Former American Idol contestant Kat McPhee thinks gays and lesbians on Idol should stay in the closet so they can get farther on the show--and she's right. Gays and lesbians aren't likely to go as far as someone who looks like someone you can bring home to mama--you know like Clay Aiken. Kat McPhee's advice to Idol contestants is pretty good for a career.
But it sucks for the rest of us.
Idol contestants who hide their lives in the closet are perpetuating the problem, not solving it. In fact, all of us who live our lives in the closet are allowing the system that forces into that situation to perpetuate a little longer. That doesn't mean that if we're in dire straits we ought to come out to our shift manager. Don't set yourself up to lose it all.
But losing Idol is not the same. Someone who loses Idol because they came out isn't going to be unemployable after the show (unless, of course, they're impossible to work with and have a horrific work ethic). In fact, they're likely going to be very employable in the entertainment industry as a recognizable face, and someone who made it to one of the most elite stages in the world.
What they won't be is the world's biggest pop-star.
But has Idol ever really created the world's biggest pop-star? Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and a few others have had fairly notable success. Now Glambert is rocketing up the charts and selling albums like hotcakes (well at least he was until we had new GaGa to consume, then we forgot about him). Let's look at the harms vs the possible gains:
You don't come out on Idol: You make it to the top 10 where you're promptly voted off for picking a ballad that was just a horrible choice for your vocal range, you've not changed the image of LGBT in America whatsoever at all. You get a job as an industry consultant making high five, and a few weeks after the show, you come out to Wichita Gay Retiree blog during a stop on the Rodeo circuit where you've been doing the National Anthem for $500 a night, and maybe the Queerty blog picks it up and mentions you flippantly as a casual side while sniping a bigger star.
You do come out on Idol: You make it to the top 10 where America promptly votes you off for being a homo. You instantly score a People cover for risking it all to do the right thing, you start dating Lindsey Lohan or Reichen Lehmkuhl--depending on your gender--and get a bit part in the next Another Gay Movie sequel, after which the Seattle Post-Intelligencer asks you to be their "Queer Eye" for a weekly column that they pay you $250 a shot for. Meanwhile, you get a job as an industry consultant making high five, and you're making the WNBA rounds singing the national anthem for $650 a night, while you get prominent and frequent snark attacks on Queerty (and all of the other gay blogs) on a bi-weekly basis. Oh, and you get in InTouch for making out in a club with Paris Hilton (no gender requirements). After a year, Cyndi Lauper invites you to join the True Colors tour, and your album becomes a gay cult hit, outselling all of Colton Ford's and Deborah Gibson's albums combined.
And you showed your face to all of America and they had to deal with you.
When our closeted gay celebrities shield themselves from America's derision for the sake of their careers, they aren't forcing America to deal with their stereotypes and homophobia. Is anything in the media doing that job currently besides Maddow? No. From Ugly Betty to Glee we aren't teaching America to respect us as equals, but rather as accessories and sidekicks. The evidence is clear. Check out this gem Bilerico Project contributor Alex Blaze dug up in O the magazine all about Oprah's favorite things:
Recent research shows that our social networks have a profound effect on our behaviors and attitudes--including how we perceive our appearance. "It's hard to feel good about your looks if you're surrounded by people who criticize their own," says Etcoff. "Spend time around people who are confident in their bodies, and you'll find yourself following suit." And if you don't already have a few gay men in your circle of friends, you might want to add some: A study published last year in the journal Body Image found that friendships with gay men can elevate women's body esteem.
Yeah. That just happened.
Oprah just made gay men one of her "favorite things." How's that going to fit under all of those auditorium seats? Are they in the bags already, or do ushers have to come deliver them to all of the audience members?
If the closeted homosexuals that run the entertainment industry will do nothing to paint a more realistic--and holistic--picture of gays as more than just sexless fashion consultants at straight people's beck and call with no life of their own; then its time for our reality TV contestants to do their job and be real. The more that America has to deal with the fact that queers aren't only in their own little couture cabal but actually mixed in with every possible demographic--including chefs, doctors, New Jersey beach bums, architects, farmers and, yes, pop stars--the more they'll see us as real Americans. They'll see us as real human beings like everyone else--instead of the chow-chows and poodles they see us as now.
American Idol-wannabes, if you want gays and lesbians in this country to continue to be treated as pets, ken dolls and stereotypes, then please stay in the closet. But if you have an ounce of ethics and a sense of duty to humanity, come out on camera, on stage, while belting out Gloria Estefan (gays) or Bruce Springsteen (lesbians). Be out and proud and claim your liberty!
And even if you win American Idol by staying in the closet, that victory would be bittersweet. So next time you're backstage trying to decide between singing "Faith" or "Freedom 90" on George Michael day, you know what to do.