This week, ten former American Idol hopefuls filed a lawsuit against the Fox Network, its corporate sponsors and former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, alleging that the show is racist, as reported by Entertainment Weekly and the LA Times.
The lawsuit alleges that the ten plaintiffs, all African-American males appearing between Seasons 2 and 9 of the show, were forced out of the competition, publicly and unfairly disqualified, because they were black. The suit further claims that the show’s producers unlawfully probed the criminal records of some of the plaintiffs, used that information as grounds for unfair disqualification, and leaked the information to the media to boost ratings. They allegedly did so, according to the papers filed in the U.S. District Court in New York, “to scandal-monger Nielsen ratings while reinforcing the age-old stereotype of the ‘black criminal.’”
Perhaps the most memorable to the public among the ten plaintiffs is Corey Clark, a Season 2 Idol contestant who was axed from the show because he had not disclosed a prior charge of battery and resisting arrest to the show’s producers. Clark later made news by claiming he had had an affair with then-judge Paula Abdul—a claim which Abdul denied and which a subsequent probe found meritless.
The other plaintiffs in the suit include Jacob John Smalley, Jaered Andrews, Donnie Williams, Chris Golightly, Akron Watson, Ju’Not Joyner, Thomas Daniels, and Terrell and Darrell Brittenum. Each is asking for a minimum of $25 million in damages.
The lawsuit could not have come at a worse time for the already-struggling American Idol, which has seen a significant decline in ratings over the past several years and has gone through several overhauls (including a revolving door of celebrity judges) trying to recover its market share. Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe was fired at the end of the last season. Idol has not commented on the suit.