Friday, September 05, 2014

How My Nine Year Old Daughter Learned a Lesson about Lying from an Evil Corporation and a Disney Actor

This is the ghastly true story of how my daughter, Alice, was manipulated by a greedy corporation and a Disney actor she admired.  On Friday we heard a radio ad on 96.1 asking for kids who want to be on Disney shows (like Jessie and Lab Rats) to audition.  Alice called with our permission and we were told a company called “model and talent” was having auditions last Saturday (August 30, 2014) at a nice Atlanta hotel.  They emailed us a short script (Raisin Bran) for Alice to memorize and perform at the audition. 

When we arrived at the hotel we found about 100 kids waiting to audition.  We were given an application to complete and directed to the ballroom.  Each parent had to hold up their ID and pause before a tablet while they filmed before we were ushered into our seats. Afterward we were told this was a security precaution in case one of our kids got lost in the hotel and they could use the picture to locate them quickly. An authoritative lady, clad in black (with a haircut just like Alice’s to my great pleasure) began the presentation.  She revealed that every person we interacted with (getting our application from, showing ID to, etc.) was also a judge (who were also models from brands we’d all heard of) and that our audition began the minute we walked through the lobby door.  She began conditioning us to know that our kids would only be successful in this business if their parents were cooperative and willing to make sacrifices.  She told us how her parents would fly her across continents every two weeks for auditions and how that made it possible for her to get work.  She began to tell us how “model and talent”, a commercial networking service, makes it possible to get exposure to the top talent agencies and casting directors in the country.  She informed us that their website is exclusive and that about only 25 of the many kids sitting in that room would make the first cut.  She involved the kids in the entire process.  She would name a Disney show and ask the kids to raise their hands if they’d heard of it.  They all raised their hands, and to their delight they were told that “model and talent” was responsible for getting talent on that show.  She revealed that they had a special guest there from one of those very shows.  Dan Benson, Zeke from Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, was there to talk about his start in the business and how great “model and talent” is at connecting kids with industry professionals.  Alice was so excited to see someone she recognized from the Disney Channel.  He entertained the crowd with amusing stories about his first minor parts and got the kids hopes up with how those tiny roles led to being Zeke.  He told us how his parents sacrificed so much to make his dream come true.  The whole seminar was professional, entertaining, and perfectly played out to condition you to think that you didn’t want to be the lame-o parents that held their super talented kid back by not taking advantage of this great opportunity.  It worked.  We bought it.  I mean, we already had proof that they had Disney connections and if their parents can move across the county or fly their kid to auditions then we could, at the very least, pay to have Alice on a website that all the TOP industry professionals use to find talent.

All of the kids were then lined into four rows where they were each interviewed and asked to perform their skits for one of the four judges.  Our judge’s name was Jonathan.  Alice did great and Jon was really impressed with the pictures in her modeling portfolio.  We were then told that the “select few” kids out of the 1000+ interviewed that day would be chosen to perform a second audition on Sunday.  We would be notified by phone between the hours of 5pm and Midnight that evening if Alice made the cut.  They were very direct and informed us that if we didn’t answer our phone or respond to their text within 15 minutes our child would lose their spot at the second audition.  After our audition, we saw Dan Benson on our way out of the hotel lobby.  He congratulated Alice on her first audition and took a picture with her.  We immediately uploaded the image to Instagram.  To our astonishment Dan reposted the picture with Alice on his Instagram and Twitter accounts and started following my account.  Our daughter got many followers because of it and it totally made her day.  We were so blinded by an actual Disney actor’s presence at the seminar and his sweet and encouraging interaction with our daughter that we didn’t even think to suspect the legitimacy of this company.  Which is exactly what “model and talent” wants to happen. EVIL GENIUS.  We went our merry way to Dragon*Con for a day of fun.  We set an alarm on our phone so that from 5pm-midnight we could make sure we had service and wouldn’t miss the call.  Unfortunately Dragon’Con mostly takes place in the deep bowels of many Atlanta hotels.  James (my husband) spent most of the evening sitting in lobbies with reception hoping for a phone call.  Lame.  Finally, we received a text at 10:50pm congratulating Alice for making the cut.  Her second audition was scheduled for 11:20 the next morning at the same hotel where we were told to bring back our brochure, more pictures, and Alice’s most recent report card (good grades are a must).  We excitedly commented on Dan’s Instagram repost thanking him for encouraging Alice and let him know that we’d received a call back.  Alice picked out her outfit and we all went to bed exhausted from all of the days excitement.

