With “American Idol” coming back, I think it’s time we start calling out singing competitions for their insensitivity to different communities and cultures. Now, I love “American Idol.” The show, which spawned superstars like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, will always have a special place in my heart because it inspires people from all walks of life to follow their dreams of being superstars. However, not even David Archuleta’s voice or Simon Cowell’s accent can obscure the underlying problems with the show. “American Idol” uses primarily scripted judges comments in order to shape the opinions of the American public. With this, we learn our “idols” are often white men with guitars. Then again, the fact that the show has many white male winners could just be a coincidence. What can’t be talked up as coincidence is how ethnic minorities have been treated on “American Idol” and other singing competitions. With this in mind, I have to wonder: Will this season of Idol contribute to the abuse of minorities as other network talent competitions?
First, there is “The Voice,” which once again seems like a fairly great concept. However, the singing competition is still not completely neutral. One specific instance of this is the dreaded “montage treatment.” Pretty much, “The Voice” is not able to show every single contestants audition, so they occasionally pick a few unlucky subjects to only have a couple seconds of their audition shown. For the rest of the show, this is a huge disadvantage because the audition is where viewers truly begin to connect with the artist. No person who was montaged in auditions has ever made the finals or even come particularly close. However, it has been seen throughout the years that “The Voice” often montages Asian contestants. With this treatment, it seems like many Asian contestants are not able to advance far into the competition because they never really got the chance to shine. Meanwhile, “The X Factor UK” has also had some race issues such as white contestant Saara Aalto singing “Sound of the Underground.” In one part of the performance, Aalto — who would go on to place second in the competition —wore a kimono and danced foolishly around the stage. Even judge Simon Cowell said he was a little uncomfortable with the outfit. The artist received backlash but was still seen as the sweetheart of the season. Though she faced backlash, the artist received no repercussions because the performance inherently had to have been approved by the crew of the television show.
Then there is “American Idol,” and more specifically, Randy Jackson. Aside from Jackson’s occasionally offensive comments, such as that time he told an Asian male prior to his audition, “You look like you’re going to do my taxes,” the show has also supported insensitive ideals. In one episode, there was a singer named Gurpreet Singh Sarin, who was more commonly called “The Turbanator” for the turban he wore. The nickname was given by Sarin to himself for his colorful turban. However, within his audition, talk of his turban almost covered up his phenomenal voice. Throughout the rest of the show, Sarin was treated as a goofball until eventually being eliminated. However, the main issue is that “American Idol” chose to highlight Sarin’s turban instead of the artist. With this lack of attention, Sarin never got to be the true idol of his own story. Instead, he was viewed as a piece of his turban, which would be used as a gag. Another moment, which was not just frustrating, but outright offensive, was when Shubha Vedula auditioned for “American Idol”. Before Shubha even performed, Randy was confused by her name and began pronouncing her name wrong. Soon after he would make her name a song as a joke. Now, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with mispronouncing names — even I have been subject to mispronouncing names because everyone makes mistakes. However, the editors of this show decided to make Shubha’s name a direct comical joke. It was once again not about the artist but more about the fact that Shubha had anything to do with being ethnic.
There is a deep irony in this idea of neglecting minority voices, especially in “American Idol”. The white guy with the guitar will always be the “American Idol,” while the South-Asian minority can be a side character for comic relief. Instead of acknowledging we are all “American,” the show rather chose to focus on who should be our idol. Currently, the reboot of the show so far has not had many mishaps, besides Katy Perry kissing that boy who had never been kissed, and hopefully it stays that way. With that, here’s to a competition where we can all be the idols to our own stories.