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Call Kurtis Investigates: Talent Scouting Event Leaves Families Feeling Deceived

SACRAMENTO (CBS13)-- Excited kids decked out in dresses and suits showed up to the Sheraton Grand in late August after hearing the radio commercials that flooded the airwaves.

Listen to the commercial

The commercial says: "How would you like to be on the Disney Channel? If it's your dream to be in a real TV show with Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber, listen up. This weekend, a world-famous agent will be in your area looking for kids ages 6 through 17 for TV commercials, TV shows and even movies. "

"I was so excited I could barely breathe," 13-year-old Beverly Eklund remembers feeling after hearing the commercial.

"I thought I was going to be a superstar" 10-year-old Sydni Johnson said.

Our hidden cameras were inside the event capturing child after child auditioning. A man named Teo claiming to be from a management company tells the crowded ballroom one client made big money appearing in a commercial.

"$65,000 in residuals so far. He only worked two days," he said.

Outside, parents told us they thought they were attending a Disney Channel event.

It isn't until they read the handout material they realize this event has nothing to do with The Disney Channel, Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber. Instead, the kids are actually auditioning for the chance to compete in a pricey talent showcase in Florida. According to the brochure you pay based on the number of showcases you appear in, ranging from $1,950 for two up to $7,900 for 10.

As CBS13 interviewed disappointed families on a public street outside the Sheraton Grand, an event staffer came out phone in hand and started recording video of us declaring, "You're harassing our families."

Kurtis asked a mother he interviewed if we were harassing her, and she responded, "No".

The staffer then tried to block our photographer from getting video of her. We asked her to explain why people were auditioning and if they were associated with The Disney Channel.

In a bizarre staredown that lasted several minutes our camera was trained on her and her camera was trained on us, sometimes inches from reporter Kurtis Ming's nose. When we pressed her for an answer she responded, "It's a private audition."

CBS13 has learned that the company "The Event" also goes by "New York Studio's, Inc". They hold auditions in cities across the country including one in Pittsburgh this past spring.

The Disney Channel tells CBS13 it has nothing to do with these auditions.

"Disney Channel is not affiliated with any acting school or acting workshop and has not authorized a talent search in Sacramento," said a spokesperson.

The Connecticut attorney general went after "The Event" in 2009 after claims "its contracts were defective and flawed." Read the press release here.

The state Better Business Bureau has put out warnings about this company. The BBB's Gary Almond thinks organizers know the commercials are deceptive but air them anyway.


"It's lucrative," Almond says.

In a lengthy statement, the company's corporate offices responded saying, "The Event is a family-friendly competition for the performing arts. ... We are not an agency, casting company or management firm. ... We are proud of our many success stories."

They say Disney XD star Zayne Emory was discovered at their event.

We asked why they name The Disney Channel, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber in their commercials. We also wanted them to name the world famous agent who was in the Sacramento area.

They responded, "There is no point in responding to your questions in detail, because it is obvious that you have already determined the slant and tone of your story, which is clearly to lambast our company.

Click here to read the full statement.

The camera-toting staffer was recording CBS13's conversations with families outside the Sheraton Grand as parent Keith Cristobal explained he felt the company was exploiting dreams.

"It's not right," he said.

Parent Melody Johnson says she was a cynic going in. "And they sort of proved me right. It's a lot of money," she said.

Even for those who were cynics, it doesn't soften the blow to their kids, whose dreams will have to wait.

"It makes me sad," 10-year-old Sydni Johnson said.

"I wanted to be famous," said Leroy Lopez.

The company says it's in active litigation with the Better Business Bureau for publishing misinformation. The Event in Orlando is in December at The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. The hotel is not owned by Disney.

"The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel serves as a venue for numerous third-party conferences, meetings and events. The hotel is not affiliated and does not endorse or promote these events" said hotel spokesperson Treva J. Marshall.

Disney Corporate tells us they are insisting the hotel have signs posted at the hotel saying Disney is not affiliated with The Event.

We reached out to Disney XD star Zayne Emory's agent, who would not comment if he was discovered at "The Event." We contacted the actor directly through his website but did not hear back.

There is a state law protecting consumers from talent-related schemes. The Department of Industrial Relations responded:

The Department of Industrial Relations Statement

Based upon the limited information provided, there are concerns that the conduct of The Event could violate provisions of the Advanced Fee Talent Representation Act and possibly the Talent Agencies Act. To fully understand the extent of possible violations we would need to conduct a detailed investigation and have the cooperation of a minor and their adult guardian. If a violation of the Advanced Fee Talent Services Act were found to exist the case would be referred to the Attorney General or the District Attorney for prosecution. If a violation of the Talent Agency requirements were found to exist we would seek remedies under our jurisdiction provided by the California Labor Code.

For more information about Disney open casting calls, click here.

Disney World Statement

Disney has no business relationship with The Event and does not evaluate talent at these events. Since we do not own or operate the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, we have no control over its bookings, and we have insisted that signs be posted clearly indicating that Disney is not a sponsor of The events. -- Michael Griffin, Walt Disney World

Click here to hear the entire commercial.

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