M-Net is apologising to DStv subscribers for Idols' on-air transgender shaming that kicked off the latest episode of the reality singing competition on Mzansi Magic when the judges and presenter mocked a contestant and showed viewers how to make fun out of guessing what gender someone might be.
M-Net says it "apologises unreservedly for any offence the comments may have caused".
The pay-TV broadcaster's apology comes after the [SIC] Entertainment produced show of the FremantleMedia format that is currently in its 13th South African season, kicked off Sunday night's episode with an episode-opener audition by Arshen Madlopha (22).
In a body-wrapping purple dress and matching purple high heels, the contestant traveled all the way from the small timber producing town of Piet Retief in Mpumalanga to audition for the show.
Unlike The Voice South Africa on M-Net (DStv 101) where the coaches have their backs turned to singers and judge them only on their vocal abilities, in Idols where it's also only the singing that's supposed to matter, the judges often have fun by judging appearances.
It was Arshen Madlopha's second try at Idols, and judge Unathi Msengana primed DStv subscribers watching, by perusing her notes and saying "It doesn't say if Ashen is a lady or a guy".
That is when Sunday night's episode of Idols on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161), executive produced by Gavin Wratten and ProVerb and covering the Johannesburg auditions, shocked viewers for how it trans-shamed contestant 11014.
"You're body is banging girl," judge Somizi Mhlongo, who happens to be gay, told Arshen Madlopha. "Walk like a lady."
Once the contestant had left the audition room, the whispering started.
"Is it a girl or boy?" asked a perplexed Idols guest judge Kelly Khumalo who was roped in to judge singing talent for the episode but who couldn't be bothered to ask the actual contestant directly.
"Boy," said Somizi.
"No, it's a girl," countered a surprised Unathi Msengana.
"It's a boy," said an adamant Randall Abrahams. "There was action," he said, motioning his Adam's apple. "I am confused, but it's such a beautiful boy though," said Kelly.
They all laughed heartily and fun was had by all speculating whether the contestant who sang Beyonce's "Halo" is really male or female.
Outside ProVerb, whose real name is Tebogo Thekisho and doubles as presenter, deadpanned by added another zinger: "Arshen had let both the ladies and the guys down."
It's not clear why Sphumelele Sibeko, M-Net's head of reality and entertainment and Reneilwe Sema, M-Net's director for local entertainment signed off on the trans-shaming content and okay-ed it for broadcast.
After [SIC] Entertainment producers failed to ask the contestant's gender and left it to the judges to speculate as a funny joke for Mzansi Magic viewers, Lindiwe Dlhamini, founder of Injabulo Anti-Bullying Project (IABP), called on Idols and the judges to apologise to Arshen Madlopha.
TVwithThinus asked M-Net what Mzansi Magic's view is when it comes to media shaming of transgender people and the bullying of people as it relates to gender and gender issues, and why people in power - supposed TV role models - are making fun by mining what gender someone belongs to for comedy.
Is this something Mzansi Magic endorses and why did Idols do this?
"South African Idols has a history supporting the LGBTQIA community, a fact which is illustrated in the make-up of the Top 16 over the past few seasons, our judging panel," says M-Net in response.
"In respect of this specific case, the Idols judges were judging the contestant's voice."
"All contestants are treated equally and judged on their singing, irrespective of who they are, where they come from or what their orientation is."
"The judges' dialogue was an attempt to understand the contestant’s identity and was not intended to offend, however we apologise unreservedly for any offence the comments may have caused."
It's not clear why the Idols judges in their attempt to understand the contestant's gender identity didn't ask the contestant or the show's producers.