'American Idol': Are They Really Pros?

"American Idol" is billed as an amateur talent contest, but this season, several of its contestants have already been, at one point, professional singers who even held recording contracts.

Now the hit television show faces a backlash from some of America's truly undiscovered talent who think it's unfair to compete against ex-professionals.

"I believe anybody that has more experience, someone who has been signed to a major label, of course that gives you an advantage. The question is, is that fair to someone like me, that has never done this before?" said Nina Shaw, a former contestant on this season's "American Idol."

Shaw was voted off the road to stardom, after a round of competition with contestant Carly Smithson. Under a different name, Smithson was an Irish singing sensation, signed to a six-record deal with MC records in 1999. In total, the label invested more than $2 million in her.


Michael Johns, formerly a band frontman named Michael Lee, had a record deal five years ago. He is another such contestant in this year's "Idol," stoking the controversy.

Contestant Kristi Lee Cook also signed a recording deal in 2001.

"Knowing all this information now, I would definitely think twice about competing," said Shaw.

Not all of the amateur contestants agree with Shaw, though. Kyle Ensley, who also got voted off, said he was not bothered by the issue. "If America thinks it's a conflict of interest, they have the right to step up and vote."

"I think some people are worried that their favorite amateur show featuring amateur singers is no longer quite for amateurs anymore," said Mike Slezk, senior writer for Entertainment Weekly's Web site.

"American Idol" stands by its contestants, noting that the only requirement is they cannot have a current record deal.

"It's still the No. 1 show on TV, and it's going to take a lot more than a contestant having a previous record deal to really put a huge dent in the show's rating," said Slezk.