The Conways’ American Idol Stunt is Newest Incident of Political Reality TV

I think it’s fair to say that I was surprised when I first saw American Idol’s YouTube video titled “Claudia Conway sings Adele Song and Shocks the World to earn a Golden Ticket”. There was already a lot to unpack with Claudia apparently being a secret singer, but it was definitely her family theatrics that took the spotlight. 

From the awkward fist bump between Claudia and her father, to Katy Perry asking if Claudia’s mother hugs her, the entire audition was horribly, horribly awkward. And while it might seem bizarre and maybe even funny, it’s worth noting just how twisted and sick this entire situation is. 

For the uninitiated, Claudia Conway is the daughter of former President Donald Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway and right-wing “Never Trump” lawyer George Conway. She made a name for herself starting in June 2020 by posting incriminating videos of her mother, urging voters to vote blue, supporting Black Lives Matter, and even leaking her mother’s positive COVID-19 test before the media. Claudia’s main appeal was bashing the Republican party from inside; not only did her content resonate with viewers, she also had insider information.

Claudia’s American Idol audition came just weeks after she accused her mother of leaking her nude photos on Twitter and only a few months after she claimed that she was seeking emancipation from her “abusive” parents. To see her now come on national TV and claim that she is “agreeing to disagree” with them feels like a punch to the face for all the netizens that spent time and energy trying to get her out of an abusive situation. 

Claudia’s followers believed her when she said that was being abused and oppressed, and tried to amplify her voice and get her help. To be blunt, the most ardent of Claudia’s supporters believed that her parents were monsters. It would be unrealistic for American Idol to expect these same followers to eat up videos of Kellyanne Conway dancing for joy when she finds out that her daughter progressed to the next round.

Although it is reasonable for any influencer to look for bigger and more profitable ventures as their following continues to grow, Claudia’s “new phase” feels the most inauthentic by far. For someone who made a name for themselves by hating on their parents, it is particularly damning to show up on reality TV and exchange a very strange assortment of “I love you”’s and fist bumps with said parents. 

It is entirely possible that Claudia really did grow tired of waging war against her parents and came to some sort of a compromise that allows their family to function more smoothly. It wouldn’t be fair to blame her for doing so; she is, after all, just a child. If this were the case, though, it would still be fair to blame her for parading it on national TV. 

Politics is not a game; Claudia claiming that she wants to “get out of the controversy, get out of the drama, get out of the political whatever” and become a singer is nothing but a show of her privilege. It’s clear that speaking up against extremist policies was just a phase for her, and not something she truly believed in. When those same laws are affecting people on a daily basis, it’s rather tone deaf of her to simply brush it all aside and equate politics to some type of hobby that she’s grown bored of. Even if she chose not to go into politics, it would be impossible for her to be apolitical unless she consciously chose not to raise her voice. Considering that she became famous for her unique political views and situation, she also risks losing the majority of her fanbase. 

Although it can’t be denied that Claudia has faced difficulties in her life, the way she’s choosing to address them continues to grow more and more bizarre. Her appearance on American Idol just confirms that she’s safe enough to think about getting famous, and I hope that that’s enough to appease her well-wishers. I highly doubt that anyone is interested in Claudia’s singing; most of the commenters under the YouTube video seem to agree that her voice is decent, but definitely not American Idol worthy. Even though Claudia Conway’s voice isn’t exactly show-stopping, it’s clear that she was brought on American Idol to increase ratings. Since the show isn’t going to get many views off her singing, it’s fully reasonable to expect that they will continue to actively mine her political family background for more views. This blend of entertainment and politics is a dangerous combination, and one that audiences need to be wary of.  

Viewers at home need to understand that politics isn’t reality TV. Even though she was only 16, people supported Claudia Conway as a political figure. Though this was perhaps a questionable decision, teenagers across the country resonated with her political clashes against her parents. Claudia’s followers tuned in because she gave them hope that Gen Z could speak out against overbearing political institutions and make their voices heard. No matter the exact reasons why Claudia came to American Idol, the result is the same; reality TV is taking a political figure and turning them into entertainment. This is a dangerous precedent, and it’s never been more necessary to draw clear lines between politics and entertainment. Viewers need to actively separate politics from entertainment and if that means getting Claudia Conway voted off American Idol, so be it.

Art by Ava Bayley for the UC San Diego Guardian.