Critics accuse ‘American Idol’ of exploiting 16-year-old Claudia Conway, daughter of Kellyanne Conway

"American Idol" returned to airwaves during its season premiere Feb. 14 on ABC featuring Claudia Conway as a contestant. (ABC/Christopher Willard)
"American Idol" returned to airwaves during its season premiere Feb. 14 on ABC featuring Claudia Conway as a contestant. (ABC/Christopher Willard)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

“American Idol” this week received the most publicity it has in years — but not necessarily in a good way.

The day after “Idol” aired the audition of 16-year-old Claudia Conway, daughter of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and anti-Trump dad George Conway, social media and TV critics assailed the show producers for their choices, especially given her age.

“If the show is concerned that Claudia lost what has elapsed so far of her youth, the way to redress it would not be by having her spend some small portion of her teen years practicing her persona for millions on TV; if it wanted her to be able to suss out who Claudia is, it might allow her to do it elsewhere and then come back for season 21,” wrote Daniel D’Addario, Variety’s chief TV critic. “[Katy] Perry tells Claudia to calm the storm around her, while the show, putting her through to the next round, whips it up.,”

There was no shortage of comparable complaints from folks on Twitter, who accused the show producers of exploiting a dysfunctional family dynamic.

Claudia was already a TikTok “social influencer” before auditioning for the show last year. She has 1.7 million followers on the platform.

The nine-minute clip of the audition is available on YouTube.

The judges are given a head’s up on who is coming in, so as soon as Claudia entered the audition room, judge Katy Perry asked her: “Are you OK?”

“No, but yes,” Claudia says. She explains who she is and says, “I only want to spread love... I do agree to disagree with my mom and my dad.”

The judges look bemused. Then we see a video packaged back story where images of her mom Kellyanne Conway with former President Donald Trump appear. Claudia talks to her mom via a big video screen before the audition and says she’s nervous. “You should be nervous, honey. It’s a humbling experience,” her mom said. “This is your time to shine. Remember, winners are people who are willing to lose.”

Katy then gingerly probes Claudia: “With your mom being the figure that she is, does she still hug you?

Claudia: “She loves me. I love her. I feel like our relationship is a little iffy. For most of my life, my feelings have been suppressed. I got social media and now my voice is being heard.”

In a narration, she said, “When life is going downhill, I have my music... Now I kind of want to get out of the controversy, get out of the drama, get out of the political whatever and let people know I am a singer.”

George Conway, who accompanied her to California for the audition, is then shown tearfully expressing his pride for his daughter.

Claudia performs “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna with her eyes tightly closed, but she’s unsteady. Katy said she “lost it” and asks her to sing another song. Claudia’s back-up song is ‘When We Were Young” by Adele.

Katy advises her to channel her own sadness of losing her youth because of “all the noise.”

Claudia does a better job with the Adele song, but she has a bad habit of not opening her eyes while singing.

Luke Bryan said she’s limited by her range. Lionel Richie said she took coaching well and liked some qualities of her voice. “There’s a lot of noise in your life,” Perry said. “You have to calm the storm around you. Before you sing, you need to get off your phone and stop reading your comments. Push it aside. If not, you may not ever rise above your dad or your mom. It’s your choice.”

Luke said no, but Lionel and Katy gave her a ticket to Hollywood.

In some ways, this type of storytelling isn’t new for “Idol.”

Over the years, the show has mined sob stories for maximum emotional effect. During the first season, Jim Verraros featured his deaf parents. Season 3, Fantasia was a teen mom. During Season 7, Asia’h Epperson’s dad died two days before her audition. That same year, Josiah Leming had been living out of his car. During season 9, Danny Gokey’s wife had just died. Season 12′s Lazaro Arbos had a stutter and was bullied.

In fact, during the same episode as Conway’s appearance, another contestant wrote a song about her mom abandoning her and broke down. There was also an overbearing dad and a singer with Tourette Syndrome.

This particular backlash may have more to do with the fact the producers waded into the minefield of politics, a very controversial place to be for a reality program such as “Idol.” ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” received its share of criticism booking former Trump spokesman Sean Spicer a couple of years ago.

Folks who dislike Kellyanne Conway felt like ABC was trying to help her out. Or as former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien wrote on Twitter: “Good work by American Idol in their efforts to rehab the reputation of horrible human.”

Both before and after the audition was taped, Claudia has publicly released arguments between herself and her mother and accused her mom of both physical and verbal abuse.

Her mom in return was accused of posting a topless photo of her under-age child on Twitter in January.

“I know that my mom would never, ever post anything to hurt me like that intentionally, and I do believe she was hacked,” Claudia said in one of her TikTok videos after that.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News