Queer American Idol contestant turned adult performer claims show ‘stopped him coming out as trans’

Zachary Travis performing on American Idol

Queer American Idol contestants have spoken about feeling “manipulated and exploited” by the show, with one even claiming the way he was treated stopped him transitioning, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

Premiering in 2002, the Fox reality TV smash was judged by Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, who were famously harsh on the hopeful singers.

Zachary Travis, who creates adult content under the name Kirk Cummings on Just For Fans, as well as working as a DJ and dog groomer, auditioned in 2005 but immediately felt belittled by the judges, particularly Cowell.

Travis wore bell-bottom jeans, a tight white t-shirt and had shaggy blond hair. He sang Whitney Houston’s “Queen of the Night”, which prompted Cowell to label the audition “confused”. It was uploaded to YouTube under the title American Idol Audition Boy or Girl.

Cowell continued to ridicule Travis throughout his audition, branding it “atrocious”. Leaving the set, Travis said: “I think it’s totally prejudiced to not accept someone because someone’s a boy singing girl songs, and that they don’t ‘fit’… I think that’s prejudiced.”

Travis told Rolling Stone that although he now identifies as male, he had hoped to transition to female at the time of his audition, and was discouraged by his treatment on Idol.

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“I thought: ‘Wow, if this is how my life’s going to be then I don’t want any part of it’,” he said.

“My experience is not the normal experience of a trans person but because I had chosen to be on a television show, I saw the worst of it.”

Another queer contestant, who only came out after auditioning, was Keith Beukelaer. He sang Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” on season two in 2003, and was branded “the worst singer in the world” by Cowell.

“It’s something I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recovered from,” he told Rolling Stone. “I remember it as if it was yesterday.

“They knew I was different…. everybody seemed to know I was gay. I mean, I was a guy singing Madonna. It was the song choice. It was the dancing. It was my sexuality. It was the fact that I’m on the spectrum. I wasn’t expecting it to be that bad.”

Although Rolling Stone say that Cowell did not respond to their numerous requests for comment, an anonymous source told the magazine that “every single person who came on Idol, whatever their race, colour, creed or sexual preferences, was placed squarely in the firing line for Simon’s barbed critiques”.

Abdul, however, issued a lengthy statement concerning the revelations, saying she was “truly heart-broken that contestants felt an inability to be their fully authentic selves during a time meant for them to shine”, adding: “Sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, none of that should matter when it comes to sheer talent.

“I will always remember the amazing contestants that it was a privilege to meet and mentor throughout my time with the show and am saddened that some left feeling that they had not been fully seen. My wish is that they all now are living in their truths and continue sharing their incredible gifts with the world.” 

PinkNews has reached out to Simon Cowell, Fremantle and 19 Entertainment for comment.

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