Local 2 investigates child talent auditions

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Some parents who recently attended "free" talent auditions in Houston with their children believe they were misled.

"I had to leave there telling my children we're probably not going to spend that kind of money and pretty much broke their hearts and dreams of being a Disney star," parent Jodi Young said.

Young and her son, Dylan, were among hundreds who recently attended an audition session hosted by a group called "The Event" at a Houston hotel.

Young dressed Dylan in his best clothes, he practiced his lines and he was excited to meet the unnamed "Disney star" the radio commercial promised.

"There was no Disney star," Young said.

Young told Local 2 Investigates she spent hours of her time at the "audition" only to hear a sales pitch. In fact, Dylan was not auditioning for a Disney show as they had thought, but instead was auditioning to be accepted into a Florida talent show.

Young learned through literature handed out at the end of the presentation that the price for parents was up to $7,900 per child.

"You're not going to spend $8,000 just for a chance to hear 'No,'" Young said.

With hidden cameras, Local 2 Investigates recently attended a similar audition session. This one was hosted by another group called "Celebrity Star Event."

Hundreds of parents and children were on hand, and of the dozens of parents Local 2 Investigates interviewed, not one of them realized the children were auditioning to become a part of a talent training competition, not a Disney show.

"The advertising doesn't lead you to believe there are any upfront costs at all," one parent said.

Local 2 Investigates spoke with a man who identified himself as Virgil Winebarger, the travel manager for "Celebrity Star Events."

"Every single parent we talked to didn't realize they would have to cough up money to go forward. Why is that?" Local 2's Joel Eisenbaum asked.

"Because we're doing auditions, we have to see if the kids have talent or the kids don't have talent. We need to be aware of kids with autism and disabilities," Winebarger said.

Winebarger explained that scholarships are available for families in need, but could not immediately provide how many scholarships have been offered in the past.

Winebarger estimated that 80 percent of the children who attend "Celebrity Star Events" auditions are called back and asked to participate in the paid workshop.

The Disney Channel made it clear they are not affiliated with either organization and that no Disney employees or representatives are authorized to participate in advance-fee talent searches.

The Disney Channel does have an official website for their free open auditions.

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