10 black, disqualified Idol contestants sue for $250+ million

Ten American Idol contestants cut from the show for various reasons are suing, asking for $25+ million each in damages because the show has systematically engaged in disqualifying contestants who are black.

The lawsuit’s claims, as first reported by TMZ, are fascinating. The lawyer representing the contestants, James H. Freeman, earlier asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for permission to sue, saying the show played to “destructive stereotypes” by publicly disqualifying these contestants, acting as if they were “violent criminals, liars, and sexual deviants” even though not one of them was actually convicted of anything based on their arrests.

As EW notes, “Furthermore, Freeman wrote, the show illegally dug up arrest histories for those 10 men, using them to humiliate the singers — but never attempted to dig up similar dirt about white contestants. Allegedly, only black contestants were questioned about their criminal histories.”

The Huffington Post lists the plaintiffs and their respective reasons for being removed from the competition:

“The plaintiffs are Season 2′s Corey Clark, who was disqualified after it was revealed that he was previously arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery on police officers and his sister, as well as endangering the life of a child; Season 2′s Jaered Andrews, who was also dismissed following the discovery of an assault charge stemming from a fatal bar fight; Season 2′s Jacob John Smalley, who was eliminated early on in his season; Season 3′s Donnie Williams, who was pulled from the show after an arrest for speeding and drunk driving while ‘Idol’ was filming; Season 5′s twin brothers Terrell Brittenum and Derrell Brittenum, who were cut after executives learned of an arrest and charges of identity theft; Season 6′s Thomas Daniels, who was dismissed after his drunk driving charges and other criminal records came to light; Season 6′s Akron Watson, who was kicked off after producers found out about a prior misdemeanor for possession of marijuana, which he claimed producers were made aware of previously; Season 8′s Ju’Not Joyner, who claimed he was disqualified from the show because he questioned the contract; and Season 9′s Chris Golightly, who was allegedly let go over complications with a former recording contract.”

Update: The lawsuit is 429 pages long, and notes, among other things, that “A staggering thirty-one percent (31%) of every American Idol Semi-Finalist contestant [Top 24, Top 36-40] who happened to be a young Black male was disqualified from the singing competition for reasons wholly unrelated to their singing talent.” The Hollywood Reporter excerpts parts of it, including this gem that compares it to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

“Plaintiffs herein seek rescission of the American Idol CONTESTANT AGREEMENT, an illusory device that carries on the theme of the ‘Golden Ticket’ and the ominous, illegible contract presented to the children at the gateway of the ‘Willy Wonka’ chocolate factory. Like the fantasical [sic] depiction of the visually warped contractual language in the famed 1971 movie, the American Idol CONTESTANT AGREEMENT strains all levels of comprehension in its mindbending labyrinth of non-sensical provisions.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.