At a time when gay-romance movie 'Brokeback Mountain' has become a monster hit with American audiences, it's ironic that homosexuality may not be as welcome on America's most popular TV show, 'American Idol' on FOX.
Effeminate male contestants often sing at their own peril. "I don't mean this disrespectfully... shave off your beard and wear a dress," scowling judge Simon Cowell told rejected 'Idol' wannabe Charles Berry. Fellow judge Randy Jackson had this pointed question for Zachary Travis, another reject: "Are you a girl?"
'Idol' has not exactly adopted the 'Seinfeld' mantra: "Not that there's anything wrong with it." 'American Idol' host Ryan Seacrest and Cowell have frequently traded on-air insults, each implying the other is gay.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has issues with 'American Idol's' tone. A GLAAD spokesperson told TMZ: "GLAAD is reaching out to the show's producers to discuss our concerns - and the concerns of community members and allies - who have contacted us about this matter."
Jim Verraros, a gay finalist from 'American Idol's' first season, feels the tone comes from the top. Verraros tells TMZ, "I honestly think that if I had come out [as gay] while I was on the show, FOX would've edited it out."
The criticism of 'American Idol' and FOX is countered with powerful evidence that the program actually showcases gay performers. Indeed, one finalist, widely rumored to be gay, went very far in one of the competitions.
"The critics totally miss the point," says Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior executive producer of the television show 'EXTRA.' "No one is exempt from the razor tongues of all three judges." She adds, "Who goes on the show thinking it's a Miss Manners tea party?"
If gay contestants hide in the closet, it may say more about America than 'American Idol.' Indeed, there is ample precedent that gay singers fear coming out early on in their careers could hurt them. Exhibit A: Elton John. Exhibit B: George Michael. Exhibit C: Melissa Etheridge. All three have said they felt being openly gay early-on was too risky.
Across the pond, an 'Idol's' sexuality is just not that big a deal. The United Kingdom's first 'Idol' winner, Will Young, is openly gay and has had a string of hit records, including multiple chart-toppers.
As for reactions from 'American Idol' and FOX, TMZ put calls in asking for comment but they were not returned.