The American Idol reboot has barely started, and already there is a lot of controversy and concern surrounding one of the first auditions of the season. The controversy involves judge Katy Perry (no stranger to public concerns over her problematic behavior), contestant Benjamin Glaze and what might have been the most uncomfortable on-screen kiss of 2018.
So, for those who might have missed it, here’s what happened. Right at the dang-diddly beginning of Glaze’s audition while judges Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan were getting to know him, it came out that Glaze sometimes tries to chat up pretty girls at work.
“Have you ever kissed a girl and liked it?” Bryan asked him.
“No, I’ve never been in a relationship,” Glaze replied.
At this point, Perry asked, “Really?” a bit incredulously, to which Glaze replied, “I can’t kiss a girl without being in a relationship.” It’s at this point Perry beckoned Glaze over to the judge’s table, where it was clear he was hesitant and unsure about the whole thing. Somehow, Richie and Bryan knew what was about to happen, and Bryan actually got his phone out. Perry gestured for Glaze to kiss her on the cheek, and he paused a split second before going for it. Then in a fake-out, Perry swiveled her head with perfect timing and kissed Glaze on the lips.
It was a deeply, deeply uncomfortable moment to witness on-screen, and Glaze’s discomfort at being coerced into doing something he didn’t want to do on television was undeniable. Glaze seemed to push through it in the moment and continue on to perform a cover of Nick Jonas’ “Levels” that, unfortunately, didn’t earn him a golden ticket. While it’s sad he didn’t get to move on in the competition, it’s hard not to forget the horror of watching a young man be made to do something he doesn’t want to do only to have the stakes raised and something as important as his first kiss not happen the way he wanted it to.
This coercion, which might have seemed cute and fluffy during the first seasons of American Idol way back when, now reads as something gross and disconcerting. Perry might have thought she was creating something cute for the show, a memorable moment that could play well in future highlight reels, but she clearly failed to read Glaze. He clearly stated he didn’t want to kiss a girl unless he was in a relationship with her, not a celebrity who’d be demanding a kiss on the cheek with cameras in the room. It just felt like an abuse of power and a failure to read the room on Perry’s part. Frankly, in the world we live in now, with a heightened awareness of sexual assault and harassment, it’s not surprising Perry’s actions are being perceived as nothing less than problematic.
For his part, Glaze has dutifully tried to still the waters. Earlier this week, he spoke to The New York Times about the kiss. “I was a tad bit uncomfortable. I wanted to save it for my first relationship. I wanted it to be special,” he told the newspaper. “Would I have done it if she said, ‘Would you kiss me?’ No, I would have said no,” Glaze said. “I know a lot of guys would be like, ‘Heck yeah!’ But for me, I was raised in a conservative family and I was uncomfortable immediately. I wanted my first kiss to be special.”
Glaze went on to further clarify his comments to NYT on his own Instagram shortly after the interview went live. It sounds like Glaze doesn’t want to stir up too much trouble or put any of the blame on Perry. “I am not complaining about the kiss, I am very honored and thankful to have been apart of American Idol. The main purpose for the show is to find stars and new music artist,” he stated, going on to (at least this is what it looks like) take part of the blame for the backlash that occurred, which he most certainly doesn’t have to do.
“I do wish I would have performed better in the moment. I should have picked another song to sing and calmed myself down regardless of the kiss. I should have been able to perform under pressure,” he continued. “I do not think I was sexually harassed by Katy Perry and I am thankful for the judges [sic] comments and critiques. I was uncomfortable in a sense of how I have never been kissed before and was not expecting it.”
Glaze, whose intentions here are nothing short of pure and good, shouldn’t have had to apologize or pad his comments with further explanation. While it’s noble that he’s attempting to diffuse the backlash against Perry and the tension from his comments to the NYT, it still doesn’t excuse Perry’s terrible behavior. She should have known better. She should have listened to Glaze in the moment. And now, she should apologize.