The next morning I took Alice to the second audition because James had to work. We arrived early and were given a second (longer) script for her to memorize.  There were only a few kids waiting and it appeared that each child was given a different audition time.  Alice spent the entire hour diligently memorizing and practicing her new script.  This time for Double Bubble.  While we were rehearsing one of the other judges stopped to tell Alice that she’d seen her picture on Dan’s Instagram.  Alice was, of course, excited about that.  We were called back a while after her appointment time to an empty room where she was interviewed separately from the other kids and judges.  Our Judge (Jonathan) was the same from the previous day.  He asked Alice to perform her skit many times in different attitudes.  He commended Alice on her performance and modeling photographs and congratulated her on being chosen to be represented by their company.  He then proceeded to tell us which membership package he recommended we sign up for.  Alice showed promise in both modeling and acting so the 6 month membership was recommended to us.  I asked many questions about the audition process and monthly payments.  Seeing my hesitancy, Jon offered to sponsor Alice for 50% of the 6 month package ($2900) if we paid our half ($1450) in full that day.  All we could afford on Sunday was the $833 initial payment for the 6 month membership but we could pay the remaining $617 on Tuesday after payday.  He agreed to let us split the payment so we could take advantage of the sponsorship.  He then told us that in order for us to get the $1450 sponsorship we’d have to sign a sponsorship rider saying we wouldn’t tell any other clients about the deal (because they might get sad that they didn’t get that offer - which made us feel even more special) AND sign a waiver of cancellation rights.  The cancellation deadline was only three days from signing and since we’d already been planning on signing her up waiving the three day cancellation time didn’t seem like a big deal.  He told Alice that her modeling was so good that she would be auditioning and booking jobs that week. 

We were so charmed by the celebrity endorsement and the interaction that Jonathan had with Alice that it honestly didn’t cross our mind that they wouldn’t deliver on their promises.  We went home and started to Google things in preparation for building her online profile that would be available on the following Thursday.  We knew we wouldn’t have access to the website until later that week, but we figured we’d still be able to find some of the actors and models that had been successful with “model and talent” bookings. That’s when the company name comes into play. You can’t Google “model and talent” (their all lowercase name) without pulling up thousands of companies and agencies in the business. The social media sites listed on the back of our brochure didn’t exist. We jokingly thought “what if we got scammed” and searched for casting audition scams. That’s when we found many warnings about a company called “CastingHub”, an online networking service giving kids exposure to the top talent agencies and casting directors.  I sent Dan Benson a direct message on Instagram asking him to verify that “model and talent” was a legit business.  While waiting and hoping for a reply we kept searching.  “CastingHub” sounded just like “model and talent” only parents weren’t getting results they were promised and claimed most auditions listed were at an additional cost.  After one parent called every talent agency listed in the “CastingHub” brochure represented as part of their network he discovered that not a single agency had heard of them.  We started reading the stories and discovered how similar their audition process was to what we’d been a part of.  Then we read about Dan Benson, and other teen actors of the same caliber, being at “CastingHub” auditions as far back as 2012.  We checked our bank account and saw the charge of $833 for MAT Entertainment, Inc (words you don’t see until you sign the contract). We knew that if they were actually incorporated we’d be able to find them listed. Sure enough, they were. Also listed was every other name their business went by, “CastingHub”, “Cast Hub”, “CASTINGHUB, INC” included.   We were devastated.  They had changed their company name in April 2014 after all of the negative publicity became so widespread.

Two hours after I sent my message, Dan replied saying “I would spend my money elsewhere.” HE KNEW!  Most victims (losing between $2000-6000) proclaimed that it was the presence of actual Disney actors that made them believe they were really going to have connections to top agents and casting directors.  While I appreciated Dan’s honesty, it was too late. Our money was gone.  Since we never actually received the sponsorship we figured that it would null and void the waiver. We called and emailed every contact we had for them and sent the cancellation agreement. No response for two days. On Tuesday they called to verify our information. We tried in vain to get our payment back since we were cancelling before the three day deadline, but they were unrelenting. When speaking to the customer service representatives it was clear that they had been trained to respond to unhappy customers. They know their business doesn’t deliver what they promise and are prepared with scripts to respond to your pleas.  When my husband calmly claimed that they had conned him into signing this form, the rep robotically replied “Due to the harassing nature of this phone call I’m going to go ahead and disconnect” and clicked off.  “model and talent / CastingHub” is shady and unethical. There’s no “scam” in charging a fee for an Internet listing service that posts casting calls but the almost universal review for this company is that the results aren’t what they say and they’re taking every step to keep you from finding that out before they take your money.

