Cable TV crew to film local child beauty pageant for 'Toddlers & Tiaras' episode

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BERNIE, Mo. -- The Show-Me Smiles Fantasy Pageant in the small town of Bernie has caught the attention of the producers of "Toddlers & Tiaras," a popular reality television show that explores the world of child beauty pageants.

A 12-person production crew from The Learning Channel will film the pageant, slated for 10 a.m. Dec. 13 in the Bernie Community Center. The local footage will appear in the show's third season that will begin airing in late May.

This marks the first time since "Toddlers & Tiaras" debuted in January that scenes will be shot in Missouri, according to co-executive producer Suzanne Pate, who said the "fun" name of the pageant drew her in.

"What I love about [a child pageant] is everybody has their own opinion," Pate said. "People are very passionate, whether they are for it or against it."

Brittney Owens, 22, who has been hosting the Fantasy Pageant with her mother Judy Flannery since 2005, initially applied to be featured on national television.

"I got a phone call from one of the producers from the show, and I was very surprised," she said. "It all happened very quickly. 'Toddlers & Tiaras' was not necessarily looking for a town, but rather an exciting pageant to film."

Casting directors are currently reviewing tapes that were submitted to select three contestants who will be shadowed by cameras for five days as they prepare for the stage.

"We're looking for a full glitz girl that has a standout personality whose parents are very into the pageant world, and supportive of them," Pate said. "We like the girls to have a winning history [in pageantry], but it's not necessary."

Although the producers do not guarantee that locals will be chosen as contestants, 8-year-old Madison Wooldridge of Bernie is bringing experience in the "glitz" circuit to the competition, according to her mother, Heather Woolridge.

"I was contacted by 'Toddlers & Tiaras' because they found out Madi does glitz, which is a different pageant than what we do around home," Heather Wooldridge said.

Wooldridge, who is a banker by trade, mostly travels to Southern states with her daughter, where young girls compete with flipperteeth and fake eyelashes and tans, rather than more natural looks, she said.

"Normally, around here, they wear a long skirt," said Jamie Ellsworth, a seamstress of Christina's Crystal Palace, a custom dress business in Bernie. "With a glitz pageant, the flashier -- the more rhinestones and glitter -- the better."

It was a matter of time before Southeast Missouri was discovered for its beauty pageants, Ellsworth said.

"It's almost unbelievable how many pageants take place on any given weekend," she said.

Guests on "Toddlers & Tiaras" have a choice in how they present themselves, according to Ellsworth, although "sometimes you get crazy people."

Ellsworth, 30, who has competed in local pageants for 23 years, will be entering her 2-year-old son Spencer in the competition. She submitted a casting video of the boy, but she said she does not think TLC will choose him because he is so young.

Boys up to 4 years old and girls from newborns to 18-year-olds will get to compete in various age groups. A total of 125 contestants will be allowed to enter. Crowns, sashes, trophies, savings bonds and other prizes will be awarded to the winners.

So far about 50 contestants have registered from the surrounding area, including Arkansas and Illinois, according to Flannery, Fantasy Pageant co-director. She said she anticipates the event to be an economic booster for Bernie, which has a population of about 2,000.

Clothing categories will include formal wear and an outfit of choice, which could be swimwear or pajamas, for example. False enhancers will be allowed, as glitz is encouraged but not mandatory, as stated in the entry form.

Michael Booth, executive director of International Fresh Faces, a national pageant system, will fly in from Cancun, Mexico, and offer to do hair and makeup for $150, organizers said.

The entry fee for the child beauty pageant begins at $75 and goes up for side competitions, such as "Mommy/Daddy & Me" where contestants can compete together with their parents. A $25 deposit is required by Monday. The cost is $10 to attend.

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