'Idol' season 7's first semi-scandal: the semi-pros

Kristyleecook_lThe TiVo’s barely gone cold on the second episode of American Idol, and already, a scandal? OK, it’s not quite on the level of Corey Clark producing Paula’s receipts from Fred Segal, but for the die-hard Idolizers out there, this is legit. Should the competition be open to semi-professionals? Like contestants who’ve had previous major label recording deals, were managed or produced by a big-time music industry name, or have even been nominated for a Grammy? The intrepid sleuths at votefortheworst.com blew the lid off this story, listing no less than 13 alleged top 50 contestants with a not-so-amateur past. Singers like Philadelphia auditioner Kristy Lee Cook (pictured), who, back in 2001, was signed to Arista Nashville and repped by LeAnn Rimes’ former manager, or Australian import Michael Johns (formerly Michael Lee), who fronted a band called The Rising and was set to release a debut on Maverick Records in 2003 (back when Madonna still ran the label). And there’s another hopeful from across the pond, Irish-born Carly Hennessy, who in 1999, signed a six-album deal with MCA Records. She was the focus of a Wall Street Journal article detailing the high risk — and cost — of breaking a new pop artist. In the piece, it was estimated that the label spent around $2.2 million on Hennessy, pairing her up with proven songwriters and producers (like Gregg Alexander, who’s worked extensively with Simon Fuller clients the Spice Girls) only to see her debut album sell less than 400 copies.

That’s not to say that singers should only have one shot at making it, then hang up their hat if they don’t, but you have to wonder: do these contestants have an unfair advantage? After all, they’ve been coached by the best, not just on their vocals, but on imaging, public relations, and how to win over an audience. Or are they, as votefortheworst suggested, plants? Failed artists with connections looking to get them that coveted second chance? Is it favoritism when someone like Samantha Sidley, who’s appeared on stage with Katharine McPhee and attended a workshop taught by Kat’s mom, Peisha, makes it through? How about Jermaine Paul, who was apparently signed to Clive Davis’ J Records and appeared on a duet with Alicia Keys which was nominated for a Grammy? (Though, according to Joe’s Place blog, hosted by idolforums.com [registration required], he’s already dropped out of the competition.)

Now, you could make the same argument for former backup singers like Melinda Doolittle. And, in fact, Idol producer Ken Ehrlich acknowledged this when defending the Idol screening process. He told MTV News,"There are kids who are sufficiently good out there, that maybe shouldbe stars and the fact that they’ve been a backing singer to someoneelse in the past — if they were within the age limit and they meet allthe criteria that we set — then who are we to say, ‘No, you can’t haveanother go [at it]’? That’s ridiculous."

But let me just say this, and then let you all continue the debate: on Fox’s Next Great American Band(which, judging by the ratings, none of you was watching), two acts hadprevious major label deals: Sixwire, who released their debut on WarnerBros. in 2002, and the Clark Brothers, who, in their prior incarnationas the Clark Family Experience, were signed to Curb Records and workedwith Tim McGraw on their first and only album (two of the threebrothers had also played in Carrie Underwood’s band). Guess what?Sixwire came in second, and the Clark Brothers (who happen to beawesome) won the whole shebang. Just saying…

Ultimately, who stays or goes is up to us, the voters, but what do you make of all this, PopWatchers?

Comments (187 total) Add your comment
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  • Stacey

    It’s a catch 22. I wasn’t a fan of Melinda because she seemed too professional. Yet, I do like Kristy Lee so far. But didn’t Kelly Clarkson have some kind of deal prior to American Idol. And Carrie wasn’t some farm girl with NO experience on the stage. So I think while it’s good the idea of giving the newcomers a chance at the spotlight. I also think, as long as they are under the age limit. And have no record deal at the time. They should be able to compete. I actually think Kristy Lee sounded still amaturish enough unlike Melinda who seemed so professional. But then I admit at being biased. But I can understand the question it arises and whether it’s fair.

  • Stephanie T.

    I think that now is the time for the producers to decide if a rule should be placed that if you are on the indie circut (Kady Malloy), were on the indie circut (Taylor Hicks, Constantine), were picked up by a label (Carly Hennesey, Kristy Lee Cook), have connections (Paris, Fantasia (her cousins are KC and Jo Jo))or were a back up singer for a famous vocalist(Melinda),you can not audition because it would be an unfair advantage.

