One 'Idol' contestant left controversy in bay area

One St. Petersburg parent remains upset with American Idol semifinalist Todrick Hall, who she remembers as the writer and director behind an aborted attempt last year to stage a performance called Oz, the Musical featuring young dancers at various area venues.

Once children had passed auditions, parents were asked to pay a $50 fee. But when funding for the Oz musical faltered, Sandi Gass asked for her money back from the producer rather than have her then-8-year-old daughter Jessica participate in another production organized at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg as a substitute.

She never got her $50 back. "To just use parents and make it look like, 'Hey, I'm giving these kids an opportunity' … that's just wrong," said Gass. "He should not be the next American Idol."

But Eileen O'Brien, owner of the Suncoast Dance and Music Academy where Gass' daughter auditioned, said Hall seemed to be a well-meaning guy who struggled when funding for Oz dried up. "I told my students we would credit anyone's account $50 as a good will gesture (if they didn't get a refund)," said O'Brien, who said no one at her studio, including Gass, took advantage of the offer.

News about Hall's past problems began to spread over the weekend as the Associated Press quoted parents in Nashville, Tenn., Pittsburgh and the Tampa Bay area who complained about the production.

Hall developed the national tour as an expansion of performances he had arranged in Texas, financed by a producer in Dallas, according to the Associated Press. In the Tampa Bay area, local dance studios were told their students would participate in different productions of Oz scheduled at local venues such as the Mahaffey Theater and Van Wezel Hall, starring American Idol second-place finisher Diana DeGarmo.

When the funding for Oz faltered, area dance studio owner Cheryl Lee worked with Hall to develop a show called Nights on Broadway featuring songs from several musical hits, starring Joshua Allen, the season four winner from Fox's competition So You Think You Can Dance.

"Giving living proof to the notion that 'The show must go on,' many of the people contacted were thrilled to join the cast," Lee wrote in a statement e-mailed to the St. Petersburg Times. "That show was well received by audiences at the Palladium in three performances."

One 'Idol' contestant left controversy in bay area 02/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 10:13pm]

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