Published April 28, 2004
NEW YORK – Singing legend Elton John (search) this week joined the chorus of voices decrying “American Idol” as racist.
John criticized the talent show’s voting process, carried out not by the trio of on-air judges but by the American viewing public.
“The three people I was really impressed with — and they just happened to be black, young female singers — all seem to be landing in the bottom three,” the British singer said Tuesday during a promotional appearance for his concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall (search).
John's songs were featured in a recent episode, where he appeared as a guest judge.
“They have great voices. The fact that they’re constantly in the bottom three — and I don’t want to set myself up here — but I find it incredibly racist.”
The racism controversy first erupted last Wednesday when Jennifer Hudson (search), who scored super-high marks with the judges, was ousted from the competition. Hudson is African-American.
She and two other female black singers all got the lowest number of phoned-in votes.
“I don’t know what it was based on, but it wasn’t talent,” Hudson told Fox News. “Because if it was, all three of us wouldn’t have been in the bottom three. Maybe one, but not all three.”
Her booting-off prompted host Ryan Seacrest (search) to remind viewers that the program wasn’t a popularity contest — it was about finding a gifted singer. The “Idol” winner gets a record deal.
“America, don’t forget you have to vote for the talent,” he said last Wednesday before the show ended. “You cannot let talent like this slip through the cracks.”
Each round of “Idol” features performances by that week’s finalists, followed by critiques from judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and the sharp-tongued Simon Cowell.
After the performances and the judging, television audiences call in to vote for their favorite. The pop star hopeful tossed from the pool each week is the one with the least number of votes.
“Idol” often draws votes from more than 20 million people.
After last week's episode, Seacrest said he understood that likeability of the characters did factor into whom viewers pick each week.
“The question ‘Is it a popularity contest (or) is it a talent contest?’ – I think the reality is, it’s a little bit of both,” he told Fox News.
Of the six remaining contestants, three (Fantasia Barrino, La Toya London and George Huff) are black, two (John Stevens and Diana DeGarmo) are white and one (Jasmine Trias) is Hawaiian. One of them will be voted off the show Wednesday night.
Stevens, a 16-year-old red-headed boy from East Amherst, N.Y., has been criticized openly in the media for his lack of talent, especially in comparison to Barrino, London and Hudson, who became known as “The Three Divas.”
“Idol” Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe said there isn’t one clear front-runner this time around.
“There is no judging it this year,” he told Fox. “It’s difficult to say ‘This is the winner.’”
Last season’s “Idol” was Ruben Studdard, who is black.
Lythgoe also marveled about the fact that kindness and likeability have been playing a role with “Idol 3” in who stays and who goes — particularly in the case of Stevens, a boy-next-door type. One of the judges’ highest compliments for him was that he’s a “nice guy.”
“The kid bought into a talent show where if people like you, they pick up a telephone and vote for you,” Lythgoe said. “If they don’t, they don’t call. If the voting system is keeping John Stevens in place, which it is, then we have to accept that.”
Fox News' Mike Waco contributed to this report.