On Your Side: Child Fame or Fraud?

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September 10, 2006

Find fame and fortune is a dream for many...but there are some companies out there who take advantage of that desire to succeed.

An open casting call this weekend in Augusta has some parents claiming fraud.

"They're crooks and they need to be stopped," parent Todd Brantley told News 12.

"I feel like when you advertise an audition and you really are just doing a sales pitch, then you are being very dishonest," said parent Sandra McCormick.

Two different parents...same problem. Both took their kids to what they thought was an open casting call for a hit Disney Channel show after seeing an ad in the paper. The ad is what brought eighteen-year-old Kameron Waters out too.

"I read in the paper they were having open auditions for The Suite life of Zack and Cody, and I thought by going down there I would have a good chance of getting in contact with somebody affiliated with Disney or that show or whatever," Kameron said.

In all, more than 700 Augustans came out. But once there...

"There was no mention about Disney, no mention about Zack and Cody," Brantley said.

The auditions instead started with a speech by Dale Howell, owner of the Atlanta franchise of John Robert Powers.

News 12 talked to Howell about the gathering.

"What happens is everybody who walks in the door, they get a packet, then I get up and give a 30 minute presentation about who we are," he said. "And the first thing we cover is, number one, you have a less than one percent chance of becoming rich and famous."

Howell says--and the packet states--that they are the way to get into acting and modeling. But parents soon noticed that was only if you are willing to pay.

"If this is your first audition, we are going to want you to take some classes, whether it is acting or modeling depending on what it is you want you're interested in," Howell told News 12.

Classes...to the tune of two and three thousand dollars, with no guarantee of work.

Both McCormick and Brantley went home to do some research.

"From what I saw on the Internet, they had several fraudulent cases against them," McCormick told News 12.

"This is a scam," Brantley said. "This is all a scam."

So they called 12 On Your Side, and we went to where they were holding what they referred to as callbacks. But there was no singing, no acting, no modeling. Instead, parents and children were sitting down with what the company calls talent agents who, according to the Better Business Bureau, were using their key selling point: flattery.

Outside News 12 caught up with Nora Britton and her daughter Sarah. Sarah was called back and signed up for an acting class for $1,950.

"I'm happy for her and her decision wanting to work for something like this," Nora Britton said.

But the happiness didn't last long. We told Britton about what we had found: hundreds of pages documenting false promises, hundreds of complaints from across the country, two lawsuits filed against the company, and a packet which claims the company helped stars such as Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Lucille Ball, and Barbara Walters. The Better Business Bureau tracked these stars down and they said they had never even heard of John Robert Powers.

Nora was shocked.

"I'm going back to get my check," she said.

But Dale Howell stands by his company.

"I got my first commercial by going through JRP," he told News 12. "I got my first agent here. No one can tell me we are not legit because I have done it myself."

But not everyone agrees.

"What I am against is selling big lights, big city, when all your really doing is selling your workshop," McCormick said.

"That's what tore me apart," said Brantley. "I can't stand someone going through children to try to scam money from their parents. That's as low as you go, going through children. And you're hurting children's feelings doing this."

"Be careful who you trust, because it's a dog eat dog world out there, and they will get you any way they can...and they came close to getting me," Kameron said.

Dale Howell has owned his Atlanta franchise of John Robert Powers for three years. According to the Better Business Bureau, his specific franchise has not had any claims filed against them. The complaints we found are against other branches of John Robert Powers.

When searching for an agent, for yourself or for your child, experts say beware of classified ads, because agencies do not need to advertise for models.

Instead, look for open calls held at reputable agencies. And remember, agencies will never need to charge money up front.

You should be free to choose your photographer, and children do not need professional headshots, because their looks can quickly change. Home snapshots are sufficient.