'American Idol' Is Facing Controversy and Accusations of Racism

Only five seasons of 'American Idol' have been won by people of color, and some people aren't happy about it.


Apr. 23 2024, Published 9:58 a.m. ET

Fantasia Barrino performing at the 'American Idol' series finale.
Source: Getty Images

In its long and storied history as a reality competition series, American Idol fans have had to deal with one stark reality time and time again — the show's voters can be pretty dumb. This curse reared its ugly head during the show's latest season and came with much more serious accusations as well.

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Following Jayna Elise and Roman Collins's eliminations, Season 22 of the show features only a single person of color in its top 10. This created plenty of outrage and led some to wonder whether the show itself might be racist.

The stage for the 'American Idol' finale.
Source: Getty Images
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Is 'American Idol' racist?

Fans of American Idol have noticed that, especially in more recent years, the show and its voting viewers have tended to favor a certain kind of white, country-inflected artist.

"AMERICAN WHITEOL Strikes again.... They have to do something about voting... at this point it's embarrassing..." one person wrote on Twitter following the eliminations.

Another person added that the show might need to rethink its format in light of the latest round of eliminations:

"The thing about #americanidol is the format needs a refresh. America should not have that much power, I'm sorry. the judges were even visibly confused and dumbfounded tonight. Production count your days!"

Clearly, fans weren't happy about the eliminations, and particularly about who seems to leave the show early.

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Of course, American Idol's elimination are done democratically, which means that it's viewers at home who decide who has been eliminated. That means that the show itself is not "racist," per se, but that the people who vote on it tend to favor a certain type of singer.

We don't have any firm demographic data on who votes for American Idol, but it's safe to say that many suspect the show's audience tends to be older and whiter, which might explain which contestants wind up winning.

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How many people of color have won 'American Idol'?

Throughout its history, American Idol has had a fairly checkered past when it comes to winners of color. The show was better at this earlier in its run, when it was commanding a slightly broader audience. Reuben Studdard won the show's second season, and Fantasia Barrino won the third. Jordin Sparks won the show's sixth season, and since then, there have only been three winners of color.

Candice Glover won Season 12, Just Sam won Season 18, and Iam Tongi won Season 21. So, while the show does have a fairly recent history of awarding the prize to people of color, the vast majority of winners historically have been white, and most of them have been men.

Other singing contests like The Voice give the judges some power to keep the results from getting too far out of whack with reality, but it's unclear whether American Idol would ever consider making a similar move. Until it does, though, the show is ultimately at the whim of the people who vote on it.

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