CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - Online ads and radio commercials advertising free "auditions" for the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon are really a ruse to get parents to shell out thousands of dollars on acting classes and head shots, according to a FOX 46 investigation. App users click here.
"They got my hopes up really really high," said Antonio, 11, who showed up for an audition at a Charlotte hotel.
Antonio dreams of being a famous actor. The ads made it seem like this audition would be an easy ticket to Hollywood.
"I really want to be a role model to other kids," he said.
He had to memorize and recite lines. After, he was called back for a second "audition." ATG employees told him he could be "famous."
"I was really really excited," said Antonio. "Just the thought of it just made me get all jittery."
There are a number of companies across the country promising Hollywood dreams. FOX 46 tracked down one radio commercial that aired in Pennsylvania.
"Hey Kids! Would you like to be on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon?," the ad says. "How cool would it be working with Beyonce or Drake?...Look your best and you could be discovered."
But a FOX 46 investigation found those ads are intended to mislead parents. The free "auditions" are really a means to get parents to shell out thousands of dollars on pricey packages. ATG, also known as ACT Talent, is the company behind the Charlotte auditions.
ATG sells acting classes, where kids learn things like "tongue twisters," and photo shoots, starting at $1950 and going all the way up to $7900 (see photo below).
Antonio's father, Richie Colon, felt "pressured" to pay $3900 to get his son "discovered."
"She told me if I act now she'll give me a discount for $2500," said Colon, recalling what an ATG employee told him. "But I only had until 5 o'clock in the afternoon."
Disney Channel is not affiliated with ATG - or any advance-fee agency, acting school or acting workshop - and has not authorized talent searches or casting through ATG in Charlotte or any other city. - Disney spokesperson Patti McTeague
Official Nickelodeon events are promoted on its television channels, websites, verified social media pages, or via event partners. The company does not hold auditions that require any form of payment. - Nickelodeon spokesperson
We don’t know this firm or work with them. – Cartoon Network
"It just sucks," said Antonio, who was heartbroken when he found out the audition wasn't real.
Colon called his credit card company and asked for his money back after learning more about the program. He was fully refunded.
On its website, ATG lists dozens of casting agencies it claims to work with. FOX 46 called several who say they have no affiliation with ATG.
"We have nothing to do with these guys," one agency rep listed on their website said.
"I never authorized anybody to do something like that," said Kim Gola, who owns ABA Talent Agency Inc., in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"I don't hire any of their clients. I haven't seen any of their clients," Gola said in a Skype interview.
"So not affiliated with them in any way?," asked FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant.
"No," said Gola.
"Do you want your company's name removed from their website?," asked Grant.
"One hundred percent I want my name removed from that," said Gola. "I think it's a horrible service they're doing to all these people that don't live in Los Angeles that aren't around the business. And they're just taking advantage of them."
ATG did not say why it lists ABA Talent on its website when contacted by FOX 46. They have not removed them from their website despite FOX 46 informing them of Gola's wishes.
FOX 46 went to the Charlotte hotel where ATG was holding acting classes with former Disney Channel star Daniel Samonas. Despite Disney saying its current and former actors are "not authorized" to work with companies like ATG, Samonas was flown in and paid an undisclosed amount of money to speak with the kids, whose families paid thousands of dollars, about acting.
Employees and representatives from Disney Channel are not authorized to participate in advance fee talent searches, schools or workshops that evaluate actors on behalf of Disney. Similarly, actors who may have appeared Disney Channel are not authorized to represent the channel in this capacity.
"Did they tell you they were a casting agency?," Samonas asked Colon.
"Yes, they did," Colon responded.
"Okay, well the only way I can think to describe that is one of the sales reps for the company made a mistake and said something they shouldn't have said," Samonas said. "[ATG] is a training and marketing facility. It's a company that hires people like me to come out and teach to prepare them to get agents to get jobs."
So why hold auditions when they're selling acting classes? ATG did not answer that question, but provided this statement:
ATG, like any other business, gets complaints. But relative to the scale of the business, it is a fact that the number of complaints is minuscule when compared to any other business of the same size. We are careful not to say we are an “agency” but in fact a training facility. We also are careful not to guarantee that children will find agents or secure jobs, although many participants have had successful careers. -ATG
We took Colon to meet Mitzi Corrigan, an actual casting director with 25 years of experience.
"I can see how they preyed on the excitement. They set it up almost like an American Idol kind of thing," said Corrigan, who owns Corrigan & Johnston Casting in Charlotte. "It is just not ethical."
That's where FOX 46 Charlotte stepped in to get results for Colon's son.
"What I could do is have him come in and audition for something he's right for," Corrigan told Colon while our camera was rolling.
A real audition and this time, it's free.
"Are you going to keep working towards your dream?," Matt Grant asked Antonio.
"Yeah," he said.
- Research a company's background and compare it with other talent scouting agencies before signing on any dotted lines or shelling out hard-earned cash.
- Never pay large upfront fees. Legitimate talent and modeling agencies will not take money from you until they find your children a modeling job. Scam companies will charge you a lot of money to place your photographs on a website. Obtain a detailed explanation of what any money you do pay will be used for.
- Most legitimate agencies do not advertise in newspapers, solicit through the mail, or "scout" for talent in malls and other public places. There are genuine companies that offer workshops in a classroom setting, during which traditional acting instruction is offered, with no promise of work as an enticement to open your wallet.
- Your child does not need a large and expensive photo package or website to become a model. Companies that hire models only need one good photo to judge your child's appearance. It's better to get one good photo and mail it to many agencies instead of spending a lot of money at just one company.
- Make sure to get your agreement in writing. Even if an agreement is reached verbally, get it in writing before agreeing to any terms.
At the end of their statement, Disney said:
Disney Channel holds one open audition a year and it’s held in various cities. The auditions are promoted as “official Disney Channel open casting calls” on our website and there is never a fee and no contract – no payment to anyone for anything related to this audition. Parents are encouraged to check this website -- www.disneychannel.com/opencall. If an open audition/casting call is not listed there, it is not authorized by Disney.
So far, North Carolina has not received any complaints against ATG/ACT Talent. Anyone with concerns should contact the Attorney General's office at 1-877-5-NOSCAM. For more information on this type of scheme click here.
The pricey packages really offered by ATG/ACT Talent