Nine former "American Idol" black contestants have joined forces to sue the long-time running hit talent show, alleging they were forced to leave the Fox show because of the color of their skin, it emerged Friday.
To sue an employer for discrimination, a request to sue must first be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. New York attorney James H. Freeman has started this process by submitting a letter requesting permission to sue Idol and Fox on behalf of the men who believe they were forced off the show because of their race, according to celebrity website TMZ.
Freeman has since confirmed to the Guardian that the legal document is indeed genuine.
In the letter, Freeman said it was season 11 contestant Jermaine Jones' public humiliation on March 15, 2012 that grabbed his attention. Jones said he was blindsided when producers not only disqualified him but filmed the meeting for the national audience to see. Viewers watched as producers chastized Jones, telling him that he was disqualified because he had not told the show there were outstanding warrants for his arrest.
Freeman said Jones’ plight, prompted him to look for other cases. At the end of his review Freeman discovered a strange pattern: in the history of the show, only nine contestants were publicly disqualified from the show- all of whom were black men.
Freeman concluded that "Idol" had been conducting a "cruel and inhumane" scheme to exploit and humiliate black contestants for ratings throughout the history of the show which began in 2002.
According to the letter, Freeman believes that the show was able to do this by violating California employment law, under which employers are not allowed to ask potential employees about their arrest history while applying for employment.
But during the background check stage of the show producers ask wannabe contestants the question -- "Have you ever been arrested?"
Because the contestants were seeking employment from Idol, their dismissal was based on illegally obtained information, Freeman said in the letter.
Once producers had that information, Freeman alleges: ... the ill-gotten information from the question, coupled with arrest records obtained by private investigators working for Idol, were used to humiliate the black Idol contestants on national TV ... and in the process, perpetuated "destructive stereotypes" about black people.
"American Idol has never once publicly disqualified a White or non-Black American Idol contestant in the history of the eleven season production." Freeman wrote, according to TMZ.
'American Idol' Contestants involved in the suit
Here's some background information on Freeman's Idol nine involved in the lawsuit:
1. Corey Clark: Top-10 finalist Corey Clark got booted from season two for failing to disclose a prior arrest for allegedly beating his teen sister in 2003. He also claimed an alleged sexual relationship with former judge Paula Abdul, an allegation Idol's powers-that-be ruled unfounded.
2. Jaered Andrews: That same season, top 32 finalist Jaered Andrews was tossed from the show after producers learned of his arrest for allegedly assaulting 39-year-old Thomas Blakeley outside a bar in Pennsylvania. The incident led to Blakeley's death. Andrews and friends were reportedly celebrating his status as an "Idol" semifinalist in the hours before the incident.
3. Donnie Williams: Season three was not without controversy either, as top 32 finalist Donnie Williams was shown the door following an arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence. At the time, he was reportedly toasting his Idol success for his then-upcoming Hollywood-round debut.
4.Terrell Brittenum and 5. Derrell Brittenum: Twins Derrell and Terrell were strong contenders in American Idol season five, but were disqualified from the show's Hollywood Round when it was revealed they'd been charged with forgery, theft by deception and financial identity fraud for allegedly buying a 2005 Dodge Magnum using another man's identity.
6. Thomas Daniels:'American Idol 6' hopeful Thomas Daniels became the first Seattle contestant to advance to Hollywood and the first to get booted after failing to disclose his criminal past to "American Idol" producers. In December 2005, Daniels was arrested for hit and run. When he failed to appear in court for the arraignment, Daniels was rearrested.
7. Akron Watson: Season six also brought an early end of the line for Akron Watson, a contestant from Dallas, who was asked to depart two days before he was scheduled to leave for Hollywood after producers discovered he was arrested in April 2003 for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
8. JuNot Joyner: Season 8 Top 36 contestant, JuNot Joyner is unique from the other eight parties in the lawsuit. He made it to Hollywood but was cut. The reason, he said, was because the competition is rigged. He claimed the show's producers wanted him to play the struggling singer from the "hood" and he refused to do it and therefore made sure he was cut.
"It's fixed. It's manipulated," Joyner told ABCNews.com at the time, adding that "Idol" spotlights certain contestants producers feel will resonate with the audience and, literally, keeps others in the shadows. "It's scripted; it's not a talent competition."
9. Chris Golightly: Golightly, who grew up in 25 foster homes from the age of 18 months, made a great first impression with audiences during his audition episode in 2010. But he was cryptically disqualified from Season 9 — despite appearing in the Top 24 group shot — after producers determined he hadn't been forthcoming about being under a recording contract with a boy-band, MTV writes. Golightly denied the claim, stating that his contract expired in 2009. American Idol disqualified him anyway, replacing him with Tim Urban.No racism at the show
According to The New York Post Idol's Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe called the allegations "ridiculous" and released this statement: "We treat everybody the same ... no matter the race, religion or sex. I think we've always had a fantastic share of talent from contestants both black and white... I don't think I've ever seen racism at the show," he said.
"Idol" has had 3 African American winners since its inception: Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Jordin Sparks.
"American Idol" airs on FOX Network, a property of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.