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According to a shocking new story by The Hollywood Reporter, American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips is suing 19 Entertainment to get out of his “oppressive,” “manipulative,” and “fatally conflicted” contract.
"I am very grateful for the opportunities provided to me through appearing on American Idol,” Phillips said in a statement. “The value that the fans and the show have given to my career is not lost on me. However, I have not felt that I have been free to conduct my career in a way that I am comfortable with. I look forward to being able to make my own choices about my career and to being able to make great music and play it for my fans.”
Among Phillips’s complaints, listed in a petition filed with the California Labor Commissioner on Jan. 22: that 19 hired a producer, Greg Wattenberg, for his first two albums that compromised his interests; that 19 lied to him about Wattenberg’s mechanical royalty rates; that 19 withheld information regarding his career, including the title of his sophomore album, Behind the Light; that it is a conflict of interest for 19 to be both his record label and management company; and that he was forced to perform for free for one of Idol's sponsors, JetBlue, as well as for other corporate events.
Regarding the latter complaint, according to Phillips’s petition, 19 Entertainment has pocketed as much as 40 percent of his earnings from these corporate gigs. Phillips’s petition is based on the Talent Agencies Act, a California law that states only licensed talent agents can procure employment for clients. Phillips claims that many of the jobs that 19 “procured” for him benefited 19 and its affiliates, not his own career — a “pattern and practice of flagrant violations of the [TAA].”
19 Entertainment released a statement on Monday afternoon, saying, “We’re very proud of everything we’ve accomplished together with Phillip, working closely to help nurture his extraordinary talent and advance his career. We have always acted in the best interest of Phillip. We will vigorously defend ourselves from any baseless claims to the contrary and from any attempt to interfere with our rights and relationships.”
Some might say that Phillips is biting the hand that feeds him. He’s the last truly successful Idol alum. “Home” became a huge song thanks to its placement in various commercials, TV shows, and NBC’s Olympics promos; he got co-writing credit on an unprecedented nine of his first album’s tracks (that album, The World from the Side of the Moon, eventually went platinum) and all 12 tracks of Behind the Light; he toured as John Mayer’s opening act; and he made Forbes's Top-Earning Idols list for the last two years in a row, with $5 million earned in 2013 and again in 2014.
But almost every successful Idol alum, from Chris Daughtry to Adam Lambert, has left 19 at the first opportunity (Season 10’s Paul McDonald even penned a scathing anti-19 song a few years ago), so perhaps it’s not surprising that Phillips would want to do the same. It’s more surprising that he’s actually suing, but Phillips has been a rebel since his 2012 run on Idol — whether it was that comical moment when he refused to take Tommy Hilfiger’s style advice or the head-scratching moment after the Season 11 finale when he told Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks that his coronation song “Home” absolutely would not be his first single. (The song did go on to be his single, of course, and it sold 5 million copies, making it the most successful Idol single ever.)
Last year, before the release of Behind the Light, Phillips told Reality Rocks, when giving advice to future winners: “You know, it’s not anyone else’s career but yours, so you’ve got to make the best decisions for you. That’s what I’m still doing. Some people might not like it, but they’ve got to respect you for it.”