How far will a television talent show contestant go for the sympathy vote? In the case of Timothy Michael Poe, an aspiring country singer who auditioned for America’s Got Talent, fabricating a back story was his approach. Auditioning in Texas, Poe claimed he was injured by a grenade explosion, resulting in a broken back and stutter-causing brain injury, in the Afghanistan War, but a handful of people who know Poe came forward to Fox411.com’s Pop Tarts column to refute the singer’s claims. No background checks were conducted on Poe, either.
Poe’s performance impressed the judges enough to send him to the Las Vegas round, but contestants on the show are only screened once they make it to the finals. FreemantleMedia North America and Syco Television are responsible for screening all contestants at this point. In the initial auditions, however, Poe claimed to have served 14 years in the military, but military records, dug up by online community Stolen Valor, found Poe had no injuries and had earned no medals in Afghanistan. Instead, he had served in Afghanistan one month (he had previously been deployed to Kosovo and Iraq) and left because of an ear infection. Additionally, the television show used a photograph of him in combat – but the image was of another soldier. The television producers have since issued an apology for this mistake.
Because Poe gave his story in the initial round, no background check was conducted. The Associated Press explained: “Reality shows generally run level one background checks, but different production companies and networks have different guidelines. A lot of the time military checks can take a lot longer and can contain closed information.”
Negligent background screening of reality television contestants isn’t new. Inside sources say that Poe will be eliminated. But, considering the amount of sympathy stories that are given in such television competitions, do you think producers will start screening all contestants, or will they restrict seemingly-tragic personal histories to later rounds?