You know one of the most unsettling things about watching American Idol? How much people genuinely believe in it. The idea of this, and any reality show for that matter, making people incredibly famous and rich, taking them out of their boring or stressful or depressed lives and bringing them their wildest dreams, is something pervasive in American culture in a way that can’t be quantified, only shown on television by craning shots of thousands in line to sing for four people. Each person truly seems to believe that he or she has a chance, and also that the show can be trusted to fairly represent and treat them throughout the duration of filming, should they be chosen. But would anybody imagine that trust may be broken and consider American Idol racist in how they have acted toward black participants? Unfortunately, 9 former contestants say yes.

The group of black contestants were all disqualified for having had arrest records, despite that being a violation of California employment law. The 9 men include Corey Clark, Thomas Daniels, Akron Watson, Jaered Andrews, Donnie Williams, Terrell Brittenum, Derrell Brittenum, Chris Golightly and Ju’Not Joyner. Oddly enough, none of the men had actually been convicted of any of these charges, yet were all disqualified in what James H. Freeman says was a “scheme” to boost ratings for the show by exploiting black, male contestants and touting them as “violent criminals, liars and sexual deviants.”

Of course, Idol is saying that it’s an absurd accusation. While Fox declined to comment, producer Nigel Lythgoe had this to say:

“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.”

As Anne Breslaw pointed out, it may be easy to brush this off as a situation in which contestants who had lost are simply being bitter about it, but it is difficult to reconcile the fact that American Idol has “NEVER once publicly disqualified a white or non-black American Idol contestant in the history of the eleven season production.” While I think most competition-based reality television shows are absolutely ridiculous, I do believe that if people want to put their eggs in that basket, they should at least be able to do so non-discriminately.

Photo: American Idol