Paying for Fame: An I-Team Investigation

Industry experts say there's no need to fork out big bucks for auditions

By Tisha Thompson and Rick Yarborough
|  Sunday, May 19, 2013  |  Updated 6:29 PM EDT
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Tisha Thompson investigates a scheme that offers kids a chance to become the next big star -- but it comes at a price.

Tisha Thompson investigates a scheme that offers kids a chance to become the next big star -- but it comes at a price.

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The lights, the adrenaline and the applause are all big lures of stardom. Some kids, like those at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, know from an early age they want the spotlight. 

One student there told the News4 I-Team, “I’ve been doing shows since fifth grade.” 

But the road to stardom is not a game. Another eighth grader admitted, “It’s really competitive.” 

Which may make radio ads that you've probably heard driving in the car so attractive. They offer the chance for local kids to make it big, working with some of their favorite stars on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon.

But industry experts tell the News4 I-Team parents need to slow down before signing up.

That's what eleven year old Anna Shenk-Evans did. “I've done a lot of auditions. I've gotten used to it," Anna said. "I've been in Peter Pan twice. Annie twice. Wizard of Oz and Beauty and the Beast."

But a recent audition at a Rockville hotel ballroom struck her as a bit odd.

Anna said, “I sang a song in front of one person at a table in front of every single person in the room. It was kind of weird because usually auditions you go into a room."

Anna and her mom Wendy signed up for the audition after hearing an ad on the radio. "They mentioned 'Shake it Up' and Disney and Nickelodeon and getting to meet actors from those shows," said Wendy. 

What they said they got was a high-pressured pitch from the company Big City Talent. According to Wendy, "They explained that what you're auditioning for is the chance to participate in four rehearsals and one dress rehearsal that would lead up to a showcase."

Wendy says a Big City Talent representative told her to be prepared to buy a package deal the next day, ranging in prices from $1,500 to more than $5,000 if her daughter got a callback. Wendy said, “I'm guessing everybody got a phone call to come back regardless of what the audition was like."

Suzi Young says she hears the same complaints from parents all the time and that they should always listen to their guts. Young has represented talent in the D.C. area for 25 years for her company Camera Ready Kids.

As a talent manager, “You should want to be seeing these people," she said. "So, you shouldn't be charging."

Young and other local industry experts tell the News4 I-Team you don't need to pay a fortune for fame. Most talent agents get paid only after they book their clients work.

Parents shouldn't empty out the college fund for pricey pictures either. Young says a great snapshot like one taken with a cell phone is enough for her to book a job.

Wendy said the high prices were one reason she decided to walk away. "The largest package was $5,500 and included photos and more tickets to the showcase."

She said she also got suspicious after the company could not provide a single person who had participated in their program.

Anna says she'll continue on her own career path, without shelling out a fortune. “I don't think that should stop me from doing what I want to do," said Anna.

The News4 I-Team called Big City Talent at the New York City contact number listed on its website. A rep originally invited the I-Team to the showcase and agreed to do an interview.

But days before the event, she told the I-Team that they company had changed their mind and withdrew the invitation Searching through state records, the I-Team couldn't find a business license for Big City Talent anywhere in the country. 

Big City Talent’s Facebook page, which doesn't have much activity, says the company was founded in 2011.

The I-Team also called the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon who said they have no affiliation with Big City Talent -- and that they never advertise for casting calls on the radio.

LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Camera Ready Kids
Imagination Stage
The Actors' Center

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