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American Idol has been one of the largest competition shows in television history and has given its talents a shot at success in the music business. What began as a show solely based on a British show called Pop Idol has since become an undisputed reality program in America. Perhaps more importantly, it has catapulted its contestants’ careers to greater heights, including Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, and more. However, embarking on a journey to obtain a golden ticket was not an easy feat to begin with.
Of course, with the number of successes the show has received since it premiered in June 2002, it has not been without a few controversies that have either shocked the reality landscape or provided good entertainment for audiences to discuss to this day. Like many reality shows, the popular singing competition had its fair share of scandals, from its singing talents to the panel of judges. And here, we’ve collected some of the most memorable scandals that the reality singing competition has ever seen.
9 Katy Perry Took Benjamin Glaze’s First Kiss
This kiss was living proof that any form of physical touch without consent was not in any way acceptable, even if it came from a pop icon. During the 16th season of American Idol, Benjamin Glaze, then 19, revealed that he had never been in a relationship and had never kissed a girl in his entire life. Katy Perry, who had just joined the show as part of an all-new panel (alongside Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie), told Glaze to come over to kiss her on the cheek. However, when the “I Kissed a Girl” hitmaker asked for another kiss on the cheek, she turned her head, so Glaze could kiss her lips instead, much to the latter’s surprise. In the end, Glaze did not get a golden ticket.
The episode then sparked an important conversation about consent the moment it aired, with some pointing out that the singer had stolen a significant moment from the contestant. Glaze then told The New York Times that the unwanted kiss “was a bit uncomfortable,” adding that he wanted to save his first kiss for his first relationship. Later on, he clarified on Instagram (via USA Today) that he did not feel sexually harassed, though he felt uncomfortable due to the fact that he had never been kissed before.
8 Phillip Phillips Won Over Jessica Sanchez
Both Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez were tough competitors during the 11th season of the reality competition show, albeit with different musical styles. Phillips, an American, delves into the pop and folk-rock sides of music. On the other hand, Sanchez, a Mexican-Filipino, is more into R&B and soul, complete with a powerful vocal that can match even the legendary Jennifer Holiday. However, though both were crowd favorites, some audiences felt that Sanchez deserved the win more than Phillips, citing ethnic and gender biases as one of the reasons why Phillips won in the first place. Moreover, Phillips’ win was both shocking and subsequently predictable for some viewers, as the show has featured a winner with fairly specific qualities — for five consecutive seasons, no less — dubbed as the “WGWG” or white guy with guitars (via E! News). Despite others questioning Phillips victory, the singer’s single, titled “Home,” became such a huge hit.
7 Producers Banned David Archuleta’s Dad From Going Backstage
Unlike any other American Idol contestants’ families, David Archuleta‘s father caused quite a fuss, including costing the show’s production money. The fan favorite’s stage dad has been accused of putting pressure on the singer during rehearsals, but the producers reportedly had enough when he meddled in the production itself and told his son to add a lyric from Sean Kingston‘s “Beautiful Girls” to his performance of “Stand By Me” by Ben. E. King. The network reportedly had to pay the song’s publishers for rights. Even worse, it was also reported that the production had already told Jeff about the possible consequences, but the “stage dad” apparently ignored the producers. As a result, Jeff was banned from joining the Season 7 contender in rehearsals and from entirely going backstage.
6 Caleb Kennedy’s Old Snapchat Video Resurfaced
The Season 19 finalist, Caleb Kennedy, although he managed to make it to the top 5, had his time on the show compromised when an old Snapchat video resurfaced, showing him with someone wearing a hood that resembled a particular white supremacist group. Because of the offensive content of the video, Kennedy was asked to leave American Idol.
“This is [going to] be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer [going to] be on American Idol. There was a video that surfaced on the internet, and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way,” he said in a statement, adding, “I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse. I [want to] say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I’m so sorry!”
5 Rigged Voting Format
American Idol, of course, has had its fair share of allegations, including some of the phone voting format issues the show has faced over the years. However, the Season 8 finale introduced the show’s most contentious alleged rigging situation, called “Textgate.” According to The New York Times’ 2009 report, AT&T — the show’s sponsor at the time — admitted to giving away free phones and providing fans with tutorials on “how to send [ten] or more text messages at the press of a single button, known as power texts.”
“In Arkansas, we were invited to attend the local watch parties organized by the community. A few local employees brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested,” an AT&T spokesperson told The New York Times. “Power texts have an exponentially greater effect on voting than do single text messages or calls to the show’s toll-free phone lines.”
Though the situation may have caused Adam Lambert‘s loss to Kris Allen, which stirred conspiracy theories and accusations against the telecommunications company, the former has become one of the show’s most successful contestants, which is already a win in and of itself. Not to mention, Lambert has been touring with Queen, one of the most iconic 1970s rock bands led by none other than the late Freddie Mercury.
