Ashanti doesn't have a reputation for being controversial, but Soul Train's decision to award her their Lady of Soul Entertainer of the Year award has certainly stirred things up.
A 15-year-old music fan's online petition, questioning whether the Murder Inc. singer is worthy of an award that many refer to as "the Aretha Franklin," provoked a harshly worded statement on Soul Train's Web site last week in which the petitioner was called an "idiot" and a "loser."
Rommel Zamora, a sophomore at Woodbridge High in Irvine, California, started the anti-Ashanti petition, he said, because he didn't think she had been out long enough to warrant an award designated for a one-year period. Additionally, he said, "she lacks stage presence in the majority of her performances."
His petition, signed by 25,000 respondents as of Thursday (August 22), says that picking Ashanti is "an insult to other entertainers who are more deserving," such as the suggested alternates Faith Evans, Alicia Keys, India.Arie and Aaliyah.
Last week Soul Train's Web site posted what appeared to be a statement from awards ceremony organizers. Though a spokesperson for Don Cornelius Productions said the statement was not authorized, it was also e-mailed to Zamora from the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address (a copy is available on Zamora's Web site).
The letter, which Zamora described as "unprofessional and vulgar," attacked Zamora and BET.com (which had linked to his petition), accusing them of racism. The letter also made a point of referring to BET, which is geared toward a black audience, as being "white-owned." (MTV's parent company, Viacom, also owns BET.)
"As for the grossly uninformed moron who came up with the totally crude and clumsy idea to initiate his own hate campaign and internet rock-throwing attack against a perfectly honest, time-tested and time-honored process," the letter read, "we urge you to cease and desist from your malignant abuse ... and to take steps ... to open your own Internet Web site, which should appropriately be entitled, 'I'm a f---ing loser, I'm not talented or successful, I don't know sh-- about the music industry and I need to get a motherf---ing life!!"
"Someone got into the system and is not coming clean about it," Soul Train spokesperson Karen Sundell said. "Whoever was responsible [for that statement] was an employee in house, but we don't know who. But it certainly wasn't approved by the powers that be. It was not authorized."
A more temperate statement has since appeared on the Soul Train site in place of the first letter. "We at Soultrain.com are very saddened to learn that ... [those who are signing the petition] have nothing better to do with the precious time they all have left on Earth," the new, authorized statement reads. "We must concede that we are also quite amazed that such a large group of individuals ... can be provoked toward such vivid expressions of disrespect and hateful speech ... under the leadership of an individual whose foreign-sounding name may be an indication that he is not African-American."
"After 30 years in the business, I should be told by a 15-year-old white kid who should get an award on my show?," Don Cornelius, creator and executive producer of the Soul Train franchise, said to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "Anyone who instigated those ugly and disparaging remarks against Ashanti is fostering black-on-black hatred. It just happened that a number of people with modems and computers took the opportunity to jump on."
Zamora, who is of Filipino descent, said he finds Soul Train's response to his petition "degrading and insulting." He plans to further protest the awards by not watching them.
The eighth annual Lady of Soul Awards will be held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, on Saturday and will be broadcast live on syndicated stations.
A spokesperson for Ashanti did not return calls for comment.