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Feb. 22 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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American Idol viewers called foul when it emerged that at least four of this year’s “amateurs” are actually old hands in the music biz. But executive producer Nigel Lythgoe made a quick move to pour cold water on the heated controversy, saying, “Nobody said this is an amateur competition.”

At the center of the storm was the revelation that major label MCA released an album by Carly Smithson, “Ultimate High,” in 2001, when Idol judge Randy Jackson was an exec at the company. MCA is said to have ploughed roughly $2million into the CD, but dropped Carly—who then went by the last name Hennessy—after it sold fewer than 400 copies.

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Michael Johns, 29, had also been signed to the Maverick label in the past, while Kirsty Lee Cook, 24, recorded for Arista Nashville. And millions watched early Idol favorite David Archuleta, 17, win the Junior Singers contest on Star Search when he was 12 years old. These past successes have been incredibly downplayed (or seemingly flat-out ignored) by Idol, but Lythgoe sees no reason for anyone to be questioning the integrity of the show.

"This is a thing that comes up for some reason every year," he said at a press conference."From year one, all we say is that you have got to be out of contract now, but every year there's been somebody that's got a professional contract or even had an album out.”

Noting that past Idols such as Kelly Clarkson and Bo Bice had deals prior to appearing on the show, Lythgoe stresses that Idol was never meant to be an amateur showcase. "I mean, goodness me, if Elvis Presley came back and was out of contract and was able to participate through age, then he would be in the competition.”

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