4 Frenchie Davis’ Disqualification
Leaked photos may not negatively affect someone’s career today, but it was a completely different story back in 2003. Frenchie Davis, a Season 2 American Idol hopeful, was sent packing for informing the show’s crew that she had taken racy photos before. And her hair-raising audition and undeniable singing talent were apparently not enough to make her continue competing in the second season of the reality series. Years later, during Season 6, Antonella Barba also experienced the same scandal, although she made it through the top eight despite having the same — for lack of better words — offense that had gotten Davis disqualified. Luckily, Davis did not let her past affect her singing career, having appeared on the first season of The Voice under Christina Aguilera‘s team and performed in Rent on Broadway.
In a 2007 interview with MTV, Davis said that she did not want Barba to be disqualified from the show, but the production’s decision to spare her from the same issue that got her booted has taken her aback. “I was surprised if for no other reason than I had been upfront about my past and allowed to compete,” the singer said. “All Fox reality-show contestants are required to submit background check information. I filled out numerous forms … asking me, ‘Have you ever been arrested?’ ‘Have you ever modeled?’ ‘Have you ever modeled nude?’ And before I was in the top 30 we spoke about it in detail, and they thanked me for being honest … I don’t necessarily want Antonella to be kicked off the show. This has nothing to do with her. This has to do with there being a clear understanding of what the rules are, and if they apply to one contestant, they should apply to all of them.”
3 Jennifer Hudson’s Elimination
Jennifer Hudson, in any sense, was a winner in her own right. Her career has taken extreme heights since her stint in the third season of American Idol; she has won all four of the major American entertainment accolades, including a Tony, Emmy, Oscar, and Grammy Award, which made her a 2022 EGOT winner. She also had impressive acting credits, with the 2006 Dreamgirls making her the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Though some may recognize Hudson in different fields beyond music, she did not end up winning American Idol, making it only to 7th place. Her early elimination certainly caused shock among viewers, as she has done nothing but impress everyone during her stay on the show. Plenty of theories emerged regarding her elimination, with some pointing out racism as one of the major reasons. Regardless, she did not need to win the competition to win in life. And, by all means, she really did win everything (both literally and figuratively).
2 Corey Clark’s Alleged Affair With Paula Abdul
Corey Clark had a promising career ahead of him due to his voice, which can — without a doubt — take him places. Plus, his looks and talent combined were enough to determine his future in the industry back then. However, he was disqualified for failing to disclose his criminal record. According to The Smoking Gun’s 2003 report, the reality show finalist faced trial for assaulting his teenage sister and “obstructing legal process.” Though the Season 2 contestant stayed quiet in the meantime, he revealed the bombshell revelation two years later: his alleged relationship with judge Paula Abdul.
Clark in 2005 published an e-book titled “They Told Me to Tell the Truth, So…: The Sex, Lies and Paulatics of One of America’s Idols,” detailing their alleged romantic affair during his time on the show. He also disclosed that the “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” singer had given him special treatment by secretly coaching him so he could get ahead of the competition. Abdul denied Clark’s accusations, and an internal investigation also found no evidence supporting Clark’s claims. The Washington Post then confirmed that Abdul could remain as American Idol‘s judge after finding no proof that she indeed had an affair with Clark.
1 Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey’s Headline-Making Feud
Sometimes, combining two legends with strong personalities isn’t the best idea, but it is definitely one that would make for good TV. For the 12th season of American Idol, veteran judge Randy Jackson was joined by three new judges on the panel, including Keith Urban, Mariah Carey, and Nicki Minaj. However, the two quickly clashed, and their feud became the front page of entertainment news headlines for the rest of Season 12. Even more, Minaj and Carey never pretended to like each other, fighting on air each week with separate interviews, throwing subtle and not-so-subtle shades at each other. But although the feud was somehow a good source of entertainment (for the most part), some of the viewers were calling it out for apparently taking away the shine from the show’s supposedly real stars, which later Carey and Minaj both agreed on.
The feud came as a shock to some audiences, especially considering they used to collaborate on Carey’s “Up Out My Face” track. However, an Idol insider told PEOPLE in 2009 that the “All I Want for Christmas Is You” singer just pushed the Trinidadian rapper through her limits. “Mariah has been saying little things to jab at Nicki from day one of shooting,” the Idol source said. “Mariah doesn’t think Nicki can sing and doesn’t think she should be judging folks. Nicki has been taking all of the jabs, but on this particular day she lost it.”
Other sources, on the other hand, told PEOPLE that tensions between them were already high and that Carey did not provoke Minaj in any way. The statements came shortly after TMZ uploaded a clip showing the two fighting backstage of American Idol. In the end, Carey and Minaj decided to put their feud behind them. Host Ryan Seacrest, during Season 12, asked how things got better between them, to which Carey responded: “The whole thing is convoluted. It’s a distraction from the show and a distraction from the contestants.” The “Super Bass” hitmaker went on to say that Carey was actually one of her favorite artists of all time. “She’s really shaped a generation of singers. To be on a panel with her, it’s kind of crazy.”