Nicholas Jones

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

Family fight for $20,000 refund as US 'audition' promoters leave NZ

Fiona Campbell and her daughters Iona (left) and Isabel and (right).  Photo / Richard Robinson
Fiona Campbell and her daughters Iona (left) and Isabel and (right). Photo / Richard Robinson

An Auckland couple are desperately trying to get back $20,000 they paid to a company that promised to make their children international stars.

The family have gone to the police, but the organisers of the audition company The Event were expected to leave New Zealand last night.

Another parent has told of having her daughter's photo torn up in front of her because she couldn't pay the fees.

Hundreds of children and their parents have attended auditions hosted by the US firm at SkyCity convention centre over the past two weekends.

They were heavily advertised on radio and the Nickelodeon channel as an opportunity for parents to "make their child's dreams come true".

Celebrities including Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber were used in promotional videos, despite having no association or history with The Event.

After attending auditions on Saturday, Fiona Campbell and her husband were told their daughters Iona, 14, and Isabel, 12, had been selected for a "talent showcase" in Florida in December.

It would be attended by 60 industry professionals and casting directors.

"Participation packages" cost US$1950 ($2300) to US$7900 ($9600), and the couple paid $20,000 to The Event organisers, using their Visa card.

But alarm bells rang when the organisers insisted their son Harry, 16, come in for an audition as they were "desperate" for male models and actors.

An internet search revealed YouTube videos and media reports raising questions over The Event and the couple scrambled to get their money back.

Mrs Campbell's husband, who asked not to be named, made several trips to see the organisers yesterday.

SkyCity security guards escorted him from the building on one occasion, and The Event staff, when approached by the Herald, called security.

After a police visit, organisers sent email "receipts" to the Campbells - purporting to show the funds had been returned - but as of last night no money had been refunded.

Mrs Campbell said she felt let down by SkyCity and the radio and TV stations that ran The Event's adverts.

"My daughter is devastated. She feels as if it's her responsibility ... To me it feels like they could hold a Mafia event there ... They don't ask questions," Mrs Campbell said.

Yesterday, SkyCity would not comment on hosting The Event auditions.

Another mother, Sheryle Barham, attended Saturday's audition with her daughter Deanna Bond, 11, but things turned sour when they had a meeting with organiser "Monique" the next day. (The same woman used the name "Layla" in Australia recently.)

When Mrs Barham said she would not be able to pay, "Monique" ripped her daughter's photo from an information sheet and threw it back at her. "She said, 'I told you you had to bring your credit card' ... She really told me off in front of my children. She was really rude."

Established Hollywood casting director Billy DaMota has told the Herald such "pay to audition" set-ups used the lure of real casting directors to suck in parents and kids.

"The fact is [the casting directors] are not there to find talent and bring home the next Miley Cyrus. They're there to make their couple of thousand dollars and take a nice holiday."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 15 Jul 2014 00:39:10 Processing Time: 818ms