This week Caleb Johnson is in the final four for the contestants on American Idol. But, because of a stupid comment, he just lost his biggest fan. Here’s how to win her back. [This post has been updated; scroll to the bottom for updates].
Having kids, American Idol has been one of my family’s favorite shows. This season, my daughter Juliet initially championed Jessica Meuse. She knows Wednesdays and Thursdays are when the show airs and on those days, would ask, “Dad, American Idol?” “Yes, Juliet.” “Yay, Jessica!”
That was until Caleb Johnson blew the roof off the joint with his version of the Black Crowes’ “Sting Me.”
Then he followed it up last week with Whitesnake’s, “Still of the Night.”
His versions impressed me, but not half as much as they impressed Juliet.
I hope Jessica’s not upset by this, but Caleb overtook her as Juliet’s favorite. Each morning, she’d ask to see the performance on YouTube. Regularly requesting, “Caleb, Sting Me.” Or, “Caleb, Still of the Night.”
But, then I learned of Caleb’s stupid comments following his performance last week.
Last week’s show had fans picking songs for the contestants. Caleb’s first song was Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Here’s what he said after the show about the song choice:
[Twitter] gives access to a bunch of retards to talk to me,” Caleb said, astonishingly. “I don’t really enjoy having to see somebody telling me what song I have to sing. I think at this point of the competition, I can pick and choose my own songs and represent me. I don’t need 10,000 people saying, ‘You should sing this, you should sing that. Listen to me!’ Fortunately, guys, I’m going to listen to myself, whether you like it or not.
With Juliet having Down syndrome, hearing “retard” usually makes me change the channel or have a conversation with the person who said it. Since she was born, I have dreaded the day she’s at school or is out with her friends, and someone calls her that word.
It wasn’t that long ago when that was clinically acceptable to label someone with Down syndrome, or any other intellectual or developmental disability, a retard. But, things have been changing quickly on that front: federal and state legislation replacing “mental retardation” with “intellectual or developmental disability” and the Special Olympics’ “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign.
These measures have made a real change, with “retard” quickly becoming the “r-word,” the same as the “N-word” is now referred to in that way.
But, Caleb, so far, doesn’t get it. Here’s his mush-mouthed “apology:”
For the record that juvenile comment I made in the interview was not directed towards my fans but to the wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day to me! You guys are amazing and I cannot thank you enough for your support. Sorry if it offended anybody it was the wrong choice of words. Also I greatly appreciate it when you guys give me song suggestions but it gets really overwhelming at the volume it comes in so please understand ! Rock on !:)
Now imagine if Caleb had used another slur against a minority group: the “N-word,” “F-g,” “K*ke,” “Ch*nk,” “Sp*c.” Imagine any of those. Would he get away with “Sorry if it offended anybody it was the wrong choice of words”?
Of course not.
And, so the continued acceptance of ridiculing those with intellectual disabilities is allowed, even in apologizing for it.
Here’s the real simple way for Caleb to win back Juliet and others:
Take the pledge to spread the word to end the word, making “retard” and “retarded” the “r-word.”
It’s as easy as signing an on-line pledge.
And, then, take the next step, Caleb. Apologize, forthrightly and fully, not in a passive way. Say you’re sorry. On live T.V. Wednesday.
Then, you’ll have made a difference and an impact. And, you’ll win back Juliet as your biggest fan.
UPDATE: Well, no pledge made on the air, yet, but there are more opportunities.
— Mark W Leach (@MarkWLeach) May 8, 2014
Thanks to so many who have shared this post, shared the write-ups of this post at the Huffington Post and AmericanIdolNet, and tweeted and retweeted to American Idol and Caleb Johnson. Thanks particularly to those who have left a comment at the American Idol webpage for Caleb’s journey asking, respectfully, for him to use this opportunity to have others learn that the r-word perpetuates ridicule and discrimination against those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Watching the show, I couldn’t help thinking that the judges and Randy Jackson would not have been so praising of Caleb’s performance if he had used a slur that they had a connection with. Perhaps they think that he has sufficiently apologized. Or, more likely, whether it’s on their radar or not, they’re invested in making the show successful and don’t want to bring controversy or criticism to the show. But, taking the pledge on-air would do none of that. Instead, it would be consistent with Idol’s philanthropic efforts of “American Idol Gives Back” and the show’s commitment to inclusion of all people as contestants.
The odds are diminishing that American Idol and Caleb will take this opportunity to truly have a moment and make a positive impact by taking the pledge to end the r-word, but time remains on the Idol clock. This is not about vengeance or anger at Caleb or wanting to see him fail. This is about Caleb and American Idol making amends and doing what’s right, as they would have done if any other slur had been used by one of their contestants.
Continue to tweet, share, contact the show, and leave comments on the Webpage asking that they take the pledge to end the “r-word” on-air. There are several more shows left and they can still do what is right.
UPDATE: Well, on top of no mention having been made by American Idol or Caleb Johnson about taking the pledge to end the “r-word,” Juliet’s first-favorite, and then second-favorite after Caleb, Jessica Meuse, was voted off last week. In case you missed what Caleb said, here’s that video (comments around the 1:30 mark):
It seems that everyone has “moved on,” but there remains opportunities for American Idol and Caleb to do something good. There are more shows remaining in the season. Hopefully, they will take one of the opportunities to take the pledge to end the “r-word,” or even make the simple statement by wearing a t-shirt from the R-word store in one of the clips they shoot.
Below is a segment from Clint Otis, a local college student explaining why we should end the use of the “r-word.” He happens to also be the son of Down Syndrome of Louisville’s excellent office manager and is a super volunteer for the organization.
Clint made this statement on local t.v. and it will have a positive effect. Caleb can do the same and have a national positive effect by taking the pledge. You, too, can ask Caleb and American Idol to take the pledge by leaving a comment on the Idol’s webpage here. Thanks to those who have already and particularly for everyone keeping it respectful and asking for a positive to come of this negative.
UPDATE: Caleb Johnson has won American Idol. Congratulations, to him and his family, featured on the program. Being a KISS fan, I enjoyed his performance with the band on the show’s finale. I hope in time Caleb will see the power of his words and his platform, and he’ll choose to speak well of others, rather than insulting them with slurs that perpetuate ridicule of those with intellectual disabilities. He can do so by taking the pledge to end the “r-word,” and I hope that he still will as he moves on to what should be a successful performing career.
I hope you will take the pledge as well. Words do matter. The world becomes a better place the less we insult each other. You can take the pledge at this link. I invite you to do so.