Following this past Sunday’s episode of “American Idol,” the show was assailed on social media for being racist.
Only two of this season’s 10 finalists were African American. Guess which two were eliminated in the Disney-night episode?
In the wake of that announcement, some were even proposing an #IdolSoWhite hashtag.
That wouldn’t be accurate. Diversity is not just about black and white. Of the eight remaining contestants, Alejandro Aranda is Hispanic; Alyssa Raghu is the daughter of Indo-Guyanese and Mexican parents; and Laine Hardy is multiracial.
Still, it’s not surprising that some saw a racist conspiracy when Uché and Dimitrius Graham were eliminated on Sunday. But if you’re looking for someone to blame, look past the show, its producers and ABC, the network that airs it. And whatever you do, don’t blame the judges.
Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan put Uché or Graham in the top 10 the previous week after viewers failed to vote them in. With the decisions shifting entirely to the viewers on Sunday, Uché and Graham were eliminated by the viewers, who gave each of the other eight finalists more votes.
And if you’re not convinced it was all on the up-and-up, keep in mind that “American Idol” is subject to the game-show legislation that came about after the quiz-show scandals of the 1950s. If the people behind “Idol” manipulated the votes — cheated — they’d face not just the wrath of viewers, they’d face criminal charges.
(That does not, however, mean that all voting on all reality-competition shows is fair. It’s not. Producers just have to make the rules public and not violate them.)
For whatever reason, viewers who took the time to vote eliminated the only two African Americans in “Idol’s” top 10 this season. It was a blatant example, but certainly not the first time that sort of thing has happened since the show premiered on Fox in 2002. (It moved to ABC in 2018.)
If you look waaaay back, two of the first three and three of the first six winners were African American: Ruben Studdard in 2003, Fantasia Barrino in 2004 and Jordin Sparks in 2007. Since then, there’s been only Candice Glover in 2013. But that’s 25 percent of the 16 total winners, which is good representation.
However, the other 12 winners have all been white. There have been no other winners who were people of color — no Hispanics, no Asians, no Pacific Islanders.
If you turn that around a bit, nine of the last 10 winners were white. And only three of 16 runners-up have been people of color. Utahn David Archuleta (2008) and Jessica Sanchez (Season 12) are Hispanic; La’Porsha Renae (2016) is African American.
It’s not just a matter of ethnicity. Arguably, Adam Lambert, who finished second in 2009, was more talented than winner Kris Allen — but Lambert, although not officially “out,” didn’t hide the fact that he is gay.
Did that hurt him? Probably. Maybe things would be different a decade later. Maybe not.
(Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken was still in the closet when he was on “Idol.” The show didn’t have its first out finalist until 2014, when MK Nobilette made the top 10.)
And not only have nine of the last 10 winners been white, they’ve been men. Three of the first four and four of the first six winners were women (Kelly Clarkson in 2002, Fantasia in 2004, Carrie Underwood in 2005 and Sparks in 2007) — but, since then, women have been at a decided disadvantage.
What does this say about “American Idol” viewers? The knock against how the show works has long been that the viewership is made up of mostly white viewers, and that it’s teen and preteen girls and their grandmothers who care enough to vote. That’s an exaggeration, but it’s not altogether untrue.
And it does help to explain who the show ended up with winners like Kris Allen, Scott McCreery, Phillip Phillips, Nick Fradiani and Trent Harmon.
By the way, nobody ever said “American Idol” was fair. But at least the person who gets the most votes wins, unlike, say, American presidential elections.