeman claimed he had done an investigation into the past actions of "Idol" regarding the dismissal of contestants. He discovered that in the eleven seasons the show had been on the air, not one non-black contestant had ever been kicked off the show for a criminal past. All that had were black. And not one of those that had been kicked off the show had ever been convicted of the crimes they were accused of once they went to trial.

Freeman contended that "American Idol" discriminated against his clients, sullied their names and reputations, embarrassing them in a "cruel and inhumane" attempt to boost ratings. He also claimed that his clients haven't been able to pursue meaningful careers since being ousted from the show.

Freeman said he became suspicious when "American Idol" kicked finalist Jermaine Jones from the show during Season 11, citing that Jones had not informed producers that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest when he applied to be on the show. And that is where the attorney is hinging his case, maintaining that "Idol" couldn't legally ask anyone about their arrest records as an application to be on "American Idol" was the same as applying for a job and prospective employers cannot legally ask prospective employees such invasive questions.

As for the show, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said he was "shocked" at the allegations. "We treat everybody the same ... no matter the race, religion or sex," he told TMZ.

"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."

Fox Television has thus far refused to comment on the situation.

The nine former contestants named in the petition were: 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).

But do they have a case? Of course, the particular merits of the lawsuit will be up for a judge to decide. That is, if the EEOC finds the allegation at least worth looking into.

Still, even though it might appear on the surface that Freeman and his clients have a sound argument, a judge might find the lawsuit frivolous and unsubstantiated. Given that the show has been on for over a decade, it could be a very difficult case to prove, even if it were to see the inside of a courtroom.

And what about Jones himself, the guy that prompted James H. Freeman to begin his own investigation into the goings-on at "American Idol?" Why isn't he one of Freeman's clients?

The case will most likely get dismissed on grounds regarding the laws that govern and regulate contests, whereby a contestant isn't an actual employee but must abide by guidelines of the show while one participates. But one never knows. And then there are the judges that don't mind setting precedent.

In short, this case could get interesting.

"American Idol" is currently in search of their twelfth winner. The show airs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.

Take Home Message: It is important that no matter what the endeavor, those that participate be treated equally and fairly at all times and be given a fair chance at succeeding. Discrimination due to race is an ugly concept that should have no place in any contest -- from singing for a prize to applying for a job. To do so lessens the validity of the contest and diminishes the credibility of the outcome.

(photo credit: American Idol, Fremantle North America, Fox Television)

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