01/24/2012 // Paris, Texas, US // TiffNews10 // Tiffany Cherry
Paris, Texas – The competitive world of children’s pageantry can be such a spectacle of glitz and boisterous personalities that little room is often left for surprise. However, on the premiere of a recent episode of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras, one young pageant contestant and her colorful godfather presented a surprisingly refreshing take on what happens when the focus shifts from winning a competition to showing support for loved ones in following their dreams, whatever that path may be.
Winning a sparkling crown in a candy themed beauty pageant is a dream most young girls would have no trouble appreciating. Hailey Stepp of Paris, Texas got the chance to realize that dream after getting the opportunity to travel with her mother to Nacogdoches and compete for the ultimate prize in the 2011 Lollipops and Gumdrops Beauty Pageant. Despite not winning the title of Ultimate Grand Supreme, Hailey didn’t walk away empty handed, earning the honorable distinction of Mini Supreme. What gives this story even more of a fairytale twist, aside from the nine-year old being catapulted steps ahead in achieving her pageant and modeling ambitions, is the entrance of a fairy godmother like persona who shared the spotlight with her as her story unfolded on an episode of TLC’s top ranked series Toddlers and Tiaras, which premiered Jan 11.
Shangela aka D.J.Pierce, who rose to prominence on Season 3 of Rupaul’s Drag Race making “Halleloo” a soon to be household phrase, is also the godfather of Hailey, and was called in to mentor his goddaughter as she honed her runway skills for the challenging competition. Despite a busy schedule, both Pierce and Hailey’s mother Shamanda stated to WiredPRNews.com that there was no hesitation in his decision to travel to Paris to be by Hailey’s side, with Pierce noting “she’s always been a supporter of mine and I will continue until my last breath to be a supporter of hers.”
Family support for Hailey’s pageant dreams have come in no shortage, with her mother even choosing to learn a set of new marketable skills to help her daughter compete including hand making her show attire, mixing her music, and taking her own professional photos to build a portfolio. Having entered approximately 17 pageants to date, the nine-year old is deemed a natural by her mother who let her enter her first one at age seven. Shamanda notes, “There are adults who can’t get on stage and present themselves, but she has a natural talent for that.”
Even with a knack for solid pageant presentation, having a film production crew following one around to track their hard work for a competition can be challenging at any age. So when the call came in from Toddlers and Tiaras it wasn’t difficult for Hailey and her mother to decide who to call for pointers on not only handling being on reality television, but how to put one’s fierceness on full display, Shangela.
From teaching Hailey the “push the shopping cart like a homeless woman from New York” catwalk method, one Pierce states is the preferred one if you have a cart in tow, to the backyard walk-off staged for a live audience at Hailey’s family’s home, the show features several memorable moments that serve to entertain viewers, but also exhibits the beauty of the bond between Hailey and her godfather, whom some may deem an unusual choice for the title.
Says Shamanda of her decision to ask her friend of over twenty years to take on such a sacred role simply, “He loved me and would be able to.” The mother also finds they share common core values, and appreciates the fact that “he had a dream and he’s out pursuing it,” an example she considers important to set for her three children.
For Pierce, the relationship between he and Hailey is indicative of a more hopeful future and tolerant world. Says the performer, “the relationship says a lot about her parents, and the kids who are raised today to be sincere, loving, and open minded.” The reception received from being on the show has been positive for both in general as well, with both Hailey’s mother and Pierce, noting that they were proud of the show providing an opportunity to help others see their hometown in a better light. Paris has been no stranger to controversy with headline making stories about race-based discrimination and anti-gay hate crime accusations in the town. However, Pierce notes, “Being from a small town that is not known for it’s liberal stance, it’s a nice change seeing more positive media for Paris.” He also reflects on fond memories of his hometown, which the taping of Toddlers gave him an opportunity to revisit first hand.
Says Pierce jokingly of his return home, “I expected a parade but I guess everybody was busy that day.” Aside from that “even though there has been a lot that has happened, I can say I had a great childhood in Paris. To be able to come back after building a brand that I am really proud of and see that so many of the good things I remember are still the same is comforting. I spent an average of six days a month at my home in L.A. last year because I was working and seeing the world, and it was great to be able to come back to have that comfort. But I do hope the city will become more open as time goes on.”
Overall, Hailey, her mother, and godfather enjoyed the experience of appearing on a hit television show together and would welcome similar opportunities if they came Hailey’s way. Says Shamanda “Whatever comes her way we’ll do.” She further says of making sure nothing gets in the way of her raising well-rounded, respectful children “if things changed, this would be shut down.”
Hailey and her mother both beam at discussing the fun of the pageant experience, despite the hard work and effort that has to be put into it. Shamanda asserts, “The kids feel like rock stars, but…you spend months planning for two minutes on stage.”
Not shying away from hard work is a characteristic already shared between Hailey and her godfather that can be seen on the Toddlers episode. Both acknowledge having put a lot of work into pursuing their dreams of modeling and performing. Hailey even gives modeling lessons to other kids to help pay for pageant supplies and travel expenses. Being from a small community; however, can present challenges for pursuing opportunities in these fields. Says Shamanda of the challenges Hailey has already faced in being from a small town, “A lot of agencies won’t take a chance because we’re so far away.” However, the initial airing of the Toddlers and Tiaras episode has already helped bring attention to the young girl’s talents and personable nature, which her family believes will take he far. She is currently signed with the Dallas based Wallflower Management agency.
The next stop for Hailey will be a semi-glitz pageant in March called America’s True Beauties. She is also seeking to get signed to a larger agency and possibly participate in the next Fashion Week in New York.
The episode of Toddler and Tiaras featuring Hailey and Shangela is set re-air this Wednesday, Jan. 25 on TLC at 4/3 central.
Shangela, who is currently gearing up for a comedy and night club tour across the U.S. and Canada, will make a special appearance on the LOGO and VH1 premiere of Season 4 of Rupaul’s Drag Race on Monday, Jan. 30. Pierce is also working on a pilot project with actress Jenifer Lewis.
Visit Shangela.com for more information and updates about the star.