Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Is 'American Idol' racist?

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2013 4:05 p.m. MST

A few years ago, Corey Clark, a top 10 contestant on Season 2 of "American Idol," came out with allegations about Paula Abdul. He claimed to have had an affair with the pop star judge while on the show and that she had been privately coaching him.

Because Clark and I were both on the same season and he was a friend of mine, I was interviewed by several major news and entertainment shows, including "Today," "The Insider" and MSNBC. It caused quite the excitement in the entertainment world, but "Idol" hardly seemed ruffled. Clark got his 15 extra minutes of fame but ultimately his claims were concluded by investigators from an independent counsel appointed by FOX as “having not been substantiated by any corroborating evidence or witnesses," according to the website americanidol.wikia.com.

Now Clark is facing off against "Idol" again, this time with eight other ex-contestants.

Their claims? According to USA Today, “racial motivations for their public disqualifications from the show.”

Clark was shockingly disqualified in week three during Season 2 for supposedly failing to disclose his prior arrest for battery against his sister, and criminal restraint. I remember this being a very big deal for producers. After Clark’s quick dismissal, we were all called in, one by one, for one last chance to disclose anything in our past that may have legal repercussions.

I distinctly remember sitting across from one of the producers and nervously explaining a traffic ticket I received earlier that year. Stifling a laugh, he calmly told me that probably wouldn’t be a problem, and I was free to go.

While racial discrimination is a serious issue, I have to say that during the entire time I was involved with "American Idol," I never saw, heard or witnessed anything even close to discrimination.

Several African-Americans have won their respective "American Idol" seasons, including Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Jordin Sparks. All were amazingly talented and extremely deserving.

Producer Nigel Lythgoe says he was “shocked” when he heard the allegations against "Idol."

"We treat everybody the same," Lythgoe told TMZ, “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."

Several other black contestants, including Melinda Doolittle and Vonzell Solomon, are defending "Idol," saying they never felt discriminated against. In fact, according to ABC News, Solomon says "Idol" has “changed my life for the better,” while Doolittle told TMZ the “Idol team strives to champion everyone, regardless of race … however, each contestant is explicitly told that the withholding of information that may compromise the show or artist can and will result in immediate disqualification."

In fact, a good example of someone who did disclose a somewhat shady past and was allowed to stay in the competition was Trenyce, also from my season. Because she was upfront and honest, she remained on the show as a fierce competitor, making it all the way to the final five before being eliminated.

I am eager for the day when racial, sexual, sexist and religious discrimination is a thing of the past, but at least as far as "American Idol" goes, I don’t think any of that plays a role in choosing contestants for the show.

Anyone can dream — and achieve — the "American Idol" dream. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing for contestants and viewers alike: It’s truly anyone’s game.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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