'Idol' Talent Not as Amateur as Fans Thought

Is TV's "American Idol" becoming a slick way to promote wannabe stars with previous experience in the music industry rather than a showcase for raw, undiscovered talent?

This question is being asked after it was revealed that prior to appearing on the show, some contestants have been signed to million-dollar deals by record companies. As first reported by New York Magazine, several of this season's "Idol" hopefuls are less amateur than the show would lead viewers to believe -- and may actually be some of the most seasoned contestants the competition has ever seen.

One in particular, Irish singer Carly Hennessy, has an impressive music resume. Her album can be bought online or at record stores.

Hennessy, now 24 and set to appear on upcoming "Idol" shows, released "Ultimate High" in 2001, and despite a more than $2 million budget from MCA Records, the label that signed her at the time, managed to sell only a few hundred copies of her CD, according to Phil Gallo, a music critic at Variety.

"[Hennessy] was certainly someone who went through the process," said Gallo, who defined a professional to ABCNEWS.com as someone who has been signed to a recording deal in the past, and not necessarily someone who has been paid to perform music. "She made the album, she was signed, she was groomed."

And Kristy Lee Cook, who introduced herself on the show as a horse lover who lives in a log cabin in Oregon, may not be as green as the show's producers would like viewers to believe. Cook signed a songwriter-affiliation deal with record company BMI in 2001, according to the label's Web site.

While Fox declined to comment directly regarding the rules about contestants who have professional experience appearing on the show, a representative from the network pointed ABCNEWS.com to a section on "Idol's" Web site.

"I've noticed that several contestants have professional music experience, including TV appearances and on Broadway, I thought you were only looking for amateur performers?" asked a question in the FAQs section of "Idol's" site.

The answer reads, "In order to be eligible, the contestants are not permitted to have any CURRENT recording or talent management agreements."

But whether die-hard fans of the show -- many of whom blog their opinions on each "Idol" wannabe and exchange thoughts on the contestants' prospects -- will steer clear of the program is unclear.

Several "Idol" idolizers told ABCNEWS.com that they were turned off by the show's secretiveness about contestants' previous experience.

Industry Experience on the 'Idol' Stage

"I think it ruins the show," said Maura Johnston, editor of the music-centric blog Idolator. "I think ["Idol"] should be more honest about their professional backgrounds. I think it's treading too closely to the line that they're trying to fool the viewer into thinking these people have real back stories and are totally new to the business."

Johnston did understand the motivation for putting more seasoned performers on the show, especially after several seasons that produced only semi-successful stars.

"I think the producers have had some failures in the past -- like Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard -- and some other "Idol" albums that haven't done well," said Johnston. "They're trying to go for the kind of people who have experience in the business and who have been seen as having star potential by other executives. It's not a sure thing, but it's a little bit more of a sure thing."

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