DUBAI Pakistani actress and TV presenter Nadia Khan has filed a police complaint against the CEO of a popular American children’s talent hunt agency accusing him of assaulting her teenage daughter during an audition in Dubai last weekend.
Dubai-based Nadia, said the incident has left her 14-year-old bruised and badly shaken.
Hundreds of parents took their children to the casting session at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in JBR on May 20 in the hope of turning their sons and daughters into television stars.
However, many left disillusion-ed as the audition was disrupted after Nadia called the police at the venue and the company’s 47-year-old CEO was held for questioning.
The American actor/producer whose company claims to represent some of the biggest music and television shows in the US, was later summoned to Al Barsha Police Station where a complaint was filed.
Nadia recounted her traumatic experience with undercover XPRESS journalists who were at the event on a tip-off that the agency asks for astronomical amounts of money from parents when their children make the cut.
Choking back her tears, Nadia said, “I went to the audition hoping it would be good for my child, but instead got the shock of my life. When my daughter’s turn came, the judge, (name withheld for legal reasons) grabbed her roughly from the shoulder and pulled her, leaving her with deep bruises on both arms.”
A medical report confirmed the multiple bruises. “It happened quickly and in front of me and at least 30-40 other parents. Before my daughter, they were auditioning small children. She was the first teenager in that batch. My daughter was given a two-line script but before she could read it, she was grabbed and pushed so hard she fell on one of the parents. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She is my daughter. No one has the right to touch my child let alone subject her to public humiliation and physical abuse,” said Nadia, adding that the incident has shattered her daughter’s confidence. “She was crying all day,” she said.
Nadia’s daughter said what hurt her most was that the physical abuse happened in front of ex-Disney stars and they did nothing to stop it. “I used to idolise these stars. Not anymore,” she told XPRESS.
Nadia said when she tried to raise the issue with the organisers they were rude to her and forced her to leave.
According to her, the next contestant - an Asian boy — was repeatedly slapped in the face during the audition.
“It was bizarre. The man kept slapping the child until a time came when the boy couldn’t take it anymore and slapped him back. “I feel equally bad for the boy. He had tears in his eyes. Abuse is abuse whether it happens to a boy or a girl,” she said.
Significantly, this is not the first time the CEO of the talent hunt agency has courted controversy. A YouTube video from a similar event in Singapore shows him spitting on a young girl.
Al Kabel, an officer at Al Barsha Police Station, said the police has taken statements of Nadia and her daughter and are waiting for witnesses to come forward.
Attempts to seek a comment from the talent agency were met with threats of a lawsuit. “I find it offensive and disgusting that a news organisation and a reporter would attempt to publish information to the public without allowing the proper authorities to finish their work,” stated an email from them in response to an XPRESS query.
- With inputs from Sara Waqar
What our investigations revealed
XPRESS undercover journalists who attended the audition at The Ritz-Carlton found that the talent and management agency uses a classic ‘bait and switch’ sales strategy to lure parents to their events and then seeks huge sums of money from them for giving acting classes to their children.
A Dubai-based mother whose eight-year-old daughter cleared the first round said she was sent an email asking her to revisit The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Monday for a second evaluation and be prepared to pay if her child passes it.
“The forms of payment we accept are Visa or MasterCard. The payment is expected today if your child passes the second evaluation,” read the email, a copy of which is with XPRESS. Children passing the second evaluation are recommended one of five ‘Option Levels’ with fees ranging from $1,950 (Dh7,162) to $7,900.
“This is a rip-off. They are just after your money,” said another parent whose child was recommended the Fifth Option Level and asked to fork out $7,900.
Most who showed up for the audition said they learnt about the talent hunt from Facebook sponsored posts calling for children to audition for their chance to meet Disney Channel stars.
“Does your child dream of becoming a Disney Channel star? We are coming to Dubai!” the post reads. On its part the agency never says that this is an audition for Disney, but the clever wording of their advertisements and the presence of Disney stars often leads parents into believing that the company is associated with the Walt Disney Company.
Disney spokespersons have repeatedly clarified that these child talent auditions are in no way associated with or endorsed by The Walt Disney Company or Disney Channel.