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Elton John calls 'American Idol' voting "incredibly racist"


By Wade Paulsen, 04/28/2004 

The tempest over Jennifer Hudson's surprising ouster from Fox's American Idol 3 reached new levels Tuesday when, according to Reuters, rock star Elton John called the vote "incredibly racist."

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Elton, who had served as a guest judge on American Idol 3 during the fourth week of the finals (two weeks prior to Jennifer's boot), added fuel to the fire with the following comment: "The three people I was really impressed with, and they just happened to be black, young female singers, and they all seem to be landing in the bottom three. 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."

We admit that we are mystified why the former Reginald Dwight doesn't think he "set himself up" with his bleats of racism. For one thing, while Jennifer had been in the bottom three three times in six weeks, ending with her boot, only one contestant had yet to appear in the final three: black male George Huff.

Among the other contestants, the two other "divas" referred to by Elton John -- LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino -- had been in the bottom three once before (LaToya, in week 3) and never before (Fantasia). The "leader" among the surviving contestants in trips to the bottom 3 is Diana DeGarmo, with three (weeks 2, 4 and 5). The remaining two contestants, Jasmine Trias (week 4) and John Stevens (week 5), have also made one trip to the bottom three. Based on this, to say that LaToya and Fantasia were "constantly" ending up in the bottom three is, to put it politely, dumb.

In addition, four of the final seven contestants were black -- a percentage far, far out of proportion to the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. Also, in American Idol 2, two of the final three -- ultimate winner Ruben Studdard and third-place Kimberley Locke -- were black. Thus, Elton John's charges of racism seem to be motivated by something other than logic.

In fact, Elton John is not immune to such charges of racism himself. In 1977, as his solo career began foundering in the excess of Elton's "Captain Fantastic" image (parodied as "Captain Bombastic"), Elton and Bernie Taupin decided to record some songs with Philadelphia soul legend Thom Bell producing and arranging. However, problems between Elton and Taupin led to the temporary end of their writing partnership, and most of the songs that Bell recorded with Elton were songs written by Bell and his "Mighty Three Music" stable of writers. In the middle of the sessions, Elton decided that he was unhappy with the project and quit.

It might be contended that Elton quit because the match between himself and Thom Bell just wasn't working. However, after two more years of creative failure, Elton released three of Bell's productions, "Mama Can't Buy You Love," "Are You Ready for Love?" and "Three-Way Love Affair," as an EP -- and "Mama Can't Buy You Love" quickly became a Top 10 hit for Elton in August 1979.

On the EP, Elton remixed The Spinners, who Bell had used as the co-lead vocalists on "Are You Ready for Love?", into a subordinate role. With The Spinners restored at last, "Are You Ready for Love?" became a #1 single in the U.K. in summer 2003 -- and also reached #1 on the U.S. Dance Music charts. Elton even performed the song on World Idol on New Year's Day 2004. Thus, a claim that Thom Bell wasn't producing good songs during the sessions with Elton simply doesn't hold up.

Could Elton have walked out on the Thom Bell project -- and blocked the release of successful songs for years -- simply because of his own latent racial issues? It seems unlikely; more probably, he was bothered by his loss of creative control. However, Elton's decision to raise the issue of racism in Idol 3 -- a charge that we previously concluded was unwarranted on the facts -- raises questions. After all, as Bartlett's Familiar Quotations says, "Remember, when the judgment 's weak, the prejudice is strong."


(Photo credit Fox)


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