As American Idol settles into its seventh season, controversy over one of the finalist's previous history as a signed artist who didn't pan out on her first chance at stardom is coming to light.

At the center of this season's mini-maelstrom is how Idol's producers should present artists with previous professional experience to the show's audience.

Contestant Carly Smithson, 24, originally of Dublin, Ireland had been signed in 1999 at the age of 15 to a multi-record deal at MCA Records, which is now a part of the larger Universal Music Group.

After developing the artist, then known under her maiden name of Carly Hennessy, MCA began promoting her debut album in 2001 through various means, including the release of a single, mall tour and music video.

The artist development and promotion, which the Wall Street Journal reported cost over $2.2 million over the course of the contract, failed to take hold and she was eventually released.

Two years ago, she tried out for Idol, but was disqualified over issues with her U.S. visa.

Smithson's former experience as a recording artist was not mentioned during her auditions and performances on the program. However, she does talk about the signing during a video interview on the show's web site.

The controversy has been growing as the season enters the finalist stage where the voting audience, not the producers and judges, pick who will go on to the later rounds.

Idol's executive producer Nigel Lythgoe thinks the uproar about her participation is a non issue. He told reporters during a conference call last week that the rules of the show state that whoever auditions for the program must not currently be signed to a contract.

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, he said. Nobody said this is an amateur competition.

Another point of contention making the rounds on the web is that Idol judge Randy Jackson worked at MCA at the same time as Smithson. Jackson started in 1998 as a senior vice president of A&R, a label division which is responsible for scouting and artist development. It is not clear whether Jackson had direct involvement in Smithson's development.

A poster to one Idol web site which consistently antagonizes the show to subvert what it sees the unfair promotion artists who are producer favorites, brought up the Jackson-Smithson issue in late January.

Should this mean an automatic disqualification for Carly? We think so! writes thefunnystone on