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Why Does Everyone Care About 'Idol's Exploitation Now?

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Why Does Everyone Care About 'Idol's Exploitation Now?

Let's just get it out of the way: saying American Idol is exploitative is like saying a contestant will sing Edwin McCain before the season's end. Both statements are true, and both statements illustrate something we don't love about the series. But, after Claudia Conway's appearance on Idol has left tongues wagging more than Clay Aiken in a red leather coat, the conversation behind the ethics of Idol has revved up, leaving some viewers to wonder whether the series crossed a line by featuring a contestant whose home life is very broken.

But, when "a contestant whose home life is very broken" is the way you can describe approximately 75% of the contestants that have ever auditioned on Idol, it becomes difficult to solely hone in on the Conway storyline. In Sunday night's episode alone, audiences watched DJ Johnson sing about her mother's abandonment; Grace Kinstler tearfully broach her father's recent death; and Danica Steakley nervously sing in front of her veteran father, seemingly shaken by his overlording presence and pressure. It would seem like a trend if it were new, but family drama has been exploited on Idol ever since Kellie Pickler paired a Martina McBride tune with tears about an absent mother and drug-addled father in Season 5. But, thanks to Conway, this season is clearly hitting different for viewers. But why?

Since its premiere in 2002, American Idol has represented the American Dream, presenting itself as the fairy godmother that serves you a carriage directly to Hollywood that will never revert back to a pumpkin. And, once Idol recognized the ratings draw of a true Cinderella story (America loves its underdogs!), there was no turning back. Carrie Underwood traded in her horse to become a superstar; Fantasia was a single mom who singlehandedly brought an arena to tears; Jennifer Hudson was an inner-city girl who won an Oscar, for god's sake.

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