Reality TV vs. Real World: Pageants

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Panama City - Each week, millions of Americans watch "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," a reality tv show about a child beauty queen and her family. But how much reality is there in reality tv?

NewsChannel 7's Meredith TerHaar followed four contestants ranging in age from 6 to 17, as they prepared for and competed in the National Southern Miss Scholarship Pageant here in Panama City Beach. While their experiences and reasons for participating are different, they all agree those reality shows give pageantry a bad rap. They were eager to show what a typical pageant family is like... makeup, gowns, spray tans and all.

Six-year-old Ella Grace was in her first pageant when she was just 18-months-old. "We decided to hold off a little while because it took me a little while to convince daddy," said Ella's mom, Elana Hatcher. Why does Ella like pageants? "Because you get to dress up and wear fun makeup." She has dozens of trophies and crowns, but winning them takes work. Ella spends hours practicing her walk and talent routine, while Elana spends hours perfecting her gowns and outfits.

To give their children a competitive edge, many pageant parents hire a coach, like Lauren Markham with Emerald Coast Pageant Coaching. But the coaching comes with a cost. So do the gowns, the outfits, and the spray tans. "It's pricey," said pageant mom Jennifer Fields. "She has been back into pageants 6 to 8 months and we have easily spent over three grand," said Fields. "Just the outfits are $400-$600 on the low end sometimes," said pageant dad Richard Branham.

The mom of 17-year-old Deanna Hodges insists you don't have to spend that much. "We've used the same dresses for almost 2 years, no one has noticed. It just depends how much you want to put into it, if you don't want to put in a lot of monetary financial investment I guarantee you your return is worth it's weight in gold for the self confidence, the interview skills, and just the feeling of looking beautiful for a day," said pageant mom Donna Hodges. Deanna focuses on perfecting her interview skills, something that will benefit her when its time for college and a career. "The more you speak in front of a camera, in front of judges, you get to explain yourself and you become more personable," said Deanna.

Watching the parents on pageant day is almost as entertaining as the kids. "I get extremely nervous when Ella is on stage, she is 6 and a half. I think she is a mature little girl, but still at 6.5 you never really know what is going to happen," said Elana. Sometimes all the prep pays off. Ten-year-old Lauren Branham won the crown in her age division, much to the delight of her parents.

For little Ella it was a good day, but not her best. "She had a few bugs in her competition, but they are definitely things we were able to spot. We are already working towards our next competition in December," said mom Elana. Regardless of the outcome, pageant parents insist the experience equips their daughters for the future. "I think it's going to open up a lot of doors for her and make the world hers," said Elana.

Bottom line, the value of the beauty pageant experience is in the eye of the beholder. While scholarship money at this particular pageant was as high as $2500, some parents say that still doesn't fully recoup their costs. But they say what they spend on pageants is similar to what they'd spend on a traveling baseball or soccer team.

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