The Biggest Scandals in ‘American Idol’ History

American Idol

ABC/Eric McCandless

Every reality show that lasts 20 seasons will have had its fair share of scandals in its history, and ABC’sAmerican Idol” is no different.

“American Idol” is set to return for season 20 in early 2022. The show is currently holding virtual auditions as well as preparing for “Idol Across America,” according to the audition website.

Read on to learn about scandals throughout “American Idol” history.


Season One: Allegations of Unfair Voting

During season one of “American Idol,” when the show was run by Fox and FremantleMedia, the show had a phone-in voting system. According to USA Today, around 100 people used auto-dialing software and reportedly placed nearly 10,000 votes a night for contestants.

Fox and Fremantle media claimed that the votes represented a “statistically insignificant” proportion of the votes for each episode and that the system was fair, according to Digital Spy.

Afterward, according to Reality TV Magazine, the show’s executive producer said that there was technology in place to keep the auto-dialing from happening again.

Kelly Clarkson was the winner of “American Idol” season one.


Season Two: Fans Upset About Runner-Up and Winner

Ruben Studdard was crowned the winner of “American Idol” season two, but the star only won the vote by about 130,000, according to Reality TV World. The number was originally quoted to be around 1,300 or 13,000 votes, which fans thought was too close.

The outlet reported that there was a possibility that the phone service had been overloaded, meaning that as many as 230 million calls were dropped at the time of call-in voting.

In an interview years later, the then-showrunner admitted that Clay Aiken, the runner-up, had been leading in each of the votes up to the finale.


Season Eight: “Textgate”

In another voting-based scandal, one of the main sponsors for “American Idol,” AT&T, admitted to providing free phones for people who wanted to vote for Kris Allen, according to Rolling Stone.

The report, which was obtained by the outlet, claims that representations for AT&T taught viewers how to cast “Power Texts,” which allowed them to send 10 messages at a time.

“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,” a statement provided to the outlet stated.

Fox told Rolling Stone that they were “absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate, and verified. Kris Allen is, without a doubt, the ‘American Idol.'”

They added, “We have an independent third-party monitoring procedure in place to ensure the integrity of the voting process. In no way did any individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the competition.”


Phillip Phillips “American Idol” Court Case

Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner of “American Idol” season 11. After his time on the show, however, he challenged the contracts he received, which he called “oppressive.” In 2015, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Phillips claimed he was “manipulated” to accept jobs that would help the show and not his own career.

The Hollywood Reporter report says that 19 Entertainment, which is affiliated with the show, declared bankruptcy following Fox’s cancellation of “American Idol” and that the company sued Phillips for $6 million.

The cases were settled without providing details to the public.


Wyatt Pike’s Exit & Alleged Fight With Luke Bryan, Luke Bryan’s COVID Absence

Season 19, which was the first season back following the all-remote season, saw its own slew of scandals.

The season had two contestants leave unexpectedly. The first was Wyatt Pike, who left the show “due to personal reasons,” as Ryan Seacrest said on-air at the time. There were later allegations that Pike fought with Luke Bryan behind the scenes, which was something tied to Bryan’s absence from the following episode.

Bryan’s wife, Caroline Boyer, refuted the rumors, asserting that Bryan and Pike did not fight and that Bryan did have coronavirus, which is why he had to quarantine.

According to E Online, Caroline Bryan took to TikTok to tell fans that no fight occurred.

“Trust me, he has Covid,” Bryan wrote on TikTok. “I kinda wish there was a fight. I’m sick of taking care of kids alone and sanitizing. I’m peeing Lysol!”

“I had to leave the @AmericanIdol competition for personal reasons but am so thankful I get to play music for the rest of my life,” Pike wrote on Instagram. “Fellow contestants – miss you all, good luck! Thank you to everyone for your support… do stick around for more musical things soon!”


Arthur Gunn’s Comeback and Skipping the Season 19 Finale

Later in the season, “American Idol” featured the “comeback” twist, which allowed one contestant from a previous season back onto the show. Arthur Gunn, the season 18 runner-up, ended up winning the comeback spot only to be voted off two votes later.

Then, Gunn was invited to perform next to Sheryl Crow at the finale and skipped out on the performance. Graham DeFranco, a top-24 contestant who was at the finale to cheer on his friends, ended up stepping in instead to perform just two minutes before getting on the stage.


Caleb Kennedy’s Unexpected Exit

Caleb Kennedy, one of the top five contestants on “American Idol” season 19 left the show following a KKK-themed video that he was in when he was 12 years old surfacing, according to TMZ.

“Hey y’all, this gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I am no longer gonna be on ‘American Idol,’” he wrote. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not to be taken in that way.”

He added, “I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse. I wanna 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.”

Fans were upset about the decision for Kennedy to leave the show, and some vowed to boycott the remainder of the season.

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