Striking good looks, a past history with a major label that ended badly, Irish heritage and a shot at redemption. No, Carly Smithson isn't going for it again on "American Idol," Joanna Pacitti is.
With her model-worthy looks, the 24-year-old singer got her first big break when she joined the cast of "Annie" on Broadway at age 11 and played 106 performances in the iconic title role. But that experience led to her first brush with career disappointment, when, according to her IMDb bio, she was cut from the 20th-anniversary edition of the show by directors because she'd developed bronchitis. Her mother sued producers for $50 million over the firing, reportedly settling out of court. Barbara Walters covered the controversy on "20/20" in 1996, and it became fodder for a skit on "Saturday Night Live" the next year, with Cheri Oteri playing the role of Pacitti.
After moving to Los Angeles at age 16 to try her luck in the industry, Pacitti dusted herself off and got signed to A&M Records by Ron Fair — who also signed Christina Aguilera and Vanessa Carlton — and made appearances on the soundtracks to "Legally Blonde" ("Watch Me Shine"), "First Daughter" ("Fall"), the "Nancy Drew" movie ("Pretty Much Amazing") and "Bratz" ("Out From Under"). In fact, [artist id="501686"]Britney Spears[/artist] recorded a cover of "Out From Under" on her Circus album.
Pacitti was also featured in MTV's "True Life," as one of three singers trying to break into the music business, and in the 2006 documentary "Life After Tomorrow," which follows the many girls who have played the role of "Annie."
She released an album on Geffen called This Crazy Life in 2006, which featured the single "Let It Slide." But it failed to catch fire, and she was dropped from the label.
Pacitti said in the pre-tryout tape that her ups and downs allowed her to see the difficulty of making it as a performer in the music business. "I actually really got a chance to see what singers and what artists do and how they struggle. ... It's much harder than anybody could ever imagine," she said, weeping a bit about her struggles leading up to the "Idol" audition. "I've lost a lot of confidence in the past year, but I'm just trying to really calm myself down and focus and go in there and just show them what I've got."
She easily won over the judges' panel, especially new addition Kara DioGuardi, who said she remembered the singer from her label days. "I know this girl," DioGuardi said, smiling. Singing a powerful version of [artist id="2698"]Pat Benatar's "We Belong,"[/artist] the Philadelphia native nailed her audition. Simon gave her a pass; Paula said, "I think you're worthy," and Kara gushed, "I like her ... I like you! There's something about you."
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