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Why All the Hate For Stacy Francis?

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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Stacy Francis

Over the course of the past week, "X Factor" hopeful Stacy Francis, the 42-year-old single mom with a dream and a pair of easily activated tearducts, practically went from being America's sweetheart to America's most hated, when her professional past was "outed" by anti-fan site Vote For The Worst, and later by Radar Online and Perez Hilton. (The latter blogger called her a "fraud" and seemed to harbor a personal vendetta against her, after a Twitter feud between them escalated when Adam Lambert jumped to Stacy's defense.) Of course, none of these gossippy sites actually exposed anything than couldn't be uncovered via a regular query on YouTube, Wikipedia, or IMDB. But the inflammatory articles still elicited public outrage that could now possibly thwart the former frontrunner's chances, as the "X Factor" live voting begins this week.

Yes, Stacy was a member of the '90s R&B girl group Ex-Girlfriend, who were signed to Reprise by Mariah Carey manager Benny Medina and produced by R. Kelly. Yes, she has appeared on a couple other reality shows. Yes, she has starred in Broadway and West End musicals. Yes, in 2004 she was hired to perform at Tom Cruise's birthday party. And yes, there are rumors out there that she has performed with Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Prince. But how, exactly, does this differentiate her from her seasoned "X Factor" castmate LeRoy Bell, who used to write songs for the Spinners, the O'Jays, the Temptations, and Elton John, some of which made the Billboard charts; who was once nominated for a Grammy; and who's performed with the likes of B.B. King, Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, Etta James, Al Green, Erykah Badu, LeAnn Rimes, and Idina Menzel? How does this make Stacy different from her open admirer Adam Lambert, who starred in The Ten Commandments with Val Kilmer before "American Idol," or from "The Voice's" winner Javier Colon and runner-up Dia Frampton, both of whom had previous major-label deals?

The issue, of course, is transparency--for which "The X Factor's" producers and editors are likely more to blame than Stacy herself. Come on, there is NO reason to assume that "The X Factor" powers-that-be were entirely unaware of Stacy's past professional endeavors; even if she had failed to mention her credentials, or even intentionally lied about them, any cursory background check would have quickly brought up all those YouTube videos, Last.fm and MySpace bio pages, BroadwayWorld.com articles, etc. But of course, splicing together the juicier, more emotional tidbits from Stacy's "X Factor" interviews--to paint her out to be a struggling mother, domestic abuse victim, and keeper of deferred dreams--made for better television than depicting her as just another Melinda Doolittle type, just another industry pro hoping to take her career to the next level after years of steady C-list work.

It's no wonder that viewers feel duped, but really, this is not unlike how the producers of "The Voice" initially chose to focus on Javier's family-man background and Dia's side career as an author of children's books, while overlooking those contestants' respective tenures with Capitol and Warner Bros. Records. Or how "American Idol" depicted Season 7's Carly Smithson as an Irish immigrant with visa issues and Kristy Lee Cook as a farmgirl who sold her horse to raise the funds to travel to her audition, while conveniently failing to mention that both girls had past ties to "Idol"-affiliated record labels.

Most of the reality contestants mentioned above emerged from their "scandals" relatively unscathed--in the case of "The Voice" specifically, that was probably because that show never overtly claimed that its contestants were total unknowns who'd queued up for hours in rainy parking lots to attend open-call auditions. But Carly, whose situation was the closest to what Stacy is going through now, definitely suffered from what appeared to be deliberate deception, or at least an egregious sin of factual omission. As a teenager under the name Carly Hennessy, she had been signed to MCA Records when Randy Jackson actually still worked there; when this came out mid-season, disgruntled "Idol" viewers rallied for her disqualification, and I will freely admit that at the time, I wrote quite angrily about what seemed to be a great reality-TV injustice. But looking back, I now sheepishly wonder: Was this backlash Carly's fault? Did she deliberately portray herself as a newbie when she was anything but, or was that "Idol's" doing? And if Carly had been honestly portrayed as a showbiz second-chancer who'd fallen on tough times and needed a career reboot, would she have fared better on the show? These are the same kinds of questions being asked about Stacy Francis and "The X Factor" now.

The bottom line is, it's a bit of a stretch to say that Stacy is someone who has "already made it." While she has definitely made industry inroads and had some career breaks that many aspiring singers only dream about, I had never heard of her before she auditioned for "The X Factor," and neither had probably 99.9 percent of the American TV-viewing public. And I have no reason to believe she wasn't still struggling or living in a modest one-bedroom apartment, as she has claimed; as a longtime L.A. resident, I can assure you that this industry town is filled with many Hollywood bit players who, despite walk-on sitcom roles or famous friends or impressively lengthy CVs, still hold day jobs or have trouble paying their bills. Really, Stacy is just another under-the-radar talent who has come close, but not quite close enough, to her superstardom goal. As she put it in a backstage interview I conducted with her last week: "If I was Janet Jackson, I wouldn't be here. There's a reason why I'm here."

So, what do you think? Was Stacy deceptive about her past, or are producers and selective editors to blame here? Should shows like "The X Factor" be more transparent about contestants' backgrounds in general, to avoid such backlashes, or--here's a thought--do you think these series' producers secretly (or maybe not-so-secretly) relish the free publicity that such scandals generate?

I personally think Stacy should be given the same chance, and the same benefit of the doubt, as any less-experienced "X Factor" contestant, and let her talent do the talking (or the singing, as it were). If there's a real reason why all those years of slogging away in the Hollywood trenches never got her very far, that'll soon become all too clear on future "X Factor" episodes. But until then, let's all back off.

Related links:

Other contestants' pro pasts

Stacy Francis sings for Tom Cruise

Simon Cowell reveals why he's not on Twitter

Experts debate the show

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