'Idol' is no longer amateur hour

Kelly Clarkson performing on''American Idol'' in 2002. Kelly Clarkson performing on''American Idol'' in 2002. (ray michshaw/REUTERS/file 2002)
By Derrik J. Lang
Associated Press / February 6, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - It has the makings of an all-star ensemble: an Osmond family member, a Rosie O'Donnell protege, the sister of a Grammy-winning blues singer, an actor from "Wicked," a former Miss New York USA, an actress who's been on "The Sopranos" and a recording artist who was covered by Britney Spears.

But this is not the new cast of "Dancing With the Stars." It's a cross-section of the not-so-green wannabes who made it through to Hollywood Week on "American Idol."

For the reality competition whose tagline was once "The Search for the Next Superstar," it seems there are several crooners who've already had a shot - or several - at making it in the music industry.

"The series creates this problem for itself by frequently playing up the dream-making aspect of the show, but it isn't really an amateur competition," said Andy Dehnart, who blogs about reality TV at RealityBlurred .com.

Joanna Pacitti, who auditioned in Kentucky, has attracted the most attention for her showbiz background. She was signed to A&M Records, as judge Kara DioGuardi pointed out on the show, and Geffen Records released an album by her in 2006. The Britney Spears tune "Out From Under," from her latest album, was first sung by Pacitti on the "Bratz" soundtrack.

Pacitti isn't the only contestant who brought a bit of her own spotlight to the "Idol" stage. Danielle Roundtree was Miss New York USA in 2008. Adam Lambert was a cast member in the Los Angeles production of "Wicked." Von Smith sang on "The View" after Rosie O'Donnell spotted him wailing on YouTube. Jackie Tohn is a professional actress who has several film and TV credits to her name, including "The Sopranos."

Other crooners have fame in their bloodline: David Osmond is the 29-year-old son of Alan Osmond, the eldest of the singing Osmond brothers; Jesse Langseth is the younger sister of Grammy Award-winning blues singer Johnny Lang; and Michael Castro is the younger brother of Jason Castro, the dreadlocked seventh-season contestant who placed fourth.

"I think the producers are just lazy," said Dave Della Terza, founder of VoteForTheWorst .com, which encourages "Idol" viewers to vote for bad - but entertaining - singers. "There's tens of thousands of people who try out for the show. Clearly, there's something wrong with the audition process if they have to continue to have these plants on the show."

The only stipulation in the "Idol" rulebook is that contestants cannot be under a record or management contract when they audition. Nothing restricts those who once had a record deal from trying out. In fact, the past seven seasons of the Fox show have been littered with contestants with prior history in the biz.

Still, people talk.

Last season, finalist Carly Smithson caused a stir online when it was revealed she recorded an album for MCA Records. Other experienced seventh-season singers included Kristy Lee Cook, who once had a deal with Arista Nashville; Robbie Carrico, who was in the pop group Boyz N Girlz United; and runner-up David Archuleta, who won "Star Search" in 2003.

"Don't forget Kelly Clarkson had schlepped around Los Angeles having no success before she went back to Texas and started working in a bar before we found her," executive producer Ken Warwick said during a conference call with reporters at the beginning of the current season. "I don't think anyone would say she didn't deserve to be there."

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