Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Child talent show under fire

Numerous media reports tell how children were 'selected' at the auditions - and then asked to spend thousands of dollars to attend a later event. Photo / Thinkstock
Numerous media reports tell how children were 'selected' at the auditions - and then asked to spend thousands of dollars to attend a later event. Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealand children are being promised a shot at stardom by a company whose auditions have caused complaints and warnings in the United States.

Radio commercials have promised Kiwi parents the opportunity to "make their child's dreams come true" by registering them for "The Event" held at Sky City in Auckland this weekend.

A website for the free event says children can audition for the chance to be seen by more than 60 agents, casting directors and managers representing talent from American TV shows such as Glee, iCarly, Victorious, and Big Time Rush.

The chance to eventually win cash and prizes worth more than US$50,000 ($61,000) is also promised.

A promotional video on the website begins: "It all started with an audition".

Celebrities including Selena Gomez, Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Lea Michele, and Justin Bieber are shown as children in what appear to be audition videos.

Footage then dramatically cuts to the stars as adults, walking the red carpet at Hollywood events, and asks, "Are you next?"

A local children's talent agent contacted the Herald after seeing reaction to the company's past events.

"It seems a bit odd to me."

She was puzzled as to why prize money was being advertised, when the audition was the prize.

She has contacted Sky City to voice her concerns. A Sky City spokeswoman yesterday would not comment.

Numerous media reports tell how parents across the United States were left disillusioned after their children were "selected" at The auditions - and then asked to spend thousands of dollars to attend a later, national event.

The number of complaints spurred warnings from US business association and consumer watchdog the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the latest in September last year.

The last year dropped a lawsuit it filed against BBB over its warnings.

And in 2009, the Connecticut attorney general said The had agreed to grant refunds and forfeit US$25,000 ($30,000) to the state to resolve claims its contracts were defective and flawed.

Brochures given to parents at one event in California last year outlined fees based on the number of showcases children would appear in, ranging from US$1950 ($2385) for two up to US$7900 ($9600) for 10.

The company's website says the next The showcase event will be held in December at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Orlando, Florida.

The hotel is not owned by Disney, and before past events Disney Corporate has asked the venue to display signs making it clear the entertainment company is not affiliated with The.

The - pronounced "tay" and a tradename for New York Studio, Inc - could not be contacted yesterday.

But in October, the company told a CBS television reporter its events were a "family friendly competition for the performing arts".

"Our open call events in local markets consist of an audition for The Event ... and an industry professional ... who has talent they represent or who casts for major TV networks and films."

The company cited Landry Bender, who featured in The Sitter movie, and Zayne Emory, who appears on Disney XD's I'm With the Band show, as examples of its "many success stories".

It refused to say why it used stars such as Justin Bieber in promotions.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs spokesman Alastair Stewart said it was important to research overseas companies before entering into contracts or handing over money.

"New Zealanders enjoy strong protections under consumer law, however these protections apply only in New Zealand.

"It becomes much more difficult to exercise your rights when dealing with international companies."

More coverage:

* Better Business Bureau, Delaware warning over "The Event" business.
* Coverage in Los Angeles Times

- NZ Herald

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