Julie Stevens (no login) Posted Dec 4, 2008 12:04 PM
HEY, 'ANNIE' GET YOUR FUN
By DON KAPLAN
December 4, 2008 --
Joanna Pacitti was just 12 years old when Broadway producers crushed her dreams and fired her from the revival of "Annie" just weeks shy of her first performance headlining as the famed orphan on the Great White Way.
The sun never came out for this little wannabe, and what followed has been a 12-year odyssey of broken promises, false starts and a failed album. Until now - when Pacitti gets a chance to prove herself as a contestant on "American Idol."
Last July, Pacitti, now 24, turned up at the auditions for the top-rated Fox talent show in Louisville, Ky., and was given a ticket to go to Hollywood.
Her singing has been described as a cross between Pat Benatar and Kelly Clarkson.
"This is such an amazing opportunity," the scrappy singer told a reporter from a local TV station at the audition. "The music industry is so bad, and it ['Idol'] is such a great platform."
Yesterday, Fox officials would not confirm the names of any of the new "Idol" contestants going to Hollywood, but insiders said Pacitti will definitely be on the hit show.
Her return to the limelight has been a rocky one.
After the Mayfair, Pa., native was dumped by "Annie" producers, Pacitti's family sued the show for $50 million.
The lawsuit made national headlines and landed her in a slew of nationally televised interviews, including sit-downs with Barbara Walters on ABC's "Turning Point" and "Good Morning America."
Other appearances included "Leeza," Sally Jessy Raphael, Rosie O'Donnell, "American Journal," and a few years later, she even turned up on "The View." Pacitti eventually settled her case out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Four years later, when she was 16, Pacitti was signed to a contract by A&M Records President Ron Fair - the record executive who discovered Christina Aguilera.
She then appeared on some movie soundtracks, including "Legally Blonde" in 2001.
Pacitti's quest to become a chart-topping singer was briefly chronicled in a 2003 episode of MTV's "True Life" which followed three young people as they try to launch various careers over the course of a year.
She later tried her hand at acting, appearing in one episode of the now-defunct sitcom "What I Like About You," with Amanda Bynes and "90210" star Jennie Garth.
By May 2006, Pacitti was signed to Geffen Records and released a single, "Let It Slide." The tune topped out on the Billboard charts at No. 31.
Her debut album, "This Crazy Life," was released three months later, but it failed to ignite her career.
Music videos from the album, including "Let it Slide," can still be found on YouTube, while searches of her MySpace and Facebook pages reveal thousands of fans - a fact that may give her an edge if she makes it as a finalist on "Idol."
So the little girl who started out at the tender age of 5, singing for customers at her father's barbershop, is expected to make her third attempt at stardom this January, when the eighth season of "Idol" debuts.
It will not even be her first brush with "Idol."
In 2005, Pacitti met Clarkson when the original "Idol" winner was on tour promoting her album "Breakway."
As Pacitti gushed over Clarkson, the "Idol" star returned the favor: "You're the 'Annie' girl," Clarkson shouted, too excited to contain herself, according to reports.
But at the time, Pacitti seemed to resent the star-making power of "Idol."
"[Fame] is handed to people way too easily," she said. "I'd rather have my experience than overnight success."
But her family has been telling her for years to try out for "Idol," even as her brief brushes with fame have landed her some high-profile friends, including former Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie.
Pacitti won't be the first "ringer" to appear on the show.
The rules say that a contestant simply needs to be between the ages of 16 and 28 and not be currently signed by a record label.
Last season, fans of the show were riled by the inclusion of Carly Hennessy Smithson, an Irish-born singer who had a $2 million marketing deal with MCA in 2002 for a CD that bombed in the record stores.
She ended up as a finalist but got eliminated from the show on an episode last April.
Past "Idol" stars Clarkson, Taylor Hicks and Bo Bice also had record deals before appearing on the show.
"Nobody said this is an amateur competition," former "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said at the time. "It doesn't matter if you've had a professional contract."