10 'American Idol' Contestants Sue Show for Racism — Season 13's Off to An Unlucky Start
American Idol's thirteenth season is off to a rough start. Ten ex-contestants, including Season 2's Corey Clark, best remembered for his possible affair with judge Paula Abdul, have banded together to sue American Idol for racism. The plaintiffs — all black men — say that Idol kicked them off the show because of their race, and they are each seeking $25 million in damages.
The contestants involved in the lawsuit are Clark (Season 2), Jaered Andrews (Season 2), Jacob John Smalley (Season 2), Donnie Williams (Season 3), Terrell Brittenum (Season 5), Derrell Brittenum (Season 5), Thomas Daniels (Season 6), Akron Watson (Season 6), Ju'Not Joyner (Season 8), and Chris Golightly (Season 9).
According to James H. Freeman, the plaintiffs' attorney, Idol examined his clients' legal histories, while ignoring the problematic pasts of white contestants on the show. Freeman said that the show made the men come off as "violent criminals, liars and sexual deviants," despite none of them ever being convicted of criminal charges. If Idol did indeed probe the men about their histories, it would be illegal, as it is a crime in California to ask employees about their arrest records.
Freeman said that he began investigating Idol's standards in 2012, when Jermaine Jones, a black Season 11 contestant, was disqualified from the show after producers discovered that he had a troubled legal history, including two past arrests and several outstanding warrants. Freeman has used Jones as an example of Idol's discriminatory policies, but Jones has said that his ousting from the show had nothing to do with race.
"I am offended they tried to paint me as a victim of discrimination," he said to TMZ. "I have moved on with my life ... and have not authorized them to include me in the accusations."
In addition to the monetary compensation, the ten plaintiffs are also demanding that the show adopt new anti-racism regulations.
Idol head Nigel Lythgoe spoke to TMZ about the lawsuit, saying that he was "shocked" and calling the accusations "ridiculous." Said Lythgoe, "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 none of the men nor FOX have commented on the case, it's too early to know whether or not there's any truth to the claims. Regardless, the lawsuit spotlights Idol's troubled history with disqualifications — remember Frenchie Davis, anyone? — and sets a somber tone for the upcoming season. The show's thirteenth year is already poised to be a letdown, with mediocre ratings expectations and none of its original judges. If the plaintiffs do succeed in proving that Idol discriminated based on race, it's a safe bet that the show will be off the air faster than you can say "Seacrest, OUT."