Former American Idol judge Simon Cowell scoured America this summer looking for contestants for his new singing show, The X Factor. We're not sure if he found any future Kelly Clarksons when he visited Miami, but he did discover a now angry and litigious father-and-son duo.
Stephen Marks, 54, and his father, Hyman Marks, 86, made it all the way to the final auditions in Miami but claim the show's producers subjected them to unfair "physical and mental exertion" by making them dance wildly in the summer heat.
Unlike American Idol, X Factor has no age limit, which allowed the two to audition. Both Marks auditioned separately, and both made it through the first three rounds and won the chance to audition before Cowell, Paula Abdul, and the rest of the show's judges.
It doesn't appear that the Marks made it that far simply because producers wanted them to fail on purpose, William Hung-style. The elder Marks claims he had a recording contract in the 50s but gave it up to become a high school principal.
Stephen Marks claims he had a musical career in his 20s but gave it up to enter politics. In fact, he's a self-styled "political hit man" who wrote a book about his days churning up dirt for GOP candidates' opponents. He's also the man responsible for a particularly inflammatory anti-Al Gore ad that ran in the 2000 election. He even started a proto-Swiftboat Vets-like group called Americans Against Hate to hammer Al Gore during the final weeks of the 2000 presidential campaign by linking him to Al Sharpton.
The lawsuit claims that because they were a father-and-son duo, the producers paid extra-special attention to them and filmed them more than all of the other Miami contestants combined.
They claim producers made them spend more than five hours in front of the camera before they got a chance to audition. Many of those takes were filmed outside in the 96-degree Miami heat, and the duo was also made to "dance wildly" for the cameras. They claim the attention was "clearly discriminatory, since no other contestant that day was forced to endure that level of physical and mental exertion."
The two claim, for example, they were forced to be filmed exiting their car three separate times and then forced to walk between the car and into the building three separate times so the cameras could get the best shots. They also claim Hyman's 78-year-old wife, Helen, was subjected to stress as well.
So, by the time they actually got to sing for the judges, they were too shaken up and exhausted to give their best, they say. The elder Marks claims he was so worn out that he was embarrassed when the judges asked him how old his son and wife were and he couldn't remember.
Contestants need three votes from the four-judge panel to pass to the next round, but Hyman received only two. Stephen apparently bombed.
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That's not even the weirdest part. They also claim they were ambushed by a Sarah Jessica Parker look-alike (maybe it was just a horse?) who tried to force them into an argument about who was the better singer, and a "woman behind a curtain who could see [Stephen] although he couldn't see her, asking him in Gestapo-like fashion confrontational questions and denying that he had passed successfully through three prior auditions, and denying the prior auditions ever took place."
Sounds like some sort of reality-TV psychodrama.
Now they're suing for a second shot at auditioning under normal circumstances. Oh, and $3 million. The suit named Cowell, the show's producers, and Fox.