American Idol Is Exploiting Claudia Conway—Just Like Her Parents | Opinion

There are many questions I asked myself during Trump's four years in office. Questions like, how did we get here? Will this ever end? And, why would such a pale man wear such a dark shade of bronzer? But there was only one question I asked myself on Sunday night as ABC aired Claudia Conway's audition for American Idol: Where are the adults?

For those not acutely tuned into TikTok drama, Claudia Conway is the 16-year-old daughter of Kellyanne Conway, a former-Trump Senior Advisor, and George Conway, a founding member of the currently imploding conservative anti-Trump super PAC The Lincoln Project. Claudia's parents are known for being a 21st century Mary Matalin and James Carville, with less bipartisan shenanigans and more Twitter fighting. And their daughter has been involved, too: Claudia gained notoriety in 2020 for speaking out against Donald Trump on social media, despite her mother's role in his administration.

But there has also been a darker side to Conway family drama that's emerged in recent months. Claudia has made several serious allegations against her parents, claiming her mother leaked a nude photo of Claudia and that Kellyanne knowingly exposed Claudia to COVID-19, and in August, Claudia announced she was seeking emancipation from both Conways "because of years of childhood trauma and abuse." Last month, the situation escalated when she released a TikTok video that seemed to show her mother verbally, and potentially physically assaulting her.

Perhaps that's why I was so taken aback when American Idol trotted George and Kellyanne Conway out on Sunday night like two ordinary parents excitedly cheering on their little girl. And if I wasn't so disturbed by the exploitation of a 16-year-old, I'd dive deeper into American Idol's participation in the redemption arc of a political figure who played a large role in the most damaging Presidency in modern history. I could write for days about the frustration I felt seeing Kellyanne Conway dancing around chanting "You're going to Hollywood! You're going to Hollywood!" like any other goofy mom—when just days ago she was on The Bill Maher Show defending Trump's legacy, and that was after the Capitol riot.

But I will not get caught up complaining about the dangers of humanizing Kellyanne Conway, because putting Kellyanne ahead of her daughter is what got Claudia here in the first place.

"Are you OK?" was the very first thing Katy Perry asked Claudia when the 16-year-old entered the audition room, clearly alluding to Claudia's social media posts. In response, Claudia admits to Perry that she's not OK through strained laughter.

Seeing the footage, a naive part of me expected a producer to yell "Cut!" so that the 16-year-old alleged abuse-victim could be escorted off the set to get help. If not the crew, then surely her dad would come bursting into the room and rush his daughter out of the spotlight.

This, of course, did not happen. Because there weren't any adults present—just TV executives happy to give a traumatized young girl her five minutes of fame in order to boost their ratings, and parents who'd rather rehabilitate their own respective images than protect their daughter's.

Claudia and Kellyanne Conway
Claudia Conway appears on American Idol. Her mother, Kellyanne Conway, wishes her well American Idol/ABC/Twitter

"I kind of want to get out of the controversy, get out of the drama, get out of the political whatever and let people know that I am a singer and that this is what I want to do," Conway told the judges.

What she's too young to realize is that by coming on this show as "Claudia Conway, the daughter of Kellyanne and George," she's only cementing her identity as it is now. When has getting more famous ever helped a young person struggling with fame? Have they not seen Hulu's "Framing Britney Spears" yet?

Like them or hate them, the Conways are brilliant communications strategists. They knew exactly what they were doing by going on American Idol and didn't care whether or not it was the right choice for their clearly-suffering daughter.

I don't judge Claudia for wanting to be on reality TV. She's a 16-year-old girl living in a world obsessed with fame. She also clearly loves to sing, and I respect the courage it takes to perform in front of such a large audience, especially at her age.

The fault lies with the supposed-adults around her, because it's clear that American Idol didn't bring her on the show because of her voice. "You're singing like a 16-year-old, which is great," Luke Bryant told Claudia, before giving her his official no.

I agree, Claudia's singing is fine, but I've watched enough people audition for these shows to gander that she made it there because of who her family is. Watching her get psyched up to go off to Hollywood not because of her talent but so that ABC can milk another week of ratings out of her toxic family is just cruel.

And everyone is in on it but Claudia.

"Think about when you were young," Katy Perry told Conway before she started her rendition of Adele's "When We Were Young," an amusing choice given her age. "It's like you lost your youth because you weren't able to experience it on your own without all this noise."

Perry is right: So much of Claudia Conway's youth has been torn away from her by the self-interested adults in her life. I hope that whatever happens to Claudia next, it's guided by true grown-ups who know how to put a hurting child's needs ahead of their own.

Sophie Vershbow is the Assistant Director of Social Media for a large book publisher. A lifelong New Yorker, her writing has appeared in Vogue, Vulture, The Huffington Post, and more.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.