  • Anonymous

    honestly, so what if the girls already made a record? nobody bought it, they arent famous. give them a freakin break. maybe they just were not ready for stardom when they got their recording contracts, but would be more ready now.

  • Sally in Chicago

    I don’t have a problem with second chances. The problem I have is that their agents & managers are prepping them for Idol in hopes of giving them a second chance. Daughtry was in the same boat, kicking around bars and such but he didn’t have an agent that told him to go audition for a “last chance.”
    A lot of the Idols who are finalists don’t have agents before they audition, they go solo. Also, I wonder if these pros stand in line like everybody else and brave the elements or do they just walk up and knock on the door. That would be unfair.
    We’ll see how the public accepts them. But honestly, if someone couldn’t make it after a $2mil promo push, then maybe they’re not worthy.

  • Tyler D

    Wow! Kristy Lee Cook is gorgeous enough for me to consider watching this show.

  • PS

    As someone else said, Kelly Clarkson has a prior deal that had expired.
    One question I would ask is if these people are given special treatment in the pre-screening process. Meaning, do they show up in the arena like everyone else, or are they brought in specially to see Simon, Paula, and Randy? And/or are SP&R also made aware of their prior credentials and producer’s desire to be pushed? If all of this is done fairly, they shouldn’t be punished for prior failures.

  • BostonAZ

    For me, Idol used to be about giving amateur talent a chance to be seen. It has morphed into a showcase for second-tier professional performers. That makes it less interesting for me.

  • katie g

    a couple years ago, on canadian idol, there was a singer who not only had a record deal, but was in a mediocre selling/flash in the pan success.
    he was one of the ‘moffats’, a band of brothers playing instruments and being slightly too young for real girl-mania.
    anyways, he didn’t even get to the final 12 or whatever.
    all that to say
    semi professionals or not…maybe it doesn’t make a difference.

  • Stella

    The point of the show is to find talent that is new or has been missed and overlooked. If they fit the age limit and they don’t have a record deal or professional management at the time, then they’re eligible. There have been plenty of people on the show who tour clubs with a band or sing in shows. One year they had as a finalist a young Broadway singer who’d starred in the Lion King. Why is that okay but having a record deal that failed is not? Especially as only a tiny percentage of these people will have a music career after this show, no matter how well they do.

  • Andie

    I have no problem with it. Whether they’ve had a record deal or not, chances are I’ve never heard of them, so discovering them on Idol is fine with me. And not that this is the same thing, but established comedians are on Last Comic Standing all the time…I mean people who have been around for decades. If someone wants a shot, I say let them have it. If they’re not good enough, they won’t make it through.

  • Kathleen

    PS made a good point. I think as long as everyone goes into an audition where the judges know nothing but their talent at THAT moment, who cares?
    And for the record – I watched “Band.” Friggin’ loved the Clark Bros, and hope to see more of Tres Bien mighty soon. :)

  • T-Rex

    Well this post really goes hand-in-hand with yesterdays post about the starmaking power of american idol. While I personally don’t like to see plants, I do think they are inevitable. I don’t think there’s any way AI can possibly screen out all plants during the auditions. So if they’ve shown them making it to hollywood, continuity probably dictates that they be in hollywood. There should be enough time during hollywood week to investigate their backgrounds and weed them out before the finals. All that said, yesterday’s post more or less prooves the point that AI is not a sure thing. First, if anything many of these “artists” will lose credibility for appearing on AI. Second, they are more likely to be voted off once the truth comes out. No one likes a cheater. Third, what makes them think AI can launch their careers if all of the reported coaching, contracts and advantages didn’t help?

  • David

    Congrats to EW and VFTW — you guys are only about three years late on this story.
    E! News already uncovered this in Season 4:


    “Two are former Star Search contestants. One supposedly got her big break on a TV show called Your Big Break. Another is the son of a baseball Hall of Famer.
    The last 24 American Idol singers standing may not be famous, but several aren’t exactly anonymous, either.”
    This season is no different than any of the other recent ones, the only difference might be that someone researched the Top 50 instead of the Top 24

  • Dtom

    This show is called ‘American Idol,’ not ‘Rags to Riches Idol.’ Who cares if this is really a performer’s ‘second chance’? The show is about making someone an american pop star (the success rate is another debate altogether). If a performer is currently not a star, they should be eligible to audition.

  • tia

    Last time I checked it wasn’t Amateur American Idol. As long as they are not currently under contract, I say let them try out.

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