On the way to a meeting last week, I saw a Christian billboard. I see a lot of billboards, but this one caught my eye as being rather unusual. I didn’t get a picture, but since I followed up on the billboard, the advertising is now following me around on the internet too. Here’s a sample.
So I got curious and checked out the website to figure out what was going on. Was there another company like Faith Films that was going to produce unintentional, painful hilarity? Were they looking for unknowns to help them keep their budget, oh, so low?
No. As it turns out, they weren’t looking for people they could pay very little. This group is looking for people to pay them, all for a chance at stardom!
And what does someone need to do in order to qualify for the amazing opportunity to spend thousands of dollars?
Actors prepare a 30 second – one minute monologue, or read a script provided onsite by AMTC.
Models walk for our Scout. Special shoes are unnecessary. Stay natural.
Singers prepare a 30 second – one minute song without accompaniment. (Exceptions: songwriters may bring guitars or keyboards.)
Dancers prepare a 30 second – one minute routine. (Bring music and your own boom box or speakers.)
Comedians prepare a 30 second – one minute stand up routine.
That’s right, folks. In one minute or less, AMTC will be able to tell whether you have the talent, or potential talent, or grace, or whatever to attend classes and a talent show for just $3,895 to $4,995! (Travel not included.) It’s cool, though, because there are some talent scouts who will also attend, and they might think you’re hot stuff. After all, by the time the talent show rolls around, you will have had hours of expensive coaching and received expensive headshots with makeup and styling.
Does it seem like I’m unimpressed by AMTC? That’s because I am.
I have no problem with people paying for lessons in whatever performing art floats their boats. Those lessons make no promises beyond the fun of learning a craft. I’m occasionally appalled at the cost to participate in, say, dance classes that result in performances, where expensive costumes are worn a few times then discarded. However, people who decide to pay those prices know up front what they’re getting for their money, and I’ve seen the labor that ends up going into those costumes.
What I’m not keen on? Selling the entry process as an audition when report after report says that nearly everyone who auditions gets in. Auditions suggest money flowing toward the talent, not away, and framing something as a prize to be won in a competition has a way of distorting its value, a trick long known by advertisers. I’m also not keen on the idea that cramming eight types of training into one fourteen-hour weekend is going to prepare people selected for their “potential in their desired talents” for meeting with agents and casting directors. And solo improv training? Please.
Of course, there’s also the online training.
You don’t have to take my word on the fact that this is a program that involves hopeful performers spending a lot of money that the vast majority of them will never see back. Someone helpfully compiled the opinions of industry professionals on programs like these back in the days when AMTC still stood for American Modeling and Talent Convention. They don’t draw the line from the fact that AMTC requires professional pictures from mere hopefuls to the fact that these pictures are taken by the daughter of the woman who runs AMTC, but it’s a lot of good background information.
Now, there are a lot of things that AMTC says about why they’re awesome and totally not a scam. They’re a nonprofit. They offer a certain number of scholarships. Nobody is getting rich off this (since their founder found Christ). Some of their alums are famous. Some of their alums have gotten scholarships to performing arts schools.
These are all true. I’ve looked at their IRS form from 2012 (pdf). They end the year with a big balance after starting with almost nothing (first year the whole operation existed under the nonprofit designation), but they have large January expenses, so it’s not a big deal. Their costs for advertising are ridiculously high, but they are an evangelical ministry. (On the other hand, their advertising is aimed at people who are already Christian, so….) They’re spending a lot to rent space, but they have auditions (which apparently can’t be held in a church), weekend seminars, and two, week-long shows to house.
The hinkiest thing in the 990 is the lease of Arban’s property to the nonprofit, which she doesn’t mention when talking about her compensation. That $72,000 annually to rent a former Curves studio still won’t make her rich.
However, the fact that they’re not getting rich doesn’t mean that the service they provide is something that will benefit the people who pay for it. Even if they plow the money that would have been a higher salary into sending some kids through this program for free, that doesn’t help rushed classes teach anyone. It doesn’t translate to any guarantee of paid work, or even high rates of paid work, and certainly not enough to recoup the cost of the program. And those scholarships? You can audition for most if not all of them for free.
If someone is making a merely comfortable living selling people services they don’t need, they’re still selling people services they don’t need. Nonprofit status doesn’t change that. Neither does calling it a contest or an audition. Neither does calling it a ministry. All that does is change the group of people who throw away their money.
If you’re in Minneapolis and you want to be one of those people, you can audition tomorrow.