'American Idol': Why are you afraid of being gay? (When you already are.)

Seacrestcowell_lEarlier this week, the Los Angeles Times‘ pop music critic Ann Powers wrote a thoughtful essay challenging Fox’s American Idol to “open the closet door.” She brings up a bevy of issues the giant karaoke show has locked away because of its overly family-friendly nature — religious affiliation, language barriers, and race. But, when we’re talkin’ the closet, folks, the big issue is clearly sexuality. Big ol’ gays! Hello! Idol has never dealt with this issue very well — or really dealt with it at all.

Just look to the homophobic, fratty banter between host Ryan Seacrest and judge Simon Cowell. (A classic back-and-forth from 2007: “Stay out of my closet!” Ryan told Simon. He responded: “Come out!”) Or the fact that season 1 finalist Jim Verraros was made to remove “gay-friendly” from an Idol-sponsored website. Or: Clay Aiken. It took  more than five years after he was named runner-up on the show for Aiken to come out of the closet. Yes, He’s Gay.

But this year we’ve got Adam Lambert on deck. Could he be the great hope for gays on Idol? He hasn’t specifically addressed his sexuality (and it’s a good guess that Idol producers are telling him not to), but judging by those photos that surfaced last week, it’s certainly a great possibility that this boy could be into boys. (I mean, he’s kissing other boys in some of the photos and dressed in some quite fabulous drag in others.)

The big question is: Why does it all matter so much? Idol is, by nature, a gay-friendly concept: Wannabe pop stars get up and stage rather theatrical performances. Sometimes they even — gasp! — are required to sing show tunes. And dance, too! It’s no shocker that the music industry, because of its creative nature, attracts folks of all stripes — including homosexuals.

Still, it’s complicated. On the one hand, the show is supposed to be a family-friendly event. But on the other, why would it be so awful if, in one of those schmaltzy vignettes that run about each contestant every week, we saw Adam Lambert putting on makeup for a drag show and talking about how much he loves it? No one would be surprised. And, believe me, the kiddies watching out there would giggle.

Time to lob it over to you, PopWatchers: Would it rock American Idol to the core if it finally came out of the closet? Would you stop watching if it did? Should contestants’ sexuality become transparent, or should we keep the focus only on the music and performances?

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Comments (663 total) Add your comment
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  • michelle

    Why do “family friendly” and “gay” have to be separate? This is a fact of life to most of the world now; it’s just the U.S. that has the hangups about it, and always making juvenile jokes about it. Get with the times.

  • StaleCake

    I love the intent of this article, but Tanner you accidentally make the core mistake: assuming “family-friendly” is vs. “sexuality becoming transparent”. The sexuality of the contestants IS transparent! As long as they are not homosexual. Then they are hidden or simply “mysteriously single”. I know Michael Sarver is married to a woman and has a child (his “sexuality”). I know Alexis has a sexual history and a baby to prove it. I know Danny Gokey was married to a woman who has passed (his “sexuality”). Trust me, I get straight people’s sexuality “flaunted in my face” every episode of every TV show and movie and song! I do not ask IDOL for “very special” treatment for gays… simply EQUAL treatment.

  • Michelle

    Let’s not forget Sanjaya. Remember the vignette about how he likes to hula? The closet wasn’t open, but he was definitely peeking out. I don’t like the homophobic banter. It makes fun of gay people, and it’s inappropriate. I do think that they should tell contestants’ stories honestly. They show married couples, kids, families. They shouldn’t leave out a whole chunk of some people’s lives and not others’.

  • Biggie

    I thought Simon and Ryan were a couple. Is Idol that homophobic? Two of their biggest stars are gay.

  • bb

    Isn’t the sexuality of some of the contestants already posted. A couple of single moms, a dead wife, and a married dude, all the Heteros can come screaming out of the closet, but no gays.

  • Telly B

    “Should contestants’ sexuality become transparent, or should we keep the focus only on the music and performances?”
    Well, if American Idol wants to keep contestants’ sexuality hidden, then let them do it, but….let them do it with all sexualities.
    How many times have we seen the producer and contestants’ themselves milk their personal stories of heterosexual love, romance and family bliss for all they’re worth? We are constatntly shown vignettes of contestants hugging, kissing and being affectionate with their wives, husbands, etc…but why can’t we see that with the gay contestants?
    When have we seen a profile of a gay contestant holding hands/kissing their boyfriend, and a voiceover that says : “I wanna do this for my lover…he is the light of my life and the sole reason this struggle is worth it…” or some other such thing, like we always hear from the straight contestants…

  • Alia

    I think it should be up to the contestants to decide how much of their personal lives they want to reveal. But if contestants want to talk about their dating lives, I don’t see why producers should stop them (although, obviously, I don’t want to know the graphic details, regardless of orientation).

  • Idol Fan in Georgia

    Yes! Let’s stop the dishonesty! I’m a born-again Christian, and i would keep watching Idol no matter how many gay contestants were on. That wouldn’t stop me from watching. (But someday the group medleys might do it …)

  • sarah j

    I think they should absolutely address it directly. What if the kid with the piercings and headband had made the finals? There would have been no denying it. Besides, lots of kids watch the show and making the contestants’ sexuality the subject of whispers and speculation will make children think there is something wrong with being gay. They should be learning that some people are gay and it’s just a fact and nothing to hide.

  • Danny

    michelle, I totally agree with you. I don’t understand why “gay” is not “family-friendly”. If the producers would realize that being gay does not mean they have to talk about sex and porn (they don’t with straight people-so why would they!?), there would be no issue here. I for one am tired of it always being played as though two guys being gay is the funniest thing in the world. We’re just people.

  • Dan

    I agree fully with michelle and StaleCake. It is time to break the right wing myth that somehow anything relating to the gay community is somehow anti-family. They should not show Adam crausing with multiple different boys, just the same as it would have been inappropriate to flaunt the multiple girlfriends/boyfriends of a contestant like David Cook or Carrie Underwood.
    If he has a steady boyfriend then that person should get equal screen time to other contestants non-spouses, if he’s in a even more committed relationship (unlikely at his age), then that partner should get face time equal to other contestants spouses.
    There have been plenty of single moms on the show, and are again this season, and it hasn’t corrupted America, neither would an openly gay contestant. With suicide rates so high among closeted gay teens, it may actually save some lives (but then again, the right wingers who control Fox could care less about life once its born).

  • Sara

    Well, first look at Idol’s audience – a lot of families. Adults are more confident with their sexuality than teens, and teens can react more strongly to things that make them uncomfortable. They actually tend to respond in a manner similar to Simon and Ryan’s joking. So, adults may not be “surprised” by depictions of Adam as a gay man, but teens – the bread and butter of the show – would probably be. The article mentions David from last season as an example of that. Adam is a stronger singer than David, though… he’s almost like Clay in that respect, but Clay wasn’t as polarizing.
    It seems “fair” to let Adam be open about his sexuality if the others are open about theirs. The other contestants show off their spouses and children to show their heterosexuality. I’m not any more interested in their sexuality than I am in Adam’s, though, so how about we just stop showing any reference to sexuality (including family) and focus on the singing?

  • Larry

    Simply by making it an issue, it’s an issue. Why can’t everyone just live their lives they way they choose? If they’re comfortable with sharing their sexuality, religion or anything else with viewers, why should they be stopped? On “Wheel of Fortune” a few months ago, a winner in the final round introduced his fiance–a man–without any fanfare. It was just, well, normal.

  • ah

    Sara, I think you are underestimating the degree to which homosexuality has become destigmatized amongst younger Americans. Polls found that Prop 8 would have failed decisively if left to the 30 and younger set.
    However, I agree that I am sick of hearing about the families of these people. Or maybe it’s that I’m sick of the amount of talk on these shows. I haven’t watched the results show for years now because it is so talky.

  • Kath

    “Why does it all matter so much?”
    I dunno, EW keeps bringing it up when everyone else on the planet is having a hard time giving a crap, especially Lambert.
    Being gay makes him MORE cool to the tweenies/hipsters, if that’s possible. AI is doing the right thing by not even addressing it.

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