Bill Riley Talent Show Winner Faces Controversy Due To Residency Issues

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The winner of the Bill Riley Talent Search is now in question after someone made a claim he may not be an Iowa resident.

Sam Fine is a dancer. He won first place and $10,000 at the Bill Riley Talent Search at the Iowa State Fair but now that award is on hold while attorney’s look into concerns about his residency.

Sam Fine’s mom, Jessica, said he trains for most of the year in Florida at a dance academy but they are still Iowa residents.

Jessica said they would not have participated if they had not confirmed that it was OK to compete with the Bill Riley Talent Show staff.

“We do train 10 months out of the year in Florida and so I wanted to make sure that according to the rules that he was still allowed to compete. They got together at Bill Riley’s foundation and they decided that, yes, he was able to compete,” Jessica said.

Jessica Fine said this news has really hurt Sam and they felt they haven't been able to celebrate the win.

“But yesterday, when he found out there was going to be an article about it, he was pretty upset. He dances 30-plus hours a week. It’s a full time job. He is training. He gives up a lot to be a dancer,” Jessica said.

Dancer and second place winner Cali Wilson’s mom said they're not holding anything against the Fines and they also knew he trained in Florida.

“No hard feelings have come about because of this. I will never in a million years state that I don’t think Sam is talented, because he is very talented. He works very hard, as does my daughter,” Christine Wilson said.

But Wilson said she does think there’s a gray area around residency rules.

“I think that’s where the rules of the Bill Riley Talent Search come into play and that they just kind of need to be a little bit more clear to the definition of an Iowa resident,” Wilson said.

Bill Riley said they did know about Sam Fine’s training before the competitions and the situation is similar to when someone goes off to college and comes back to compete, which is allowed.

“We are having our attorneys go through everything; they’re going to interview Mrs. Fine, they’re going to interview the people that have sent emails in and hopefully get some statements from them. We are going to do the right thing. If we made a mistake, we will take care of it. We’ll stand tall. And we are going to take a hard look at how our rules are stated so we can alleviate this in the future,” Riley said.

Riley said he doesn't believe they've done anything wrong. He said the rules don't say anything about participant's education or where they study, just that they have to be an Iowa resident.


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