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A History of ‘American Idol’ Legal Battles, From Corey Clark to Phillip Phillips

In the wake of the recent lawsuit filed by Phillip Phillips against the Fox singing show, Billboard takes a look back at other cases that rocked American Idol.

American Idol season 14 has started on a sour note with news that Phillip Phillips is suing to void his 19 Entertainment contract.

The season-11 champ is the latest in a long line of plaintiffs that have tried to take the Fox singing competition to court. So far, the show has been virutally undefeated in the legal arena.

‘American Idol’ Winner Phillip Phillips Files Legal Claim to Escape ‘Oppressive’ Contracts

Of course, that won’t stop former finalists and disgruntled auditioners from trying. Among the claims against Idol: racial discrimination, unfair financial terms and defamation.

Below, a look back at five high-profile filings:


Corey Clark vs. Paula Abdul: The fallout continues
In 2013, season 2 contestant Corey Clark filed a 44-page complaint detailing his dismissal from Idol — including an alleged affair with then-judge Paula Abdul. Fox’s “independent counsel” cleared Abdul of any wrongdoing in 2005, but Clark said his reputation was forever damaged. Clark is suing Fox, E! Entertainment and two law firms — Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Morrison & Foerster — for libel, false-light invasion of privacy and conspiracy to commit commercial product disparagement.

Disqualified contestants vs. Idol producers: Is racism to blame?
Ten disqualified American Idol contestants — including Clark, Jarred Andrews, Ju’Not Joyner, Chris Golightly, Terrell and Derrell Brittenum, Thomas Daniels, Akron Watson, Donnie Williams, and Jacob John Smalley — claimed they were the victims of racial discrimination. The 2013 lawsuit, filed against the show and FremantleMedia, argued that producers dug up dirt on African-American contestants and disseminated criminal rap sheets. A judge dismissed the case, stating the claims weren’t filed in a timely fashion.

19 Entertainment vs. Sony Music: Partners look for payouts
In 2014, 19 Entertainment filed a lawsuit against Sony Music for cheating artists Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and others out of monies owed. 19 is claiming that Sony underpays artists by paying the lower royalty rates on streaming income and addresses what happens when consumers purchase individual tracks off iTunes. 19 alleges Sony treats those tracks as “singles” and not “tracks” to avoid counting them toward album sales. The lawsuit is still in its early stages.

Ian Benardo vs. television: A joke auditioner can’t take a joke
Former contestant Ian Benardo launched several claims against American Idol, claiming discrimination. His last claim, in 2011, was kicked out of court. Benardo, who appeared on Idol three times, claimed he was sexually harassed and argued that the show was exploiting him for his flamboyant behavior. The judge ruled against him, saying he volunteered to be insulted by participating on the show.

Simon Fuller vs. X Factor: Sharing is caring
Try and follow along: In July 2011, American Idol creator Simon Fuller sued Fox Broadcasting over the Simon Cowell singing competition The X Factor. Fuller alleged he was owed an executive producer credit and a corresponding fee. Fuller had previously brought a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Cowell in 2004 when The X Factor launched in the U.K., citing similarities between the two shows. Fox brokered a settlement that kept Cowell on Idol for five seasons until the U.S. version of the X Factor launched in 2011. Fuller yanked Pop Idol off the air in England, but it was alleged he was owed a fee and a credit on X Factor if it ever came to America. The case was settled quietly.