Toddlers and Tiaras accused of manufacturing drama and staging pageants to exploit 'crazy families'
One of the most controversial and popular shows on TLC's roster has been revealed to be largely staged, with its diminutive subjects and their mothers not receiving a penny for their starring roles.
Toddlers and Tiaras, a real-life documentary covering the never-dull antics of America's child pageant scene, follows the ups and downs of a host of tiny beauty queens as they take on the performance circuit.
Maxine Tinnel, a pageant organiser, told the New York Post that much of the series' action is highly manipulated, choreographed and contrived, with certain mother-and-daughter duos chosen for their eccentricity.
Pageant queens: Mickie Wood says neither she nor Eden Wood receives a penny from Toddlers and Tiaras, despite Eden being the show's 'poster child'
Ms Tinnel, the Post reports, was responsible for 'staging' six pageants for the network.
She says that the pageant queens and their families are not paid for their efforts.
Eden Wood, the show's blonde, smiling, now-infamous face, has been a 'poster child' for the show and the network since 2009, says her mother, Mickie Wood.
'Honey, if anyone should have been paid, little Eden and I should have gotten paid,' she told the newspaper, explaining that instead, the deal worked out as a 'you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours' arrangement – a claim that the network declined to comment upon, reports the Post.
Not only is remuneration ignored, but
pageant organisers, such as Ms Tinnel, are expected to host shows at
their own expense – although they are asked by producers to stage the
pageants especially, said the Post.
'Crazy families': The pageant insider says the producers find colourful, dramatic characters then approach organisers to stage pageants near to them
Shows are put on specifically to take advantage of particularly colourful characters. To ensure the requisite drama will unfold, programme producers first search for great candidates before finding a pageant organiser. 'Find the crazy families first, then find a pageant near them,' Ms Tinnel explained.
The manufactured version of reality doesn't end there, said the pageant insider, who told the newspaper that she hopes to shoot a pilot for a rival show this summer.
'Honey, if anyone should have been paid, little Eden and I should have gotten paid'
Numbers of entrants are strictly controlled so that filming is not held up, and audiences are vetted, too. Producers will only allow family and fiends to watch the filming – hence the unusually empty hotel ballrooms that so often feature in the series.
Days are long, with filming commonly taking more than seven hours. The young girls are expected to perform three times each. Tiring as the (unpaid) job is, the contestants often head to their rooms to rest between appearances, Ms Tinnel told the newspaper.
It is perhaps not surprising, given the schedule, that 'pageant crack' is a usual component of beauty queen life – mothers feed their children sugary, caffeinated drinks and candy to boost their energy levels.
June Shannon today defended the
eyebrow-raising practice of dosing her six-year-old daughter Alana
Thompson, aka Honey Boo Boo, with Red Bull, telling ABC's Good Morning
America that 'everybody does it'.
Fake it: Four-year old Maddy Jackson appeared on the show wearing bottom and breast padding to emulate Dolly Parton
When the girls all come together – most often for the crowning – tensions are not generally heated. 'It is truly not as competitive and crazy as what you see on TV,' Ms Tinnel told the Post.
'When we have downtime, the kids are sitting on the floor coloring or playing together. A lot of times parents will get together, maybe take the kids out to the movies or to eat.'
And, contrary to images of the girls gorging on sugar and nothing else, she says meals are a part of the gruelling days.
'I don’t know why they show on almost every episode that the kids don’t eat, because they do. I would love to have someone come in and film a pageant without a bunch of editing where a mom says, ‘Oh, my God, this is just horrible’ and she is actually talking about the weather, not the kids.'
Despite the apparent good nature of the competition, money appears to be a key bone of contention.
The insider said that some pageant moms – famed for their pushiness – will make the most of their daughter's fame from Toddlers and Tiaras by launching spin-off pageants.
'A lot of them will get cheap awards, find a smaller venue, get 15 or 20 kids and try to make a little bit of money so they can fund their daughter’s next pageant.' A point that is hammered home by the revelation last year that Pennsylvania pageant mom, Melissa Wynn, spent $30,000 on her daughter Carley's pageant circuit in just 12 months.
Representatives for TLC have not responded to MailOnline's requests for comments on Ms Tinnel's revelations.
Whether other shows that feature the pageant toddlers – Dr Phil recently hosted Paisley Dickey, the now four-year-old who triggered a frenzy of condemnation when she performed dressed as the prostitute from Pretty Woman – benefit financially from secondary media is not known.