Nine black former "American Idol" contestants are collectively suing the show, saying they were forced off "Idol" because of a racist and illegal plan to boost ratings.
TMZ obtained a letter by New York attorney James H. Freeman, submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which he asks permission to sue "Idol" and Fox-TV on behalf of his clients, all of whom have appeared on the show. Filing with the EEOC is required before filing suit.
The plaintiffs, according to TMZ, include Corey Clark and Jaered Andrews (Season 2), Donnie Williams (Season 3), Terrell Brittenum and Derrell Brittenum (Season 5), Thomas Daniels and Akron Watson (Season 6), Ju'Not Joyner (Season 8) and Chris Golightly (Season 9).
In his letter, Freeman said he was prompted by the dismissal of another contestant, Jermaine Jones, on March 15, 2012. Producers said Jones failed to inform them about multiple outstanding warrants out for his arrest.
Freeman said he did some investigating and found that the show has publicly disqualified only nine other people, all of whom are black. Freeman concluded that "Idol" has conducted a "cruel and inhumane" scheme to exploit and humiliate black contestants for ratings.
According to TMZ, Freeman believes the annual "scheme" begins during the background-check stage of the show, when producers ask potential contestants whether they've been arrested, which he says is a violation of California law. Since his clients were essentially applying for "employment," the show can't ask about whether they've been arrested.
Freeman said the ill-gotten information from the question, coupled with arrest records obtained by private investigators working for the show, were used to humiliate the black contestants on national television, and in the process, perpetuated "destructive stereotypes" about black people.
But could they sing?
Freeman also said the show made his clients appear to be "violent criminals, liars and sexual deviants," when they weren't.
Obviously "American Idol" is behind the times, because none of those things have ever kept people from being singing stars.
According to TMZ, Freeman also alleged the show has "never once publicly disqualified a white or nonblack 'American Idol' contestant in the history of the eleven season production."
According to Freeman, none of the contestants who were disqualified from the show because of arrest records were convicted of the crimes for which they were charged. "Yet their personal and professional lives remain permanently and severely impaired by (the show's) continuing violations of our nation's laws."
Freeman's letter is the first step toward filing a lawsuit, if he gets the OK from the EEOC.
"American Idol" boss Nigel Lythgoe told TMZ he was "shocked" by the "ridiculous" allegations. "We treat everybody the same, no matter the race, religion or sex. I think we've always had a fantastic share of talent from contestants both black and white. I don't think I've ever seen racism at the show."
"Idol" has had three black winners in its history: Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Jordin Sparks.