Posted on December 2, 2013

‘American Idol’ Producers Slam Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Eriq Gardner, Hollywood Reporter, November 26, 2013

In July, 10 former contestants on American Idol sued over alleged discrimination on the long-running reality singing competition show. The complaint filed in New York federal court came in at a whopping 429 pages and dealt with such diverse topics as civil rights laws, unconscionable release forms, criminal background checks and a supposedly rigged TV contest. But at its heart, the lawsuit aimed to show that by disqualifying many African-American contestants through the years, the popular TV show was oppressive.

On Monday, the defendants in the case including FremantleMedia, Fox Broadcasting, former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and various corporate sponsors at long last responded in depth to the charges. In a motion to dismiss (read in full here), they raise various arguments why a judge should toss the case before it ever gets heard before a jury.

But before going into those legal arguments, the defendants’ lawyers take an opportunity to present a quick statistical case why alleged racism on American Idol can’t, to use their words, “be reconciled with reality.”

“By their own allegations, from the show’s inception, approximately one-third of the ‘Golden Ticket’ winners (who advance beyond the open auditions and travel to Hollywood), have been African American,” says the motion to dismiss, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “Plaintiffs also allege that approximately one-third of American Idol‘s semi-finalists have been African American. During the show’s twelve seasons, four of the winners have been African-American. African-Americans thus have participated in key stages of the contest at more than double their proportion of the country’s population.”

Of course, as we originally pointed out when the lawsuit was filed, the plaintiffs aren’t so concerned with successful outcomes, but rather the disqualifications, or unsuccessful outcomes. The ex-contestants including Jaered Andrews, Corey Clark and Chris Golightly contend that the producers unfairly exploited criminal “rap sheets” with thin evidence about their crimes and to their own advantage, precluded them from having a fair shot at being victorious on American Idol.

No matter, say the defendants. The clock has already ticked to midnight on any possible claims.

“The ten plaintiffs in this lawsuit are former American Idol contestants who were eliminated from the show, either by public vote or through disqualification, as long as ten years ago,” they say. “Long after the statutes of limitations have expired for all but one plaintiff, they now ask the Court to revisit their eliminations.”


If the suing ex-contestants insist upon terming Idol scripted “dramatic fiction,” the defendants see that allegation to their own advantage. A ruling last year that dismissed a racial discrimination lawsuit against The Bachelor is cited as preventing an attempt at injunctive relief over who gets to participate on a reality show. This Idol lawsuit arguably goes further. A judge is told, “In fact, plaintiffs go so far as to seek injunctive relief to prevent defendants from making certain decisions about how to portray contestants, which contestants to disqualify, and how to depict any disqualifications.”