It wouldn't be another season of American Idol without controversy. Remember last season's flap over Paula Abdul's relationship with Corey Clark? So it is no surprise that controversy has already emerged in the still very young 5th season of the world's top talent contest. However, this time the controversy goes beyond gossip about personal transgressions and instead goes straight to the heart of significant cultural issues in the U.S. today.
For those who have watched the first two weeks of American Idol, Simon Cowell and, to some extent, the other judges, most notably Randy Jackson, have seemed particularly hard on male hopefuls who express gender identity outside of the mainstream. A talent contest such as American Idol would naturally draw males leaning toward effeminate or gender neutral expression, particularly in a year in which transgender lead vocalist Antony of Antony and the Johnsons garnered world headlines winning the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Prize Best Album of the year. However, instead of having an occasional effeminate male singing off-key, American Idol has chosen to present a parade of at least 5 men singled out for derision related to gender issues in only 4 shows. These men have been assailed on national television with comments such as "It's Sylvester Stallone's younger sister singing Paula Abdul," or "You look like the Incredible Hulk's wife."
Some might believe that the presentations of these young men is simply a reflection of what happened at the auditions with Simon Cowell's crusty personality leading the negativity. However, the fact is that thousands of people audition for American Idol and Fox Television and the show's producers decide which few failing auditions are aired among the thousands that take place. It also must be acknowledged that American Idol is aired on the television network most often assailed for unbalanced leanings in its news broadcasts in favor of those with right wing political views. Homosexuality, and gender identity, is a hot button issue for right wing political organizations.
Another argument in support of the humiliation of effeminate male contestants is that perhaps America is not ready for a male pop idol who has effeminate mannerisms or expresses ambiguous gender identity. The experience of Clay Aiken seems to destroy this argument. Few current pop musicians have a more dedicated fan following than Clay Aiken.
Is this simply concern over nothing? Or is it an issue worth considering and discussing? Ultimately, viewers and the American public must reach their own conclusions.