Exclusive Interview: Trans Man Claims “American Idol” Transploitation

| Aug 10, 2015
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A Perpetual Change Exclusive Interview

Ryan Cassata, a trans man activist who is becoming an extremely well known singer/songwriter and musician, was featured in this column twice in 2013. In October of that year, we posted an interview with him. In November, a review of his then-just-released project Jupiter, It Won’t Be Long was published.

While Ryan’s main work revolves around taking an anti-bullying campaign into high schools and colleges, his music has not gone unnoticed. In particular, the folks at American Idol approached him with an offer to audition. Well, we’re all aware by now that so-called “reality TV” isn’t all it’s presented to be. Let’s just say that Ryan’s  experience wasn’t what he thought it would be, either.

Ryan was turned down for an audition with American Idol for the last season. After the rise in interest in trans people and their stories he was contacted for this season by American Idol’s casting director and offered a chance to in effect, jump the line, and go before the important judges who determine who gets on the show. He feels it is exploiting the trans community for ratings and he said no.

Ryan’s situation regarding American Idol is starting to get some traction on the Internet, basically because he discussed it openly on his FB page. However, he turned down interviews with well known magazines and contacted TGForum. He wanted what he has to say about it to come first and foremost from a transgender source. He takes his work and status within the community very seriously, and TGForum is honored to be able to present this exclusive interview with him.

TGForum: Would you say that this whole episode is because of the current fascination with Caitlyn Jenner?

Ryan Cassata: I would definitely say that. I know Caitlyn Jenner is doing a lot of good in the community right now because she is spreading awareness, but I don’t feel that she represents me or represents many others in my community. Cait’s transition was mostly glamorous because she has money. She was able to come out and get surgery right away. A lot of our transitions are not like that. We are forced to wait for years and years just to get the things we need to cope throughout the day before surgery, and then years and years for surgery (for those who want surgery), and hormones (for those who want them). Not to mention, the amount of social problems we face. Transgender people are often stuck in oppression throughout their lives and the world should know that so people could come together and help each other more.

TGF: A slightly different version of the same question. Agree or disagree with this statement: It’s like the mainstream media (both LGBT and main stream) have just found out about trans folk. (After all, the first “sex change” was in Germany in 1930, but few people, even in our community, know that.)

cassaata3RC: I totally agree. When I first came out when I was 14, and I said “I am transgender,” I always had to explain myself. Now, I don’t have to explain myself, people know what being transgender is. I think that’s because of people like Chaz Bono, Laura Jane Grace, Laverne Cox, Aydian Dowlin, Skylar Kergil and now, Caitlyn Jenner, and many others.

TGF: Did American Idol just want an audition, or did they express interest in making sure you went through the process as far as you could? How did they find out about you in the first place?

RC: From what I know from friends, I heard American Idol is in five audition stages. There’s three stages before you get to the executive producers, and when you get past the executive judges, you get to go in front of the TV judges. I was offered to skip the three first stages and audition in front of the executive producers, who really decide if you are going to be on television or not.

What’s crazy to me about these stages is how many people that cannot sing pop songs that are pushed through to the TVB judges. People like William Hung and Leroy Wells are just put in front of the TV judges for rating and they were badly humiliated. This just proves that the show is definitely not a singing show, it’s just a TV show that is all faked for the purpose of TV ratings and profit. It really doesn’t have anything to do with music.

TGF: I read some of the posts on your Facebook page. It’s evident your fans are definitely with you on this. Care to comment?

RC: I love my fans. They are the #1 reason as to why I am where I am. They are the reason I can tour nationally and be successful. I owe everything to my fans. I try to talk to as many of them as I can, answer as many emails and fan mail as I can, because I really care about them and I value them. I see them as people on the same level as me and who deserve to be recognized for who they are. They are really great people, they are really true and honest people. I thank them for their ongoing support and dedication. They have always stood with me through everything I have been through and I will always stand by them and value their support.

TGF: Do you expect any kind of backlash about being so public about rejecting American Idol’s offer?

RC: I haven’t received any backlash yet. I know the casting director is hurt that I quoted her publicly, but I am hurt too. I am surprised by what she said on the phone. It seemed like she felt uncomfortable saying all this, like she knew deep down inside that it wasn’t cool. It is her job, you know? She doesn’t really have much of a choice than to beg people to come on the show, but she could have said it in a better way. I don’t think of her as a bad person and I don’t personally call her ignorant, but some of the comments she said were ignorant, racist, sexist, and transphobic. I hope that she changes some of her methods, so people are less offended and maybe we can get the media to change their ways.

casatta2TGF: What do you think would have happened had you accepted?

RC: I’m guessing they would have put me on TV and twisted my words to tell a sob story about me. I am afraid that they would have made fun of me and my community. They would have just used me to get their ratings up. It seems like almost everyone wants someone who is transgender on their show now so they could make money.

TGF: Since you didn’t agree to do it, do you expect they’ll try to find another transgender performer who will? And if they do, what would you say to that person?

RC: I’m sure that they will try to find someone else and I cringe at the thought of it because I don’t want a transgender performer who is naïve to go on the show and get made fun of. I don’t want someone to get hurt by the media when it could totally be avoided. It’s not fair that American Idol is targeting my community. I hope that every transgender singer sees my video so they know the truth. This video is really a warning, and a call for action for the media to change.

TGF: By your being so public and open about the situation, do you think it will have any impact on American idol?

RC: Yeah, I’ve already heard that many people aren’t going to watch the show this year that would have. A lot of my fans won’t watch it and I’m glad because we shouldn’t be watching things that are destructive and dishonest. TV should get more true.

TGF: In closing, anything else you’d like to say or comment on?

RC: I want to see the media cover non-binary people more. I feel that the same type of transgender people are on the media over and over again. I feel the media displays transgender people as being very binary and that’s not the case for a lot of us. Non-binary people are not being represented in the media, and we need to be so we know that we aren’t alone. It’s important to see someone like yourself on television and for oppressed groups, that’s a very rare occurrence. it’s isolating. The media needs to stop displaying gender as black and white and start displaying it as a spectrum, so everyone is included and the media is more accurate.

Ryan is currently Working with producer Barb Morrison on a new recording, with a preview right here.


For more information regarding Ryan and his music, please check out his website at www.ryancassata.com. His music is also available through amazon.com. Previous to this, Ryan’s newest release is Soul Sounds, which came out in February, and he will be featured in the upcoming film by Lauren Wolkstein entitled Beemus: It’ll End In Tears.   There is also a YouTube video about the entire American Idol situation as well. Ryan is also on Facebook, Twitter, and instagram.)

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Category: Transgender Community News

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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