Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Rosie Thinks "American Idol" Is Racist

Apparently, Rosie O'Donnell said on "The View" that she believes the difference between the treatment of former "American Idol" contestant Frenchie Davis and current contestant Antonella Barba in light of "revealing" photos is race. Frenchie, who is black, was booted from the show while Antonella remains--and this is in spite of her butchering songs week after week (speaking of, I could just ring her--and anyone else's--neck for having the misguided ego to pick a Celine Dion song). The other hosts seemed surprised that Rosie thought the difference was because of race.

You know something, I wouldn't necessarily be thinking of agreeing with Rosie about this, except for some other weird racial "coincidences" have happened with "American Idol." The one that stands out in my mind the most is during the season in which Fantasia Barrino ultimately won the competition, the week that Jennifer Hudson--who is, right now, a much bigger deal than AI's biggest success story, Kelly Clarkson, is--was eliminated, Fantasia, Jennifer and LaToya London all ended up in the bottom three. All three were black, and all three were the best singers on the show. Later on, LaToya London was eliminated after giving good performances that arguably weren't her best--but they were still good. She came in 4th place. Fantasia ended up in the bottom three more times than anyone who has ever gone on to win Idol ever has. Carrie Underwood was never in the bottom three, and neither was Kelly Clarkson. But Ruben Studdard, the only other black contestant to win AI, ended up in the bottom two one week. The contestant who was eliminated had done a good job and was a good singer, Trenyce, who is--you guessed it--black. Tamyra Gray, a favorite in the very first season of AI, was shockingly eliminated and came in 4th place.

Just in case you're not buying that Idol is racist, there are other suspicious things about the show that lead me to believe that it is, at the very least, rigged to some extent. Arguably, the best singer in the competition last season, Chris Daughtry, was eliminated in a shocking turn and came in 4th place. This happens just about every season, normally around 4th place, and a noticeably worse singer is left to come in ahead of that person, usually in 3rd place. Elliot Yamin bested Chris Daughtry. Nikki McKibbin, who was so bad that I am absolutely certain she was receiving death threats throughout the show, came in ahead of Tamyra Gray in 3rd place. Jasmine Trias, who is okay but is no LaToya or Jennifer, came in ahead of both of them and finished in 3rd place.

A question that is valid, at least when you take Frenchie vs Antonella out of the equation, is--could it just be that Idol's voters are racist? Absolutely. In fact, my theory is that everybody is racist. If that's so, then everyone voting on AI is racist.

How is it that Fantasia and Ruben ultimately won? Well, if the show is somewhat rigged, then I'd think the executives would be smart enough not to rig the finale. They could rig any other episode, and people would be upset and there'd be speculation. But the finale receives too much attention. I remember when Ruben won instead of Clay, some Clay fans were demanding a recount. That's something that would pretty much only happen with the finale. To me, the fact that Fantasia was in the bottom three so many times and then won season 3 actually says something kind of suspicious, especially considering that second-place Diana DeGarmo had never made the bottom three.

Regardless of how suspicious the show is, I have a couple more interesting thoughts. One is that Idol execs have kept Antonella, yet booted Frenchie, because they know that Antonella's days are numbered. No one ever heard Antonella and seriously thought she would win the competition. That's not so for Frenchie. Frenchie was a standout extremely early on. I mean, how many other Idols who didn't even make the top 30 or top 24 do we hear about as much as Frenchie? How many of them do we even remember? So if Idol has a problem with the images being connected to an Idol, that would have been more of a realistic problem with Frenchie than Antonella. Then again, every other Idol who didn't disclose something big from their past to execs got booted--the majority, if not all, of these Idols were black.

Second, regardless of how racist voters might be, voters clearly have another problem--voting for the wrong reasons. There is no way Sanjaya and Antonella still belong in the competition based on performances, and both Sanjaya and Antonella know that. The tendency is to vote for people we become attached to somehow. But could race be tied into this, too? In other words, is it easier and more realistic for the public to become more attached to white contestants than black, or even Asian, contestants?

I mean, Paul Kim belongs on AI more than Sanjaya does, even though they are technically both Asian. But people just don't associate Asians of Paul Kim's ethnic background with any sort of star quality. I totally got what he was saying about William Hung, and I was very excited about the possibility of seeing an Asian who, stereotypically speaking, looks to everyone in America like he should be in medical school or an engineering program do well on AI. Unfortunately, I didn't get that chance, and this adds more questions about AI and race. And I honestly wouldn't be surprised if both Jared and Brandon went home this week in favor of a couple of white male contestants who are a bit over-hyped (actually, they all are, except maybe Chris Sligh).

So do I think "American Idol" is racist (and in this question, I include the viewers)? I can't say for sure, but I lean towards yes.