American Idol tried to cast a transgender singer, and it backfired, apparently exposing some of the show’s casting practices.
21-year-old musician Ryan Cassata–a transgender singer, songwriter and activist–told Billboard that last October, he was invited to audition by producers the night before the San Francisco tryouts. The singer isn’t sure how they found him, but guesses the producers saw his 23,000 subscriber Youtube channel.
“I never reached out to them,” he said. “Never in my life would I have been like, ‘I’m going to try out for American Idol.'” producers didn’t mention anything about the singer being transgender, and he decided to go for it. Production allowed him to skip the first 3 stages of auditions.
Ryan was cut–told he wasn’t contemporary enough, and figured that was that. This spring, however, the singer got another call from producers. He refused the offer.
“I was contacted again in June after Caitlyn Jenner was in the media, and the first thing they said to me is, ‘We want a transgender person on this show,’” he said. “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,” he said. “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.”
Ryan felt exploited, and said so in a lengthy Facebook post and Youtube Video.
LAST YEAR I was interested, and I tried out but you DIDN’T WANT ME, I wasn’t “contemporary enough” and being transgender wasn’t such a hot issue in the media like it is now. This year, 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.
This year you picked me because you WANT SOMEONE THAT’S TRANSGENDER and you don’t want someone “that people might make fun of, or [someone] who looks too much like they are men who transitioned to women, or [that] look FAKE or GIMMICKY.” You said you don’t want a transgender person “WHO STICKS OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB.” You also referred to trans people as “MEN IN DRESSES” and “TRANSGENDERS.” That is very ignorant, and transphobic.
You told me that American Idol wants “sexual BLONDE GIRLS who are DUMB” and “BLACK GIRLS who are DRAMATIC.” That is sexist and racist.
I questioned you wether the show was a singing show or not and you said that “IT’S A TV SHOW.”
You said “people don’t really make it in music anymore cause there’s nothing to sell, cause now you are a commodity.”
According to Billboard, Ryan transitioned at age 13, and has been an activist ever since, appearing on the Larry King Show and the Tyra Banks Show, long before trans issues were in the forefront. Ryan has issues with the way the media is handling the subject. “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 said. “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.”
Billboard contacted American Idol for 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.”
Meanwhile, Ryan is busy working on his album. You can read more about his music career at the link.
ETA: Producer Nigel Lythgoe has been saying forever that Idol is a TV show first and foremost. Any hopeful going into the process not understanding how reality TV works, should maybe take a minute to educate themselves. Contestants who are shocked SHOCKED that the producers are casting for types are just naive. The savvy ones know the score, and understand that the relationship is mutually beneficial. It’s not as if this singer isn’t using the situation to his own advantage. Billboard spent half the article pimping his career and music. So.