The financial impact was a big hit for us but compared to what many lost we seem to have been pretty lucky.  Money is only money and we can work hard and make more.  What we can’t undo is the damage that was inflicted on our daughter.  We had to sit our child (who already has trust issues from years of abuse from her birth family and broken promises from foster families) down and explain to her that all the hard work she put into her auditions this past weekend was a waste.  GROWN UPS and a DISNEY ACTOR she looked up to, knowingly took part in luring her into a trap that wouldn’t bring the results promised. A JUDGE SAT IN FRONT OF MY NINE-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER, ASKED HER WHAT HER DREAMS WERE, THEN CLAIMED THEY’D BE COMING TRUE THE FOLLOWING WEEK.  She was lied to.  She was used.  She was promised amazing things and was super excited about all of the possibilities this company was going to offer her.  After we revealed to her that Dan knew this company wasn’t going to help her dreams come true, she couldn’t understand why he would make her think that they would.  She defended him and was sure he hadn’t known.  After we were finally able to make her understand she said; “I still like him. He was so nice to me. And I got a cool picture with him”.  She will like him anyway because that’s the power of a Disney reputation and the innocent belief of a child.  Which is exactly why they hire kid show actors to promote this shady company.  My belief though, you shouldn’t endorse a company that you know isn’t everything it claims to be.
We want to bring awareness to “model and talent” and their trickery.  We don’t want other families to go through what we did.  Most families that signed on Sunday don’t even know that they’re not going to get a return on their investment.  Please help us bring attention to this group of people that make their money off of the dreams of children and the parents that have faith in their abilities.  Their next audition is September 6, 2014 at the Jacksonville, Marriott in Jacksonville, Florida at 11:30 am.  I”m discouraged and I feel helpless not being able to do something to prevent others from being victims. I hope writing this will, at the very least, help “model and talent” to come up in a search other hopeful parent’s make.  I know it’s easy to read this and think that we’re complete gullible goons for falling for this and yes, hindsight is 20/20 but these people are smart, crafty, and cunning.  The production is top notch.  There are NO warnings under their new business name “model and talent” and it took us hours of searching using information we didn’t get until after we’d signed with them linking the two companies. They know exactly what to say to get you to do what they want and they don’t seem to care that the real victims in this are the kids they’ve deceived.  I honestly don’t know how these people live with themselves after manipulating hundreds of children into believing their dreams are about to come true.  It is the lowest of lows.  If you’d like to help please share our story and if you live in Florida let your friends know before Saturday.

Click here to learn more about Alice.

Sometimes the bad guys win: An update on the Model and Talent debacle.

We thought things had turned around because we were able to get our $833 back when we disputed the charge with Visa. Unfortunately, Model and Talent turned us over to collections for the remaining $600+ they said we still owed them for a service they never provided. We had to take legal action and hired a lawyer to take care of the debt collectors and Model and Talent. It did not work out. Model and Talent filed a rebuttal for the dispute to Visa and the lawyer we paid to take care of everything never responded to the rebuttal. Visa charged back the $833 we'd recovered. We have proof that Model and Talent lied in their rebuttal to Visa, but now it's too late. The lawyer's negligence cost us the $833 plus the money we paid him for a job he simply didn't do. The debt collectors are still calling me every. single. day. After speaking to another lawyer we know that it would cost more than we owe Model and Talent to hire someone to fight this case. We're ready to move on and can't financially or emotionally fight this anymore. We don't have any other option but to pay Model and Talent the remaining amount for something we have proof we never received. They're going to win this one and there's nothing else we can do about it. It hurts, but it's a lesson learned. I'm sad for how this experience has changed me. I feel naive and foolish for trusting people so easily and thinking that people are generally good. I hate that I have to give more money to people that prey on the dreams of children and the parents that have faith in them. It's gross. They are the douchiest of douches. Today the bad guys win but not forever.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for us while we've been dealing with this issue. The good news is that because so many of you have shared our story, I've been contacted by many people who have come across it and not fallen victim to these people because of it. I'm so thankful for that. Please continue to share the word about Model and Talent so that others can not go through what we have. 

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  1. Wow. It is so sad that companies like that are willing to take advantage of children and their dreams.
    Your kid is amazing- I found your site because of your photos on The Malice of Alice (um, hello, Margot Tenenbaum!). You are quite talented, as is your daughter. I'm sorry your kiddo had such a bad experience, but when she becomes a famous actress, she can work to spread the news about companies like that and the stars that endorse them!

  2. Thank you soooo much for this post. Had it not not been for this I was about to make a bad move. Spending our small savings on this fake heartless co. We got a sec. Call for Sunday and my autistic son that overcame his social anxiety and hard work memorizing his lines didn't faze them even when I told them what he went through to get to his audition. Now I have to tell him it was a waste of time. I have spread the word here in El Paso Texas. Shame on you model and talent!!!!!!!

  3. What city are you in?

  4. So sad your daughter ( who is amazingly photogenic and beautiful) had to learn so early about scumbag outfits like this. You will be fine though, the karma train will get them one day.


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