TMZ on American Idol: 'Racist viewers' won't accept all-black judges panel

Norman Byrd's picture

TMZ skirts the edges of humor and racial bigotry by highlighting the possible negative blowback "American Idol" might expect from viewers in "middle America" if producers construct an all-black judges panel.

There is a possibility that the upcoming season of "American Idol" could feature a panel composed of members who are all African American. TMZ, on both its website and its television show, observantly pointed this out in the past week. And although the gossip and expose media outlet often walks the razor's edge of risqué and informative, then tempers much of its material with humor, could referring to an all-black "Idol" judges panel as a "blackout" and the show as "African American Idol" have been going just a bit too far?

The situation is this: "American Idol," with its judges auditions getting closer to a filming date each day, is in a race against the production clock to get a team of judges signed for Season 12 of the hit show. Thus far, the only person signed to judge the singing competition is pop and R&B singer Mariah Carey, who put her name to the dotted line in late July.

But a good number of those being considered for the jobs are African American, as is Carey. Names being considered are Sean "Diddy" Combs, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj. And then there's veteran judge Randy Jackson, who might be re-signed for his twelfth season.

TMZ, while breaking the story that flamboyant rapper Nicki Minaj might be about to join the show and that Carey just might have a bit of a problem with her addition to the panel, also noted on Tuesday that sources close to show said that producers are worried about the line-up's impact on "middle America" should the three-person panel include Carey, Minaj, and Jackson.

From TMZ: "Sources connected with the show say they're worried ... if the judges end up being Mariah, Nicki and Randy ... middle America might not welcome the blackout."

How's that for a descriptor of the absence of white people on the panel? Some might point to it as a bit racist but it appears to be more of a direct implication that middle America -- the kingdom of the average Joe and the key demographics for "Idol" viewers -- might react to an all-black "American Idol" panel in a negative way. That is, they might stop watching the show, which has ruled regular prime time television programming for nearly a decade.

But TMZ wasn't done trying to press home the point that an all-black panel of judges might cause problems for the show in terms of viewership. On their syndicated show, "TMZ on TV," a segment on the possible Minaj signing was a bit more direct. After poking fun at the difference in Minaj and Carey's ages (29 and 42, respectively) and noting that sources indicated that Carey was angry with "Idol" because she had been assured she would be the only female on the judges panel, the show reported on rumors that rapper Kanye West might also be joining "Idol."

Tyrone Carter, the dread-head co-host of "TMZ on TV," named off West, Minaj, Carey, and Jackson, asking what they all had in common. Max Hodges, the blond reporter with the shoulder-length hair, immediately supplied, "They're all black." The narrator, talking over a graphic showing the "American Idol" logo altered to read "African-American Idol," voiced the iconic phrase uttered by Ryan Seacrest to start the show. That was followed by a photo of a hooded Ku Klux Klansman and the narrator saying, "Bye racist viewers."

Host and creator of TMZ, Harvey Levin bolstered not only the idea that an all-black panel might become a reality but that it worried some of the officials at "American Idol" that they might lose middle America because of such a move. The narrator followed, mocking, "That's dumb! Who the hell's gonna change the channel because a black person --" As the words "black person" was said, the camera moves to Tyrone Carter, and immediately becomes an explosion of white noise, as if the television had lost its network feed.

And although the idea that viewers would stop watching "American Idol" because of a lack of diversity on the panel might sound strange, television execs often worry about such things for fear of losing in the all-important ratings. There exists the very real possibility that seating just such an all-black panel just might result in fewer viewers for the hit show. Of course, viewers also might turn to other shows simply because they don't care for the judges as individuals or have grown tired of the series and/or its format. Those same viewers may or may not be racists.

Ultimately, TMZ was attempting to make a point -- that the seating of an all-black judges panel could hurt the show, causing a fade in overall viewership. But did their point-making go too far? Or were they simply being their usual humorous selves, couching the situation in humorous ways, and actually shedding some realistic light on what could potentially befall the show?

(photo credit: Greg Hernandez, Creative Commons)

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