Is It American Idol’s Job to Shame Contestants With Warrants? [Reader Forum]

Is this yet another case of corporate power exerting ownership over the fates of black men, to make a buck? Or is it personal foolishness beyond sympathy?

By Channing Kennedy Mar 19, 2012

American Idol, a show whose ratings have flagged over its last few seasons, tried something new last week, as Jorge Rivas reports at the blog. When producers found out that 25-year-old contestant Jermaine Jones, a black man, had four outstanding warrants, they kicked him off the show. Understandable — except that they filmed it and broadcast it as part of the show, to 17 million viewers.

Reaction has been genuinely split. Some commentary has said that this amounts to an extrajudicial public shaming — they’re warrants for unknown crimes, not guilty verdicts, but even if Jermaine is found not guilty on all charges, he better hope his next job interviewer isn’t an Idol fan. On the other hand, others say, it was a pretty dumbass move by Jermaine to go on national TV with four warrants. (And still others have exhibited a Batman-esque bloodlust for anyone accused of any crime, but let’s leave them be.)

Is this yet another case of corporate power exerting ownership over the fates of black men, to make a buck? Or is it personal foolishness beyond sympathy? Here’s what you had to say.

Brotha Wolf:

This is the Western media — they will disclose criminal records of POC, particularly black people, just for ratings and shock value. We shouldn’t be surprised, especially when they disqualified one contestant some years back for being a stripper who also happened to be a black woman.

They shouldn’t have broadcast that moment, but they wanted to no matter how humiliating it was. In the end they only care about keeping the show going on strong. That’s why they added this for the dramatic effect.

Mars Caulton:

Did they air the discussion of the "sexy white girl" who hadn’t disclosed her nude photo shoots pre-Idol? Nope. Didn’t even kick her off the show, and in fact called her classy for ignoring all the bad press! Talented kid, should have been advised to tell them up front. But didn’t deserve to be turned into an infomercial about following the law or AI being squeaky clean.


I don’t know if Jermaine was blindsided, or if he knew what was going to happen. I think it does fuel racist stereotypes. But it should not have been broadcast, no matter who the contestant was.

Agent Change:

He didn’t disclose that he had outstanding warrants. They probably broadcast this so that it won’t happen in the future. He has 4 outstanding warrants. Are you really going to make this about race?

Susan Hebert:

You people cannot be serious! He’s got outstanding warrants and was dumb enough to go on national TV. Next time you’re wondering why Black Men are an endangered species, go look in a GD mirror!!

Tiamba Wilkerson:

Wait…what does this critique have to do with Black men being endangered?! This whole scene was clearly done as a ratings booster, and played into stereotypes about black men and criminality… No one said that this dude should have been allowed to stay on the show if they have rules around this, but it did not need to be done in this way… and what are the warrants even for? If anything is endangering black men, it’s their criminalization and targeting for the criminal justice system — which this whole set up clearly perpetuated… not Colorlines’ analysis of it.

[…] As far as we know, they could be about some straight silliness, like driving on a suspended license — which brothas get hemmed up on regularly where I’m from… black men get caught in the CJS for all kinds of foolishness.

Codie Wedge:

The warrants seem to be for stupid shit like giving the police different names and something he said was not a fight that the police viewed as one. I understand if their policy is not to have anyone on the show with warrants, but to broadcast it like that was pretty damn shitty.

Adrienne Mon Chéri Blossoms:

Nope, this wasn’t ‘racist’, just stupidity on dude’s part. To try to make it into anything other than that is to belittle people who REALLY experience racism.

Hettie V. Williams:

This WAS racist (when has the show ever done this before??). They have had contestants with legal problems before (who remained on the show). They made a spectacle of this African American man for ratings. Race is a system of power that includes the mass media as a part of this system.

Anthony Peterson:

What does criminality have to do with talent? Send him on to the next round, and if New Jersey wants to waste the money to get him, let them do it.

Nina G.:

I can’t even play the video. Just seeing that image of two white men in suits positioned against him is getting under my skin.

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