Lawsuit Accuses “American Idol” of Discrimination against Black Contestants

Monday, July 29, 2013
Brittenum Twins (photo: American Idol)

A recently-filed class-action race discrimination lawsuit against the Fox reality show “American Idol” is not about who wins the annual singing contest but who loses. So the fact that “Idol” has crowned three black champions is beside the point, because the plaintiffs are alleging that the show has been conducting a “cruel and inhumane” scheme to boost ratings by humiliating black contestants by disqualifying them publicly. The suit seeks damages of $250 million.


Represented by attorney James Freeman, the plaintiffs include contestants from six of the show’s eleven seasons: Corey 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).


The many defendants include Freemantle N.A., Fox Broadcasting, Ford Motors, Coca-Cola, AT&T, and producer Nigel Lythgoe.


According to Freeman, his suspicions were aroused by Jermaine Jones’s disqualification in March 2012, allegedly for failing to tell the show’s producers about several outstanding arrest warrants. After looking into the show, Freeman concluded that producers have publicly disqualified only 15 contestants over eleven seasons—all of whom were black.


Although the class action complaint tips the scales at 434 pages, it ultimately rests on two key factual assertions.


First, the complaint alleges the existence of a double standard under which black contestants have been disqualified for reasons—including having taken topless photos, witnessing a murder, and having an arrest record—that did not cause white contestants in similar circumstances to be disqualified.


Second, the complaint alleges that “the adverse action of being ‘officially disqualified’ from American Idol was reserved exclusively for black contestants.” The statistical unlikelihood of such a skewed result suggests the pernicious role of racism, according to the complaint.


“As a statistical matter, the severe disparity between 15 publicized disqualifications of black American Idol contestants vs. 0 publicized disqualifications of white (or non-black) American Idol contestants would be highly significant even if the contestant pool were divided down the middle at 50/50. But black contestants only comprised about 28 percent of the contestant pool. There can only be one explanation for this glaring disparity in the actual numbers of black vs. white disqualifications: race.”


The complaint claims the defendants “engaged in a conscious effort to perpetuate false stereotypes about African-Americans,” specifically by “utilizing the criminal arrest information (and other confidential information) obtained from contestant background checks as a form of commercial advertising or promotional technique to draw audiences for the American Idol television program.”


The defendants generally deny the allegations, and a few black former contestants have supported them.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Class Accuses 'American Idol' of Racial Bias (by Marimer Matos, Courthouse News Service)

“American Idol” Racism Lawsuit: It’s 429 Pages Long! (by Eriq Gardner, Hollywood Reporter)

“American Idol” Accused of RACISM by 9 Black Ex-Contestants (TMZ)


Samantha 5 years ago
Wow!!! I. Think American Idol should be ashamed of how they embarrass people on tv but aso for not letting great singers through. I sen them dismiss many great talented singers & I myself was 1 of these people. Us contestants risked alot getting there thinking that we could get a fair shot only to go home & later watch the auditions & see the monotone people they had let through. It was a joke. I went there thinking I would have a fair chance. I do not watch American idol as for I can see that it's who's going to look the best on tv. A chubby white everyday American lady next door could never get the chance just to sing for the actual judges because they will let a monotone person through before they will a person who can carry a melody. American idol. & fox should be ashamed. They cause single mothers to lose out, people quit their jobs & go thinking they will be given a fair chance , but they're not. auditioning for American idol isn't something I recommend. I've been wanting to audition for X factor but want to see that I will be given a fair shot before I waste my time.

Leave a comment