'Racist' X Factor voters reject black singers, says Chris O'Dowd

The actor said viewers remain prejudiced against strong, black singers

Adam Sherwin
Tuesday 11 February 2014 01:57
Operation Black Vote, a group set up to promote racial justice, said the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd had raised a valid issue
Operation Black Vote, a group set up to promote racial justice, said the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd had raised a valid issue

Viewers of the X Factor are “racist” because they consistently vote to eject the best black singers, the actor Chris O’Dowd has claimed.

Despite the ITV talent show producing several black winners, the IT Crowd and Bridesmaids star said that the millions of viewers who watch the talent show and vote for their favourites remain prejudiced against black contestants.

O’Dowd told Radio Times: “I’m a big X Factor fan. Generally my favourites go out in the first few weeks and, of course, because the viewing public is so racist, all the black, strong singers go out in round five every year.”

Simon Cowell’s talent search has produced a number of black stars, including Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, who won the public vote by an overwhelming margin in 2006 and 2008.

However there have been occasions where the judges have stepped in to rescue talented black performers after a lack of viewer votes left them singing for survival.

In 2011, Misha B, described by the Huffington Post as the “blackest contestant the competition has ever had”, was regularly placed in the bottom two. The Post said the public’s rejection of a confident performer, “rooted in black culture” who chose not to bleach her skin lighter like other crossover black singers, was “racist”.

Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, the body set up to promote racial justice in public life, said O’Dowd had raised a valid issue.

Mr Woolley said: “I wouldn’t describe voters as racist but there’s something more subtle going on which makes it harder for contestants with a ‘darker’ physical complexion to win public support. Generally the ‘blacker’ the artist is, the harder it is for the public to warm to them.”

This prejudice was not limited to The X Factor but other talent shows and wider society. Mr Woolley said: “Whether it's in the arts or business we need a sensible debate if we are to unpick and deal with some deep seated prejudice especially when it simply ignores talent.”

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The X Factor producers rejected O’Dowd’s claim. The show was praised last year for giving a platform to talented ethnic minority hopefuls – 40 per cent of the 2013 finalists were black or mixed race.

A programme source said: “The X Factor has a long standing record of celebrating a diverse range of artists including two former winners, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, and numerous others who have reached the final stages of the competition including this year’s semi-finalists Rough Copy, along with JLS, Marcus Collins and Jahmene Douglas in previous series.”

O’Dowd was sucked into a race row himself when he starred in the film The Sapphires as a talent scout who manages an Aboriginal girl group in the ‘60s.

A DVD cover for a film was called “racist and sexist” for relegating its female stars to the background to give the Irish actor centre stage.

The original DVD cover for The Sapphires features the dark-skinned singers in prominent positions, with O’Dowd at the back. But on the US version, released last year, O'Dowd takes centre stage while The Sapphires fade into an entirely blue background.

US distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment has apologised for the cover which prompted the real-life members of The Sapphires to complain to the US civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

Last year, X Factor contestant Hannah Barrett revealed that she has been subjected to “horrible, racist comments” during her stint on the ITV show.

She told Reveal magazine: “I’ve received a lot of horrible, racist comments on Twitter. People say I'm too dark to be a singer. People say: 'You're black and ugly' and nasty things like that....The sad thing is that most of them are made by black people who just have lighter skin than me.”

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