It feels like we have come a long way since Danny Noriega was publicly mocked on American Idol Season 7. After all, not only have gay rights leaped and bounded to a point where we saw the Defense of Marriage Act struck down, but the show itself has enjoyed a 180-degree makeover since Noriega was laughed at for his sexuality. We have a new executive producer, a new judging panel, and a series that has spent years being called old-fashioned trying to reinvent itself. But, based on Wednesday night's episode of American Idol, not all that much has changed. Because Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr.'s treatment of Keith London's "If I Were A Boy" performance was appalling.
The song choice was not, in fact, bizarre for Idol. Not only have many contestants in seasons' past enjoyed moments singing songs traditionally sung by the opposite sex (look at anything performed during Mariah Carey week in Season 7, but especially Jason Castro's "I Don't Wanna Cry," or, heck, even London's audition to Katy Perry's "Roar"), but, just last year, Season 12 victor Candice Glover wowed the judges (yes, including Urban) when she sang Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man." Back in 2013, Glover intentionally decided not to change the lyrics, telling mentor Jimmy Iovine she wanted to sing Mars' story, and not her own. Yet, when London hit the stage in 2014 during Hollywood week to perform a damn good version of Beyoncé's hit, he was met with wide-mouthed stares from the judges, who simply could not fathom why London, a boy, would sing a song about if he were a boy.
London, of course, had a reason — and a valiant one at that. Clearly, the young singer was championing diversity, trying to open up eyes and hearts during a year that seems susceptible to change in many circles, and dangerously not accepting of it in others. As he told Lopez, Connick, and Urban:
I had a really good reason for singing that song. I think it's a general message for everyone not to judge anybody else because nobody knows where you started from.
The judges' response? Lopez said she was "distracted by that," and Connick summed up his opinion with a, "It doesn't impress me. It is bizarre." Yes, the panel might have claimed they objected to the song because it felt gimmicky, but they didn't feel that way about an earlier stripped-down performance of Britney Spears' "Toxic" by one female performer, or Lorde's "Royals" by another male performer. Those weren't deemed "bizarre" or "distracting," but a man singing a woman's song about wishing he were a boy... was.
And, clearly, fans of the series found the judges' comments distracting. Following the moments, Twitter flooded with messages of support of London and his message:
Idol, the show that has long suffered from criticism for its perpetuation of gay jokes (looking at you, Ryan and Simon), and unfair treatment of anyone who is not a cisgender man or woman, had told us it had changed. That it was moving on from the mean-spirited series that called auditioning contestants bush babies, or worse. But, after watching London's performance, it's clear: Bring back Adam Lambert, because Change, still, Has Gotta Come.