Is "American Idol" racist?

A group of nine former contestants are suing "Idol" for what they say is a racist plot to boost ratings

By Katie McDonough
January 26, 2013 12:17AM (UTC)
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A lawsuit filed by nine former "American Idol" contestants -- Corey Clark, Jaered Andrews, Donnie Williams, Terrell Brittenum, Derrell Brittenum, Thomas Daniels, Akron Watson, Ju'Not Joyner and Chris Golightly --  alleges the singing competition booted them as part of a racist plot to boost ratings.

Attorney James H. Freeman believes his clients were tricked into revealing that they had arrest records in a cheap ploy to hook viewers and build buzz for the show. Freeman alleges that in addition to asking his clients about their arrest history -- a violation of California's employment law -- "Idol" producers used private investigators to dig up dirt on their pasts. After "Idol" revealed, on air, that these men had arrest records -- but no convictions, it's worth noting -- the show used it as an excuse to kick each of them off the show through disqualification.


Freeman also says that it is no coincidence that his clients, the only ones to be disqualified in the history of the show, were all black.

The New York-based attorney began his investigation when Jermaine Jones was kicked off on March 15, 2012, after producers claimed Jones failed to inform them about multiple outstanding warrants for his arrest.

Since submitting a letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (later obtained by TMZ), Freeman and his clients have been quiet on the suit.


Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe responded to the allegations, calling them "ridiculous":

"We treat everybody 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."


Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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