Luke Bryan Addresses Racism + Change in Country Music: ‘These Things Take Time’
Insider reports that a journalist at a Television Critics Association panel asked Bryan and his fellow Idol judge, Lionel Richie, directly about what could be done to diversify both Idol and country music, pointing out that Morgan Wallen is more popular than ever after getting caught on camera using a racist slur in February of 2021.
After Richie pointed out that everyone on the show comes from "all walks of life" and that they treat each contestant like "family," Bryan addressed the question, saying, "First of all, there's racism throughout the whole country. Just to just sit here and single out country music as some kind of racist format is not altogether natural and true."
"I've been privy to various board meetings where we recognize our problems as an industry, and things take time," Bryan added. "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."
Wallen was caught on video using the N-word toward one of his companions outside of his house after a night of partying, and he was subsequently suspended from his record deal, saw his music dropped from radio playlists and pulled from consideration at major awards shows. However, sales of his music spiked in the wake of the scandal, and he became the best-selling artist in country music across 2021.
The singer has since returned to public life with a new single and announced a new tour for 2022, and a surprise appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in January of 2022 drew widespread condemnation from many who felt it showed the country music institution hadn't really learned a lesson.
"I think we are going to grow, and you are going to see tremendous changes," Bryan said during the 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 added that when a contestant is auditioning for American Idol, the judges don't take race or sexual orientation into consideration.
"We look at them with an open heart and an open mind," he told reporters, adding that he's "proud" of the fact that "we feel like our viewers at home are doing the exact same thing."
American Idol returns for Season 22 on Feb. 27 on ABC.