DEER LODGE (WATE) - Promoters target East Tennessee with talent calls, believing they can sell parents the dream of getting their kids on TV.
The Webb family in Deer Lodge spent nearly $3,000 on that goal for their eight-year-old son, Justin.
A promotional video shows a talent program called The Event held in Orlando last December. Justin's family says they were shown a video like it when the Sunbright Elementary School third grader auditioned at Knoxville's downtown Hilton in early May.
"They showed us the film. They had the kids go up and read the audition," said Justin's mother, Vickie.
The organizers also talked to the family. "They said they could make him a star," said Justin's father, Billy.
Stars from Disney shows are highlighted in The Event's brochure and given to each parent at the tryouts.
"Did they suggest that he could be on the Disney Channel?" I asked. "They didn't come right out and say that," Billy said, "but they gave you the impression that was what it was all about."
While there were no promises for instant stardom, there was the matter of money. Billy paid $2,845 for the opportunity to appear before talent scouts.
"Between 60 and 100 talent scouts and casting directors were going to be there at this hotel in Orlando, Florida," Billy said.
"I was kind of misled," Vickie said. "At the time, I thought everything was included in the trip."
The $2,845 was for the chance to compete in a talent showcase, meet stars and appear before agents. Transportation and staying in Orlando is paid for by the parents.
"I'd suggest you check into it a little bit before you jump," Vickie advised.
Last year, Jaymee Mathews, of Sweetwater, talked with 6 On Your Side in July. Her mother, Betty, paid The Event several thousand dollars when Jaymee was called back the second day.
In Oak Ridge last year, Simeko Carter and her mother also received a Sunday call back, but Jamila Brown was disappointed when she realized The Event had nothing to do with Disney.
A representative from The Event never talked to 6 On Your Side on camera last year or gave us her name when we asked about the expensive talent showcase and any ties it has to Disney. Our calls and emails this year for a response also received the silent treatment.
We asked Juanell Walker, a local agent with Talent Trek Agency, how East Tennessee children can land roles on TV. "We always suggest if children are interested in the industry, try to get them into local theaters. It's non-paying, but it is experience," she said.
"I'm not saying that a child that doesn't have experience can't make it," Walker added, "but it's very limited because you're up against children that have a lot of experience."
Disney tells 6 On Your Side it conducts its own talent searches and has no connection with any talent search or casting that's not affiliated with its name.
Justin's mom is still trying to decide whether they'll travel to Orlando this December and participate in The Event's show, although they've paid lots of money to attend.
Justin says he'd like to go to Florida, just to meet the celebrities.
Talent agents say area projects are more available to local children than competing with national projects. The best advice is to start locally so kids can build their resumes.
The Disney Channel has already held its auditions. They were in Atlanta a few weeks ago.
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