American Idol Lawsuit Claims Show Exploits Black Contestants' Rap Sheets for Ratings

A $250 million lawsuit filed against American Idol by 10 black former contestants who got disqualified (including Dallas' own Akron Watson) has the media asking if the talent show is racist. But considering the success many other black contestants have had on the program, that's not the right question. In fact, the lawsuit is more specific, alleging that American Idol applied an unusually heavy hand against black male contestants with criminal records. The claim is backed with statistics: According to the suit, 31 percent of all American Idol semifinalists who were black guys were disqualified for reasons unrelated to their singing, the suit says, while "there has never been a single white (or non-black) contestant disqualified from American Idol -- not ever."

Producers used the rap sheets of black contestants, the suit claims, "to scandal-monger Nielsen ratings while reinforcing the age-old stereotype of the 'black criminal.'" Acting like an equal-opportunity singing competition at times, but whoring race equality away in cases where it might help the ratings? That sounds more like the American Idol we know.

Many on the Internet are raging that the plaintiffs are just looking for money. In that case, let's examine the criminal records and resulting fall-out of some contestants not involved with this lawsuit.

Bo Bice In 2005, the heyday of American Idol, Bo Bice was the unique "alternative rocker" candidate who looked edgy enough to be in a band like Nickelback. His cool rock-star package came complete with an arrest for felony cocaine possession four years prior, which The Smoking Gun uncovered after the season was well under way. Black? Nope. Disqualified? Nope. Fox allowed him to stay in the competition, announcing at the time: "From the beginning, Bo was honest and forthcoming in revealing his previous indiscretions and their outcome." He went on to finish second place to Carrie Underwood.

Stefano Langone Stefano Langone came to season 10 with a sad story about being seriously hurt after a drunk driver crashed into him. Yet one year after that crash, the tables were turned, and Langone was arrested on suspicion of DUI. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of negligent driving. The news was uncovered mid-season, with Langone in the top 11. Black? Nope. Disqualified? Nope. He made it to the final seven before voters eliminated him.

Scott Savol In another mid-competition fourth-season scoop, The Smoking Gun found that Savol had been arrested on charges of misdemeanor assault, allegedly for throwing a phone at his girlfriend so hard that it broke. She filed a temporary restraining order. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct. Black? Nope. Disqualified? Nope. American Idol producers are very fond of contestants who are "forthcoming," even if the thing they're forthcoming about is a former lover filing a restraining order. Too bad dating doesn't work like that. "Scott Savol was forthcoming to the 'American Idol' producers and the network regarding his misdemeanor," producers told MTV after news of his arrest broke. "After reviewing the facts ... we felt that considering Scott's honesty and his remorse, the situation did not warrant his disqualification." He made it to the final five.

Jacob Lusk In 2009 Lusk was caught riding the LA Metro without a ticket. After ditching his court date, he was arrested for the charge one year later -- and a day after made the first round of American Idol auditions. Black? Yep. Disqualified? Nope. He made it to the final five.

Jermaine Jones On the 11th season in 2012, Jones was eliminated the legit way early-on, but then the judges apparently changed their minds and he got to be the special 25th guy in the final 24. Yet after he continued in the competition and made it to the final 12, the producers disqualified him, saying they discovered that he was still wanted by police after he failed to appear in court for two arrests in New Jersey. Black? Yep. Disqualified? Yep. Even a local lawmaker in Jersey thought American Idol was too harsh on Jones and just using his background for the ratings. "For the producers of the billion-dollar show to expose, embarrass and interrogate a young man without an attorney in front of 40 million viewers was an outrage," Camden County Freeholder Jeffery L. Nash told CTV at the time.

Unrelated to arrest records and race, American Idol has also been accused of discriminating against fat people. In 2011, a woman in the audience claimed she was booted from the front row for being too heavy. God forbid TV viewers see any fat people in the audience of a show sponsored by Coca-Cola.

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn