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'American Idol' being sued by 10 former contestants seeking $250-plus million in damages


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 07/25/2013 

American Idol is being sued by 10 former black contestants who are alleging they were wrongfully kicked off the show due to racism.

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Chris Golightly, Ju'Not Joyner, Thomas Daniels, Akron Watson, Terrell Brittenum, Derrell Brittenum, Donnie Williams, Jaered Andrews, Corey Clark, and Jacob John Smalley -- who all competed on various seasons of the reality singing competition -- are filing a lawsuit against Idol and seeking damages, Entertainment Weekly reported.

The plaintiffs are reportedly demanding at least $250 million in damages, which equals a minimum of $25 million per person, after being granted legal permission to sue.

The group's New York City lawyer James H. Freeman declined comment on the pending litigation as did an American Idol representative, according to EW.

Freeman had filed a letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back in January requesting permission to file a lawsuit against the show on behalf of all his clients excluding Smalley, TMZ reported at the time. 

Smalley made it to the semifinals during Idol's second season but didn't advance to the finals based on the results of home-viewer voting. 

Freeman reportedly claimed in the letter that he had conducted an investigation of the show's history -- which took place before Idol's twelfth season could be included -- since its first season aired back in 2002 and discovered a trend in which Idol producers have disqualified a total of nine people from the show who are all black.  

Also in his letter, Freeman alleged the pattern became especially noticeable once eleventh-season Idol contestant Jermaine Jones was booted from the show in March of last year for allegedly failing to disclose past criminal charges to Idol producers, which included multiple outstanding warrants out for his arrest.

On behalf of the men, Freeman accuses American Idol of conducting a "cruel and inhumane" plot to exploit and embarrass black contestants for entertainment gain, according to TMZ.

In turn, Freeman reportedly claims the show's actions against his black clients have recycled "destructive stereotypes" and unjustifiably suggested the men are "violent criminals, liars and sexual deviants." TMZ reported Freeman does not believe the contestants were actually kicked off the show due to their criminal backgrounds although that's what show producers alleged.

"Yet their personal and professional lives remain permanently and severely impaired by [the show's] continuing violations of our nation's laws," Freeman wrote in the letter, according to the website. 

Freeman also claimed American Idol has "NEVER once publicly disqualified a white or non-black American Idol contestant in the history of the eleven season production," however the show has done so.

Throughout the first 11 seasons of American Idol, there were a total of 13 disqualifications, and one of them was Joanna Pacitti, a white woman. Pacitti was disqualified from Idol's eighth season after making it to the Top 36 because she allegedly had a connection with two executives affiliated with one of the show's production companies at the time.

Golightly was disqualified from Idol's ninth season for allegedly being in a recording contract at the time of his original audition. He later attributed his show departure to a "bogus old contract." Joyner made it the eighth season's Final 36 but was allegedly cut from the show due to his concerns over his contract at the time.

Idol's sixth season disqualified Daniels because he had a criminal past he allegedly didn't disclose to producers. Watson was let go from Idol's sixth season as well. He was arrested in April 2003 for misdemeanor possession of marijuana -- the only thing that would seem to explain why he was uninvited from the show's Hollywood Round.

Terrell Brittenum was disqualified from American Idol's fifth season, along with his twin brother Derrell Brittenum. They had advanced through the Hollywood Round but were subsequently kicked off the show once their legal troubles came to light. They were previously arrested and charged with allegedly using false identification to purchase their car.

Idol's third season featured Williams' disqualification. He became a Top 32 finalist but was given the boot after he got arrested on his way home from a party for allegedly driving under the influence. Andrews was disqualified from the show's second season due to an assault charge in which he allegedly helped beat someone to death. Clark was given the boot from the same season because of undisclosed battery charges.

In addition to nine of the 10 males attempting to sue American Idol, the other disqualified contestants prior to the franchise's most recent twelfth edition were first-season contestant Delano Cagnolatti -- who allegedly lied about his age and was older than 24, which was the maximum age allowed at the time -- and second-season contestant Frenchie Davis -- who was disqualified after topless photos of her circulated around the Internet. They join previously mentioned Pacitti and Jones.  

(Photo credit Fox)


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