TV

They're our "Idols,' but are any of them gay?

LOS ANGELES — No finalist has ever been portrayed as openly gay during the past six seasons of American Idol. With more details about contestants' personal lives being exposed — on the show and unofficially online — that could change, and soon.

Or will it be Idol business as usual?

”It feels like we're closer now than ever to having an openly gay contestant on the show,“ says Jim Verraros, who came out after his run as a finalist on the first season of Idol.

”I'm not here to name any names, but I feel like there are some definite possibilities for this to happen this year,“ he said. ”Do I think it'll happen? I don't know. I hope it does.“

On Thursday, the current 16 semifinalists were narrowed down to 12 finalists, who will perform live each week until the seventh winner of American Idol is selected by the voting public in May. At its core, Idol is a singing competition, but ­finalists' popularity has always seemed to play a big role in who moves forward.

When reached for comment about this story, Fox and Idol producers issued the following statement: ”We do not comment on the personal lives of the show participants.“ None of the current contestants has been made available for comment.

Over the years, however, Idol has devoted plenty of screen time to participants' personal lives, ranging from asking intimate questions of the contestants (last week it was ”What was your most embarrassing moment?“) to aiming the camera at their sobbing significant others in the audience, to airing fully edited segments about their backgrounds.

”The show hasn't seemed very conducive or gay-friendly to contestants coming out,“ says Michael Jensen, editor of AfterElton.com, a Web site about gay and ­bisexual men in entertainment and the media. ”Simon and Randy have not hesitated to mock effeminate contestants and crack the ­occasional gay joke. It has not communicated to contestants that it would be a good place to come out.“

Every season, blogs and message-board users endlessly speculate about the sexuality of contestants. Online clues hinting at their sexual orientation often emerge, but Fox and Idol producers have never addressed such rumors or depicted openly gay finalists as such on the show or on AmericanIdol.com.

Such speculation isn't new.

Will Young, the first champion of American Idol's British predecessor Pop Idol, was rumored to be gay — then he publicly came out after his win. In 2005, a gay personal ad featuring U.S. season-four finalist Anwar Robinson was discovered on BlackPlanet.com. And second-season runner-up Clay Aiken continues to be a constant source of ”is he or isn't he?“ gossip — although he has always maintained that he isn't.

”Gay people, like everybody, want to see themselves reflected on television,“ says Jensen. ”I think that when a show hasn't reflected that, and goes on and on not reflecting that, it sort of raises the ante, and each season people begin speculating even more intensely about who may be gay.“

Last week, a video of flamboyant semifinalist Danny Noriega, who was eliminated Thursday, lashing out against Santa Claus appeared on MySpace and was posted on several blogs. Another video of Noriega singing Aretha Franklin's Chain of Fools and rapping about being gay was posted on YouTube.

”Yeah, I'm gay,“ raps Noriega in the video. ”But you eat hay for dinner, 'cause you look like a horse.“

Last week, Idol-bashing VoteForTheWorst.com posted photos of scantily clad semifinalist David Hernandez working at gay nightclub Burn, as well as ­rumors that he was a stripper at Dick's Cabaret in Phoenix. Club manager Gordy Bryan said Monday that Hernandez did indeed dance fully nude and perform lap dances for the club's ”mostly male“ clientele.

Club manager Bryan says he did not know anything about Hernandez's personal life while he was stripping at Dick's Cabaret. ­Hernandez's MySpace ­profile lists his sexual ­orientation as straight.

First-season finalist ­Verraros, who says he was out to fellow contestants and Idol staff but not on the show, was publicly outed when an online journal he kept in college, which included comments about dating guys, was discovered. Idol producers later asked Verraros to take down the LiveJournal.

”The message boards were so homophobic. The gay-bashing was awful,“ says Verraros. ”It was ­horrible.“

”Regardless of whether or not a contestant is gay, the talent is there,“ ­Verraros says. ”That should always come first and ­foremost.“

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