'American Idol' Sued by 10 Black Contestants Over Discrimination

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"American Idol" has been sued by 10 former contestants alleging racial discrimination.

The complaint, weighing in at a hefty 429 pages, targets Fox Broadcasting, Fremantle Media, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, and a host of the show's corporate sponsors, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

But the plaintiffs -- who are each seeking at least $25 million in damages, according to their complaint -- will need to overcome a wide range of legal hurdles to succeed. Here are just a few:


All of the plaintiffs signed contracts as a condition for appearing on the show. It's likely that an arbitration clause was included in the contract, which means a New York federal court may not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

Class Certification

The plaintiffs, who are seeking class-action status, will also need to show the judge why a class should be certified. There are a number of ways to challenge class certification, so that's going to be a challenge the plaintiffs must overcome.

Free Speech?

In October 2012, a judge dismissed a discrimination lawsuit over ABC's "The Bachelor" on the grounds that casting decisions are a component of an entertainment show's creative process and undoubtedly protected as free speech.

To prevent a similar outcome, the plaintiffs in this case are arguing that "American Idol" isn't about "casting," but rather is a "contest" with entirely different rules and regulations.

Racial Discrimination and Fraud

After overcoming those major hurdles, the lawsuit "contest" really begins -- that is, proving the allegations of racial discrimination, fraud and interference.

Central to the argument is the assertion that "American Idol" producers have obtained, disseminated and exploited the criminal backgrounds of the show's black contestants -- but never non-black contestants.

Basically, the argument is that the black contestants were being disqualified because of their criminal backgrounds, not eliminated based on their individual merit as artists.

In addition, the plaintiffs are alleging that white contestants are allowed to choose whatever songs they like, whereas black contestants must select "genre-appropriate" songs, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

The Golden Ticket Court Award

If the plaintiffs jump through all of the hoops and hail victorious, they should expect a sizeable monetary award, of course, but also various forms of injunctive relief.

This may include adopting and publishing clearly worded contest rules and using an "objective, job-related and racially-neutral standard to make disqualification decisions," reports The Hollywood Reporter.

The suit was filed July 24. The defendants have yet to comment on the lawsuit.

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