smart spending

'American Idol': One contestant's story

While Hollywood Week takes about five days to film, a contestant's time commitment varies. "They can stay the whole time if they do really well," says the insider. "Or, they can be done within a few hours on the first day."

If the contestant continues to impress the judges, he or she will be called back for live shows several months later. Again, the show pays for travel and lodging, but the commitment can last several weeks.

Extra costs

Like any contest that brings out a large pool of entrants, "American Idol" attracts its share of people who spare no expense to win. It's not unheard of for contestants to spend thousands of dollars on coaching so they can gain what they perceive to be a competitive edge.

"A lot of these people have been singing for a while, so there are the usual costs of years of singing lessons and stuff like that," says Alec Shankman, a former talent agent and CEO of GotCast.com, a Web service that specializes in casting reality shows.

While some contestants spend thousands of dollars on coaching and lessons, most people typically limit their audition expenditures to hair, makeup and wardrobe.

That was certainly true for Santucci, who says she spent about $200 on her outfit.

Is it worth it?

If your goal is to win "American Idol," you need to understand you're going after a real long shot, Shankman says.

"Look at William Hung. He's probably one of the most famous contestants from 'Idol,' and since the show he's made a living as a performer, but he didn't get very far at all," Shankman says.

Hung, who gained notoriety for his off-key performance of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" during the third season of "Idol," is something of an anomaly.

"Dozens of people are invited to Hollywood," Shankman says. "For most, you might see them on television for a few minutes and then never hear from them again."

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