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Katy Perry and American Idol Play Up Sexual Harassment During Era of #MeToo

Katy Perry and American Idol Play Up Sexual Harassment During Era of #MeToo

Katy Perry

The new Idol just premiered, and already the pop star has flirted heavily and questionably with two young men over whom she wields power as a judge. But it looks like producers wanted it that way. 

The original American Idol, which premiered 16 years ago, made history for making a star of Kelly Clarkson but also for judge Simon Cowell's acerbic critiques of the contestants. So far, the new Idol, with Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry in the judges' seats, could well be remembered for Perry's cringe-worthy come-ons to male contestants during the #MeToo era.

Since the new Idol premiered this week, two stories about Perry flirting heavily with male contestants have gone viral. One young man, Benjamin Glaze, an Oklahoma native who was 19 at the time of his audition in October and told the judges he'd never been in a relationship, ended up on the receiving end of a kiss from Perry without consent.

"I was a tad bit uncomfortable," Glaze told The New York Times.

Bryan spurred the incident, asking Glaze, "Have you kissed a girl and liked it?" alluding to Perry's breakout hit from a decade ago.

When Glaze replied, "I have never been in a relationship and I can't kiss a girl without being in a relationship," Perry stood up and said, "Come here. Come here right now," moving her face in toward him. Glaze offered a peck on the cheek. She wasn't satisfied with his first attempt to kiss her cheek so, Perry, a judge who wielded power over whether or not he would move forward on the show, cajoled him into another kiss, moving her mouth toward his and making contact as he leaned in.

Glaze's performance of Nick Jonas's "Levels" failed to wow the judges enough to send him through to Hollywood, so he didn't make it past the audition phase, but that didn't stop Idol from heavily promoting the unsolicited kiss anyway.

"I wanted to save it [his first kiss] for my first relationship. I wanted it to be special," he told the Times. "Would I have done it if she said, 'Would you kiss me?' No, I would have said no. I know a lot of guys would be like, 'Heck yeah!' But for me, I was raised in a conservative family and I was uncomfortable immediately."

The story of Perry soliciting a kiss on the mouth from a person who had not consented to it quickly went viral, and Glaze clarified that he does not feel as though Perry sexually harassed him.

"I do not think I was sexually harassed by Katy Perry and I am thankful for the judges' comments and critiques," Glaze said, according to The Washington Post. "I was uncomfortable in a sense of how I have never been kissed before and was not expecting it."

But kissing Glaze wasn't Perry's only instance of cringe-inducing behavior with male contestants that would never fly if it were Richie or Bryan doing the same with young female contestants -- although, in both instances, Bryan helped set up the situation for Perry's borderline behavior.

"Good lord, you're a dreamboat," Bryan told contestant Trevor Holmes when he entered the audition space carrying his guitar.

"Yeah, my eyes lit up," Perry told Holmes. "What's your name, dreamboat?"

As Holmes told a story about how he longs to be a full-time musician but works in construction to help his mom, who suffers from lupus, Perry interrupted and said, "You're so hot," which sent Bryan into a cackling fit.

Perry asked if he was engaged, and he said he wasn't but he had "a girl." Holmes continued on with his audition, in which he changed the lyrics of "In Case You Didn't Know" into a love song to Perry. When he was done singing, he told her she had been his "crush forever."

It sounded as though Bryan and Richie had legitimate feedback for Holmes, but it was tough to hear since Idol utilized sound effects to distort their voices as if the manufactured lovefest between Perry and Holmes were the only thing that mattered. Holmes was voted through to Hollywood, but it's tough to tell how much talent or promise he has, since his performance was partially a joke and the judges' comments were muted.

Beyond Perry's questionable behavior that doesn't belong in a singing competition, Idol's producers don't appear concerned with #MeToo. There's an argument to be made that the auditions happened before the movement really took off, but there's no explaining away post-production effects and editing to play up the notion that Perry is boy-crazy that were added well after sexual harassment became a part of the national conversation.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist