‘AGT’: Contestants Must Sign Their Lives Away

AGT judges

15 Minutes of fame comes with a lot of strings attached.  Now we know just how many.

Hopefuls auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” in New York this week must surrender control of their life stories — and future careers — according to the show’s grueling 45 page contestant agreement, which I obtained for a story in today’s New York Post.


“You are pretty much signing away your life,” one former contestant says.  “It’s almost non-negotiable.”

In exchange for being seen by eight million viewers each week, acts must agree that producers can trick, exploit and embarrass them — and depict their personal stories in a manner “that may be factual or fictional” — and they can’t sue for any reason.

“I further understand that my appearance, depiction and portrayal in the program may be disparaging, defamatory embarrassing…and may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation,” the agreement states.

Acts are also required to a psychiatric evaluation and enter into binding management, recording or personal endorsement deals — at the option of producers — which would block them from accepting more attractive deals elsewhere.

“Talent” — now in its eight season — allows singers, dancers and variety acts of any age a chance to win $1 million.

That prize, according to the fine print, is paid as an annuity over 40 years — leaving the winner with $25,000 annually before taxes.

Among the show’s other terms and conditions:

  • Hidden cameras may be used to film contestants in bedrooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms or “any other area in which a person under other circumstances might have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
  • If an act are disqualified,Producer and the Network may make any explanation or announcement, on-air or otherwise…as to the reason why.”
  • Participants and their families agree to a penalty of $5 million for providing false information to the show.
  • Producers and NBC can require talent to participate in additional unscripted, “reality based” programs for up to one year.

The “Talent” stipulations are not unique.

Producers of “The Voice” and “X Factor” also have “talent holds” and options for management and record deals on their contestants that can last for up to one year.

“Generally speaking these (contestants) are people who have nothing going on beforehand,” says attorney and music industry expert, Bob Lefsetz.

“If they are successful, there are plenty of ways to make money and these shows and their people are going to get paid.”

The problem, some believe, is that contestants are unable to shop themselves around after appearing on TV and are often seen as “has beens” by the time they are released from their restrictions.

Most of the time, the non-winners are freed up within a year and permitted to look for a new path to success, Lefsetz says.

“If the company is not going to do something, they aren’t going to keep you in limbo for seven years,” he says.

“As a practical matter, the way these contracts are written, they can’t keep you in slavery.”

Has “reality television” gone too far?  Or is this a small price to pay for becoming famous?  Sound off in the comments section below.

Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at TheTVPage.com
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly