In a time when being politically correct is at the top of everyone’s to-do list, the honchos behind American Idol clearly need to keep a better handle on what their participants say in public. This lapse in PR has led to one of the more controversial slip-ups by a contestant: a frontrunner calling his fans “retards” for sending him song suggestions.
In a post results show interview, top 4 finalist Caleb Johnson expressed his view that Twitter “gives access to a bunch of retards to talk to [him].” This was in response to be asked how his view on social media has changed since becoming a part of the competition.
The 23 year-old North Carolina native griped that he did not appreciate the constant suggestions from fans on what particular song to choose every week, and expressed the feeling that he was more than capable of deciding what was best for himself.
Johnson’s comment seems not only insensitive but also somewhat ungrateful. Given that two of the recent “Idol” themes have centered around the public choosing songs they feel would suit their favorite contestant best in order to further advance them in the competition, the singer seems to be overlooking the fact that the suggestions he deems so off-putting are a substantial part of why he is still competing.
The comment has sparked outrage from the public, with one upset parent insisting that Johnson sign a pledge to never utter the word again. Mark Leach, an activist and speaker for Down Syndrome whose daughter is affected by the condition, has expressed his heavy discontent with the “Idol” contestant using the slur towards his fans. This remark was especially worrisome for Leach as his daughter had recently selected Johnson as her top contestant to win the series, switching over from fellow top 4 finalist Jessica Meuse.
Fans of Johnson have also taken offense to the interview, with some choosing to not remain fans at all. One previous Johnson fanatic tweeted the singer “I don’t appreciate being called a retard. I was a fan who occasionally wanted you to sing certain songs. WAS. Bye”.
Johnson has since apologized for the comment, stating that the “juvenile comment [he] made in the interview was not directed towards [his] fans but to the wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day to [him]!”. Although a decent enough attempt, the public has found the main flaw in this blatant attempt of damage control is the fact that it just does not make any sense. Why would “haters” as Johnson so eloquently puts it, put in the effort to send the contestant song suggestions? It is possible, of course, that the suggestions could be those intended to sabotage the singer, but this would most likely be blatantly obvious and not something Johnson would take in a serious manner.
This is not the first time Johnson has found himself in hot water regarding personal remarks made in the public eye. Earlier this year Johnson stirred negative attention by stating that, as a way of relieving the stress of the competition, he planned to “[put] peanuts in [the] socks and underwear” of fellow contestant Alex Preston, who is also in the final 4 of the competition. Preston has a known peanut allergy, so this comment raised much concern about Johnson’s sensitivity when it came to people suffering ailments such as these. Johnson issued an apology for this slip of the tongue, but it was a solid starter mark on his reputation for insensitivity and not thinking before he speaks.
When examining these instances and what little concern producers for the show seem to have when it comes to taking care that their contestants do not stir up controversy, it is little wonder that the formerly hit TV show has taken a severe beating in ratings, down by several million from previously record breaking years. Allowing one of the top contestants to refer to those who help keep the “Idol” numbers struggling to stay up as retards is most certainly no help to their ailing case.
by Rebecca Grace