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The, New York Studio, Bringing Controversial Kids' Show Biz Event Back To St. Louis, BBB Warns

5/26/2011

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St. Louis, Mo., May 26, 2011 – The, a business that entices parents to spend thousands of dollars for help in getting their children into show business, appears to be bringing its “once in a lifetime opportunity” back to St. Louis.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns families to be extremely cautious when dealing with The (pronounced “Tay”), which lists an address in Wilmington, Delaware. The is a trade name for New York Studio, Inc.  The company is scheduled to hold interviews and preliminary talent and modeling screenings this weekend at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel downtown.

Consumers have told BBB that they felt misled into believing the business had an affiliation with Disney, that they felt pressured into signing contracts they later regretted and that they were never told that $1,000 of their deposit was not refundable.

“I wanted to do something special for my grandkids,” said a grandmother from East Alton, Ill., who said her family paid more than $4,700 to the business last summer. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the upcoming event marks at least the fourth time in less than three years that a The event has been held in the St. Louis area. “This business advertises extensively on St. Louis radio, making it appear that it holds some kind of magic key to unlock the door to fame and fortune.  Unfortunately, that may not be the case.”

The began advertising on several St. Louis area radio stations earlier this week, touting the weekend event.

“Hey mom and dad, do your kids love the Disney Channel?” the commercials ask. “How about movies like The Last Song, starring Miley Cyrus, or the Twilight sagas?  Or how would your kids like be in a smash hit movie like The Last Song or Eclipse, or how would your kids like to be on the Disney Channel?

“If it’s your kid’s dream to be in a movie or on the Disney Channel, listen up.”  The commercials continue by saying a “world famous agent will be in your area looking for kids just like yours, ages 6 to 17, for TV commercials, TV shows and even movies.” The radio ads give a toll-free phone number and urge interested persons to “be one of the first 200 callers right now.”

A company representative told a BBB investigator who called the phone number that the event offered  “a chance to get your child in front of a talent agent.  We’re not looking for a whole lot of experience.”  The representative said several times that the event was free, but never said that attendance at a later, national, event could cost thousands of dollars.

The woman from East Aton said she attended one of the free events over the July 4 weekend last year at the St. Charles Convention Center.  She said both of her granddaughters were instructed to read commercials in front of a talent agent.  The next day, she said, organizers called to say both girls had qualified to attend the national event at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in December.

She said she agreed to use a credit card to pay the $4,775 fee and planned to host a fundraising event at a local VFW hall to raise money for transportation and other expenses.  But when she learned of the controversy surrounding the business, she canceled the fundraiser and tried to cancel her contract with The.  She said the company never responded to her request. She has been trying to get a refund through her credit card company.

“We’ve fought this for almost a year, and we’ve got nothing back,” she said. “I would never have gotten involved had we not been led to believe this was Disney.”

In a statement, Disney told a Mobile, Ala., TV station last month that representatives from the Disney Channel do not participate in The showcases. “Further, we do not authorize any independent casting agent to represent that he or she is participating in such showcases or acting workshops on behalf of Disney Channel.”

Another grandmother, also from East Alton, said she attended a similar event at a hotel in Chesterfield, Mo., in August 2010 for her 10-year-old granddaughter. Based on the radio commercials and representations at the local event, she, too, said she believed Disney was involved and paid The nearly $3,800 so the girl could attend the Orlando conference.  She said she canceled her contract within three days after hearing of consumer concerns with the business, but the company has refused to refund $1,000. She said her granddaughter was devastated when the family decided to back out of the trip. “Trying to explain this to a 10-year-old girl, it’s just not good,” she said.

BBB had issued news alerts on the Chesterfield event in the summer of 2010 and on a similar The event in March 2009. The company recently dropped a lawsuit it had filed against BBB over those alerts.

On its website, The describes itself as “a modeling and talent event that brings aspiring models and talent together with leading talent and modeling agencies from Los Angeles, New York and other major markets across the country.”

Records show that The is owned by Michael Palance. For many years, Palance has operated several acting and modeling businesses at various locations throughout the U.S. which have been the targets of consumer complaints to the BBB in those areas.

BBB offers the following tips for families interested in pursuing modeling and acting careers for their children:

  • Be careful about any requests for up-front payments in the form of registration, consultation or administrative fees.
  • Understand that this is a very competitive business and a paid seminar or event may not be the best way to get agents and others to notice your child.
  • Be wary of any promises of guaranteed employment or high earnings.
  • Be cautious of companies that try to convince you to pay money by throwing out names of known celebrities, motion picture studios or recording companies.
  • Check for BBB Business Reviews at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.

A BBB video on this topic is available at http://youtu.be/FHpEBOZMDl0.

Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, mcorey@stlouisbbb.org, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-645-3300, tpc1@stlouisbbb.org
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