LOS ANGELES — An "American Idol" contestant with a lengthy entertainment resume has been disqualified after reaching the show's top 36.
In its press released issued Wednesday night announcing the semifinalists, Fox TV said that Joanna Pacitti was "ineligible to continue." No reason was given by Fox.
But a person familiar with the decision said Thursday that Pacitti was dropped to avoid any appearance of business impropriety. The person, who did not elaborate, spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized by Fox and the show's producers to talk about the dismissal.
The decision was made because Pacitti had once worked with a person subsequently hired by 19 Entertainment, which produces "American Idol" with FremantleMedia, said another person familiar with the disqualification. Pacitti also knew a second 19 Entertainment employee, the person said.
Pacitti was dropped from the show to avoid any suggestion of unfairness, said the person, who asked that his or her name not be used because the person was not authorized to talk about the dismissal.
Felicia Barton of Virginia Beach, Va., replaced Pacitti, a Philadelphia native, in the top 36.
The show announced the semifinalists Wednesday night, then later released an update saying it had cut Pacitti loose and subbed in Barton, a 26-year-old married mom.
Efforts were made to contact Pacitti, 23, by telephone and through "American Idol," but she could not be immediately reached for comment.
A few of the contestants in Tuesday night's episode, including Pacitti, flubbed the lyrics but made it through to the next round.
Pacitti, who auditioned in Louisville, Ky., entered "Idol" as anything but an ingenue. She had a record deal with Geffen and released an album in 2006. Billboard reports it sold more than 16,000 copies. "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi recognized Pacitti when she auditioned in Louisville, Ky.
She also starred in "Annie" on Broadway as a young girl, and sang on the soundtracks for the movies "Legally Blonde" and "Bratz." Britney Spears' tune "Out From Under," from her latest album, was first performed by Pacitti on the "Bratz" soundtrack.
All that experience was enough to draw complaints from viewers who thought she was too polished for the top-rated show, which purports to pluck raw talent out of nowhere and turn them into stars.
However, eight seasons in, "Idol" has selected singers who have spent time in the recording studio.
Pacitti's situation echoed the controversy over last season's finalists, Carly Smithson and Kristy Lee Cook, who had previous record deals.
Smithson had recorded an album for MCA Records, while Cook once had a deal with Arista Nashville. Other experienced seventh-season singers include Robbie Carrico, who was in the pop group Boyz N Girlz United, and runner-up David Archuleta, who won "Star Search" in 2003.
Erin Carlson in New York and Derrik Lang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that Pacitti once worked with a person subsequently hired by 19 Entertainment.)