The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is warning First Nations across the province to stay away from a talent contest that is targeting aboriginal youth and using the name Canadian Idol without permission.

Meanwhile, the company that owns the licence to Canadian Idol says the man behind the purported talent contest, who has a record of several convictions for fraud, must stop misusing its brand.

A CBC News investigation has revealed that a website called First Nations Auditions, run by Paul Pearson, is using the name of the television show and has been soliciting $150 audition fees and promising a $50,000 top prize.

Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief Union of BC Indian Chiefs, had harsh words for Pearson’s contest.

"I think it’s very disgusting, very unethical, very sleazy," Phillip said.

After hearing what the CBC News investigation had found, Phillip decided to send a warning to all 200 B.C. First Nations about the website and the contest it’s promoting.

"There has to be an awareness this is happening at this time of year," said Phillip. "I don’t think our young people certainly have $150 to waste on something that just isn't what it appears to be."

Never audition fees

John Brunton, CEO of Insight Productions and the former executive producer of Canadian Idol, said Pearson’s contest is a scam, noting that there have never been registration or audition fees associated with the Idol franchises.

"For somebody to be taking advantage of unknowing people is really deplorable and I think that if the rights holders found out about this, and I certainly will inform them, that they would really want to go after anybody that is abusing the Idol name," Brunton said.

Pearson has previously been convicted of fraud in Alberta and is the subject of a Better Business Bureau warning, CBC News has learned.

Angela Reynolds, an aspiring singer from the Stellat'en First Nation, says she was excited when she read that auditions were being held on her tiny reserve in northern B.C. It was billed as a First Nations version of Canadian Idol. 

"It said you could win $50,000 and a recording contract and they said … it was like a bus tour and they were going to be visiting reserves across Canada," she told CBC News.

The website said a $150 registration fee had to be submitted with all applications to audition.

"Should the audition fees not be submitted we are sorry but your name will be removed from those that wish to sing," it said.

But when Reynolds called about the competition all she got were vague answers.

"He couldn't tell me what dates, he couldn't give me an estimate of what dates," she said.

"I was angry, I was so angry thinking ‘What can I do to stop this?’"

Scammed exhibitors

The contest’s website lists Google and Best Western as sponsors, but those companies told CBC News they had never heard of the talent search. The company listed as the tour bus sponsor also told CBC News it was not involved with the contest.

Pearson was convicted and fined under the Trade Practices Act in 2002 for deceiving customers of his log home business. He declared bankruptcy three years later.

mi-bc-121211-idol-sponsors

These sponsors were pulled from the website after calls from CBC News. (CBC)

The address where aspiring singers are instructed to mail their audition fee is Pearson’s home. He just finished serving 20 months of house arrest after pleading guilty to 17 counts of fraud in Alberta. Pearson scammed dozens of exhibitors out of thousands of dollars for entry into a phony trade show.

The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning about him and his aliases.

'Buyer beware'

Juno-award winning artist Kinnie Starr, who mentors aspiring aboriginal musicians, cautions people to be wary of anything promising overnight success.

"I'm concerned about anyone getting scammed, but it’s buyer beware and you need to do your research," she said.

hi-bc-121211-paul-pearson-4col

Paul Pearson was convicted and fined under the Trade Practices Act in 2002 for deceiving customers of his log home business. (CBC)

"People are on to him [Pearson] and it's only a matter of time that people discover in full force what he is doing."

When contacted by CBC News, Pearson said he was too busy to do an interview in person.

However, he said in an email the discrepancies on his website were just mistakes, saying Google and Best Western should have been listed as "preferred companies" instead of sponsors. The contest’s website has since been changed.

The tour bus sponsor was also listed in error, said Pearson, who now claims that a late-model motorhome without licence plates sitting in his backyard is the vehicle he’ll use for the country-wide talent search.

mi-bc-121211-idol-fees

The First Nations Idol website asks for an audition fee. (CBC)

Pearson said "not one penny" had been received from anyone looking to audition, adding his personal business was putting up the prize money.

Pearson says he has successfully conducted 54 trade shows across Canada and the U.S. over the past 30 years, saying the fraud charges in Alberta were the result of a difficult economy.

Pearson went on to say he expected to book auditions in 140 First Nations communities across Canada and has the support of several First Nations-owned radio stations.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that when Angela Reynolds inquired about the audition, the person on the other end of the phone told her a $150 fee was required up front. In fact, it was a website that noted the payment was required.
    Dec 13, 2012 8:05 AM PT
With files from the CBC's Natalie Clancy