Former American Idol contestant Ryan Cassata is accusing the show of exploiting transgender people for ratings.
Cassata says that Idol producers reached out to him twice to participate in the singing competition, first in October 2014 while auditions were taking place in San Francisco.
According to Cassata, the show was so eager to cast a transgender contestant that he was allowed to bypass three rounds of auditions, though he was eventually cut. Cassata called Idol out on his Facebook page last week, writing:
I see what American Idol is all about, another pre-casted show, that’s looking for “singers” to boost their ratings, and now they just need that TOKEN TRANS person for America to gossip about, to hype up the show.
I realized that YOU ONLY WANT ME BECAUSE I’M A #TRANSGENDER PERSON who happens to be a singer, not because I’M A SINGER WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE TRANSGENDER, and because of that I’m not interested.
Cassata tells Billboard, “I never reached out to them. Never in my life would I have been like, ‘I’m going to try out for American Idol.’”
The show’s producers sought Cassata out yet again in June, he says, after Caitlin Jenner debuted her Vanity Fair cover. Cassata says:
“...The first thing they said to me is, ‘We want a transgender person on this show.’ They don’t want a singer and transgender; they want someone that’s transgender and a singer, and that’s not the right reason to go on the show. So now I’m ‘contemporary enough’ because being trans is such a hot-button issue in the media right now.”
“They were begging me to go on the show. I am making a record right now — the only good thing that would come from American Idol is I would be able to make a record, and I am already making a record. I have a name in the indie music world. I have toured nationally. I don’t really need American Idol.”
Whether this was an honest effort to have transgender representation on Idol or an aggressive ratings ploy, Cassata seems shook up and offended by the producers’ approach, which is enough to make it unsettling. He thinks TV execs are treating transgender people as a trend:
“I think every television show is trying to get a trans person on their show [now]; it’s trendy. I have been out for a long time now and I was out when there was no positive representation at all in the media. I was one of the first waves that [helped hosts get] the terminology correct on television, and now it’s blowing up really quickly and the media does not know how to deal with it at all.”
In response, American Idol wrote this in a statement:
“American Idol searches far and wide to ensure that talent in any part of the country has a chance to audition. There are various ways for individuals to audition including our open calls, posting their auditions online, our east and west coast bus tours, through partner apps, etc.
“Our audition team has often reached out to former participants to audition again. Many find that their voice improves over a year and they have greater success in their second or third attempt. American Idol is about finding great talent and the show welcomes diversity in its participants. We will look into the veracity of the statements in Ryan Cassata’s open letter.”
Cassata says coverage of transgender community has been limiting so far. “It’s a lot of exploitation, and most of the representation in the media right now is very binary and they are just showing gender as male and female and stereotypical feminine and very stereotypical masculine,” he says. “They are not showing anyone in between, and there are so many people that are in between, and I am afraid that all of those people are left out and feel alone.”
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