Singer Ryan Cassata took to his YouTube channel to blast TV's American Idol for allegedly soliciting him to audition only because he's transgender. He claimed producers for the Fox singing competition told him in a phone call they were looking specifically for a transgender singer but wanted to avoid anyone who looks "fake" or appears obviously to be transitioning genders.
"I decided against auditioning because I am afraid the transgender community is not being represented the right way and that the media is using transgender people to gain TV ratings and profits," Cassata tells The Advocate.
According to Cassata, American Idol preselects many of its competitors in order to showcase voices from specific demographics. He says this year, the producers want transgender singers, and Cassata alleges it is just for ratings.
"American Idol wants someone who is transgender and happens to be a singer, not someone who is a singer and happens to be transgender," Cassata said. "They are seeking transgender people because it'll bring up their ratings. I am afraid that they just want another story to hype up the show -- they aren't really interested in the singing aspect of the transgender people that they want on the show."
Cassata auditioned once before, last fall, after being approached by an American Idol producer. Ultimately, Cassata says, the judges felt he was not "contemporary enough" for the show. Of course, in the months since that audition, Caitlyn Jenner came out and trans narratives have been dominating media.
"American Idol searches far and wide to ensure that talent in any part of the country has a chance to audition," a spokesperson for the show told U.K. newspaper The Guardian in a statement.
"There are various ways for individuals to audition, including our open, 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."
Cassata says he hopes to see more than token trans stories in media. Specifically, he hopes more nonbinary trans stories will be highlighted. He says he decided to publicize American Idol's casting process to show the need for genuine trans stories, not ones that are curated for ratings.
"I want to see the media and TV shows focus on people who are transgender as people, as more than just being transgender," Cassata tells The Advocate. "We are part of society, we are more than our gender, we have jobs, we have families, we have hobbies and passions, we are artists, we are activists, we are hard workers, we are successful, and we are often misrepresented."
WATCH Cassata's video below: