In 2008, TLC introduced Toddlers & Tiaras, a reality show focusing on the lives of child beauty pageant contestants. It was immediately one of the most controversial shows on television—and, predictably, a resounding success.
The show ran for seven seasons until TLC pulled the plug in 2016, but various spin-offs (most notably, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) helped to build the show’s pop culture presence. If people found Toddlers & Tiaras repulsive, they didn’t find it repulsive enough to change the channel.
The show’s premise was simple: Cameras followed families as they prepared for pageants, documenting the over-the-top methods they used to compete at the highest level. Most of the criticisms focused on how parents seemed to force their kids into adult scenarios; one notable episode featured a 3-year-old dressed up as Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman (more on that in a moment).
But despite (or because of) the controversy, Toddlers & Tiaras continued to attract viewers. Many critics wondered whether the show—and the pageants themselves—would have a harmful effect on the young contestants. Now that we’re 10 years from the premiere, we can look back and decidedly say: Well, sort of. Here’s a look at how a few Toddlers & Tiaras stars are doing today.
MaKenzie Myers was one of the show’s original breakout stars.
Portrayed as a diva and a “supreme queen,” MaKenzie was only 5 years old when she first appeared on TLC. On the show, she threw frequent tantrums. Her mother, Juana Myers, says that they took a step back from pageantry after seeing MaKenzie on television.
“MaKenzie didn’t like herself [when she saw her episode], and it taught her, you don’t act that way,” Juana told Radar Online in 2011.
Why didn’t Juana teach her daughter that lesson before the episode aired?
“With the cameras following us, I didn’t want to discipline her, so I let her throw her fits or cry things out,” she said. “I would never spank her, and she really knows not to do that stuff at home.”
While Juana said that her daughter would return to pageantry, MaKenzie has kept a mostly low profile since 2013, retiring from the pageant life and avoiding social media. However, she had a mini-reunion with Toddlers & Tiaras co-stars Isabella Barrett and Eden Wood at New York Fashion Week in 2018 at the Love Baby J & BBTC Couture show. MaKenzie seems to have a future as a professional model—provided, of course, that she wants that future for herself.
Eden Wood, by the way, continues to model.
After appearing on Toddlers & Tiaras, she received her own spin-off, Eden’s World, which aired on cable channel Logo. The show was critically panned, but it helped to launch a successful acting career for Eden, who appeared in 2012’s Little Rascals Save The Day as Darla.
At this year’s New York Fashion Week, 12-year-old Eden appeared at the Wanda Beauchamp show, making an impression in an haute couture dress with a gold halo crown. She maintains an active social media presence and describes herself on her website as “a sweet southern girl raised on a farm in the piney woods and mountains of Arkansas,” noting that she “made her debut on stage in a show choir performance and hasn’t stopped since.”
In total, she’s won more than 300 titles at beauty pageants and talent shows throughout the country. However, according to The Daily Mail, she has officially retired from the pageant life. Hey, when you’ve got professional modeling work, pageantry probably seems passé.
To many viewers, Isabella Gielniak was representative of the positive aspects of pageantry.
The bespectacled 6-year-old wasn’t exactly polished, but that’s why viewers loved her. She stood out among the heavily made-up contestants that populated the competitions, and she ended up winning first place in one episode with an adorable (and non-exploitative) Western-inspired outfit. More importantly, she seemed to genuinely enjoy pageantry as a creative outlet.
In 2013, she earned national-level all-star cheerleader status, according to IMDb. She played Caren in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, and she had an uncredited role in 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. She seems to be pursuing a career as an actress, although she’s kept a minimal social media presence (probably a good thing, given that she’s still a kid).
Wendy Lee Dickey was the mother behind one of the most infamous “Toddlers & Tiaras” moments.
That would be the aforementioned Julia Roberts outfit. For some reason, 41-year-old Wendy decided to dress her 3-year-old daughter Paisley as Roberts’ character from Pretty Woman, which caused a national outrage.
If you’re not familiar with Pretty Woman, it’s the story of a prostitute (Roberts) with a heart of gold. Yeah—the costume was completely inappropriate. As Wendy told Good Morning America in 2011, she received threats on her life after the episode aired. However, she defended her decision.
“People need to look at their own family and what they’re doing,” she said. “I don’t know why people are focusing so much on pageant moms when there’s much more harmful things people are letting their children do!”
In another interview, she seemed to go even further by insisting that the costume wasn’t problematic.
“Paisley has competed in over 60 pageants, but it was definitely the Pretty Woman costume that put Paisley’s name out there,” Wendy said in 2012. “I love Julia Roberts, and I thought, ‘This will be the funniest thing ever.'”
“Then all of a sudden, bam! I got a lot of backlash. People were saying that I was sexualizing her, but I made the outfit myself. The outfit was very non-revealing, and she would not be as well-known if it was not for that costume.”
Unfortunately, Wendy’s bad decisions apparently didn’t end there. Paisley released a profoundly misguided “anti-bullying” music video in 2014 that we’d feel guilty linking to. Since then, the girl has landed occasional acting gigs, and most recently, she appeared in 2016’s Beacon Point.
What about Mom? A Twitter account claiming to represent Wendy is still accessible but hasn’t been active since 2016. She has also had a few minor acting roles, including an uncredited part (“Angry Woman in Ticket Line”) in the 2014 buddy cop comedy Let’s Be Cops.
Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson was arguably the show’s most famous contestant.
Alright, maybe not “arguably.” For a time, it seemed that Alana was everywhere. Her spinoff, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, ran for four controversial seasons on TLC, attracting millions of viewers until its prompt cancellation (which we’ll discuss in a moment). One 2013 episode attracted a mind-boggling 3.2 million viewers, which was TLC’s highest ratings performance for a single program in over a decade.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo followed the general format of other TLC reality shows, giving viewers an inside look at how Alana prepared for pageants. Members of Alana’s close family made frequent appearances: Her father, Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, June “Mama June” Shannon, and her three sisters: Lauryn “Pumpkin” Shannon, Jessica “Chubbs” Shannon, and Anna “Chickadee” Shannon.
While the show was ostensibly focused on Honey Boo Boo (one episode featured the girl’s enthusiastic reaction to the famous “sketti and butter” recipe linked below), it quickly centered around the family’s matriarch. That may have eventually led to its cancellation.
In 2014, rumors circulated that June was dating convicted offender Mark McDaniel. While insisting that the rumors weren’t true, she told Entertainment Tonight that she’d previously had a relationship with McDaniel. TLC promptly canceled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, shelving several episodes that eventually aired in 2017.
“I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to lose,” Shannon told Entertainment Tonight in 2014. “I just want, honestly, to tell my side of the story, and let’s move on.”
And move on, we did. For a time, it seemed that America had had enough of the Thompson family, but June and Alana have gradually made their comeback.
In 2017, TLC announced Mama June: From Not to Hot, a spinoff focusing on June, who lost nearly 300 pounds since her previous show ended. In the show, June continues to struggle with her weight while embarking on a new life as a single woman. That show was renewed for 2018.
In a recent episode, Alana accompanies her mother to a dress fitting, where it becomes apparent that June has gained some weight. Now 12 years old, Alana is nearly as tall as her mother, and while she’s withdrawn from the spotlight somewhat, “somewhat” is the keyword; in July, Alana was announced as one of the contestants on the upcoming Dancing with the Stars Junior.
TMZ claims to have obtained a copy of Alana’s contract, which reportedly guarantees $50,000 with a scaling per-episode payout. If she makes it to the end of the competition, she’ll take home $130,000 total. With that type of money, we doubt she’ll be eating much “sketti” over the next few years (unless, of course, she really wants some).
Taralyn Eschberger didn’t quite reach Honey Boo Boo levels of fame, but she seems to be doing well.
In the TLC show, Taralyn was portrayed as a perfectionist, driven by her desire to win first place in every single competition. According to Taralyn’s mother, Traci, that was accurate—even the decision to get into pageantry was ultimately Taralyn’s idea.
— Taralyn Eschberger® (@OfficialTaralyn) January 29, 2016
“Taralynn came to me one day and asked how she could win a trophy, and I’m like, ‘How does a 4-year-old win a trophy?’ And we just kind of stumbled upon pageants,” Traci told Drew Pinsky in 2011.
In the same interview, Taralyn seemed to support that version of events.
“It just came up in my mind,” she said. “I like performing because it’s fun, and I get to swim with my [pageant] friends sometimes, and I get to play with my friends.”
Now 14 years old, Taralyn is a straight-A middle school student and a competitive cheerleader, according to her public social media profiles. She’s currently in her freshman year of high school, and in addition to cheerleading, she competes in various track-and-field events including the triple jump and the 100-meter relay.
Madison ‘Tootie’ Berg was one of the show’s older contestants.
She was 10 years old when her first episode aired, and she proudly declared to the camera that she “likes pageants because you get to be perfect.” In her introduction, she seemed to see a clear separation between her everyday “Madison” personality and her pageant “Tootie” personality. It was a little bit weird.
Madison—who still goes by Tootie online—is now a cheerleader at Belhaven University. She runs a YouTube channel called Tootie Time, where she does stuff like eat baby food and give viewers various budget-friendly recipes.
Wait…baby food? Hey, you’ve got to get those views somehow. Currently, Tootie only has about 250 subscribers, but her channel’s fairly new. She seems to have outgrown her diva personality, although she’s still bright and charismatic.
When you’re competing in a beauty pageant, any gimmick can give you an edge.
Maybe that partially explains why “The Tiara Twins” Alycesaundra and Giavanna Lyerly were so successful as pageant contestants. Who doesn’t love twins?
Granted, they weren’t above stooping to occasional weirdness to win. One episode saw them cavorting across a stage with a turkey and a lamb—both of which were actual live animals. It was…something.
Today, the Lyerly twins are tween models, and they keep an active social media presence with over 85,000 followers on Instagram alone. They’re now 11 years old, and they still seem to be major players in the world of pageantry; Giavanna is listed as both National Little Miss Forestry Queen and Little Miss South Carolina, while Alycesaundra is the reigning Tiny Miss National Most Beautiful. Alycesaundra is also a designer who has shown her work at New York Fashion Week for three years in a row.
And yes, they’re still occasionally hanging out with adorable animals.