- During a Television Critics Associate panel, Luke Bryan was asked about racism in country music.
- The reporter mentioned Morgan Wallen and asked what “American Idol” can do to diversify the genre.
- “That’s a situation that country music and the industry is doing everything they can to recognize,” he said.
During a recent Television Critics Association (TCA) panel, two “American Idol” judges — Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie — were asked directly about the lack of diversity in the country music scene.
“Morgan Wallen uses a racial slur and he’s more popular than ever,” a TCA member said during the panel’s Q&A section. “I’m wondering what ‘Idol’ can do and what you guys can do to address this issue and maybe diversify country music more.”
Lionel Richie responded first, saying they treat each contestant like “family.”
“We represent America and the music business and we come from very different walks of life,” Richie said. “But at the same time, we can come together and celebrate one thing: Each other.”
“Well, how does that specifically solve the problems that are going on in country music right now and dealing with the perception that there’s racism in country music, and that it’s not open to people who are Black and Asian?” the reporter replied.
That’s when Luke Bryan, a country singer and Richie’s fellow judge, chimed in.
“First of all, there’s racism throughout the whole country,” he said. “Just to just sit here and single out country music as some kind of racist format is not altogether natural and true.”
Bryan continued: “I’ve been privy to various board meetings where we recognize our problems as an industry, and things take time. I think this country learns every day about the severity of racism. And like I said, I think sometimes you have to open your eyes and understand other people’s side of the story.”
Bryan said as an artist who performs on stage he was always “fired up” if he saw “an African-American fan or someone of a different color that didn’t look like a typical country music fan.”
“It was always one of the coolest images in my world because that means I crossed over and touched somebody else that maybe stereotypically somebody else wouldn’t agree with,” Bryan said.
“And I think, as country music learns, yes, there’s a bigger audience out there for us as artists.”
The reporter’s question had referenced Morgan Wallen, a country singer who broke through in the industry after he appeared on NBC’s competition series “The Voice.” In 2020, Wallen was filmed yelling a racial slur on the streets of Nashville. He was dropped from some radio station playlists, and had his recording contract suspended, but his album sales also increased by 339%.
In 2021, Wallen won three Billboard Awards even after being uninvited to the show. At the start of 2022, Wallen performed at Nashville’s iconic Grand Ole Opry. As reported by Insider’s Matthew Loh, the founder of a platform for Black country artists called Wallen’s attendance “a slap in the face.”
“I think we are going to grow, and you are going to see tremendous changes,” Bryan said in the TCA panel. “You bring up the Morgan situation — that’s a situation that I think country music and the industry is doing everything they can to recognize, and these things take time. They take time in the National Football League. They take time as a country.”
Bryan concluded by saying that when someone comes to audition for “American Idol,” the judges “don’t care” what they look like or what their sexual orientation is.
“We look at them with an open heart and an open mind,” he said. “And do you know what? For the most part, what I’m proud [that] we feel like our viewers at home are doing the exact same thing. Are we ever going to bat a thousand? Never. But we damn sure work hard to give everybody love.”