"Can you put her on the cover?" Mickie Wood asks me as we finish our conversation about her 6-year-old daughter, Eden Wood, who makes her fifth overall appearance (and third as "a feature") on Wednesday's Season 4 premiere of Toddlers & Tiaras (TLC, 10/9c). When Wood realizes this interview is for a website not a magazine, she's much less pushy than you might expect for someone who fits the profile of "stage mom." She has "somewhat of a smattering" of a pageant history herself and started orchestrating Eden's pageant career when her daughter was just over a year old.
Wood is just as much of a character on the phone as her daughter has to be onstage. She starts the conversation singing Tony Basil's "Mickey" (in reference to her own name), describes her daughter as kicking some "bootay" onstage, exhibits the savvy of a reality-TV vet and expresses befuddlement over Leah Remini describing her daughter as "luscious" after she performed her must-be-heard-to-be-believed song "Cutie Patootie" on The Talk last year.
We talked to Wood about pageant stigma, facials for 6-year-olds and why Eden's beauty queen days may be numbered.
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Pageants seem like productions in themselves, and then you have a TV show on top of it. Is that difficult to negotiate?
Mickie Wood: You just do what you have to do, bro! We've been doing the pageant thing since she was 14, 15 months old, so it's almost an innate thing. We have our routine. You are who you are and what you present is going to be on tape. You're going to have good episodes, bad episodes and Looney Tunes episodes. If your kid throws a tantrum, they throw a tantrum. Naturally, that's what's gonna get the highest ratings. It's not, "Oh baby, you're the most wonderful child in the world! Mama loves you!" That's not what sells the show. The cameras do add an extra element of stress. You don't want your kids acting out. But you have to accept that going into it.
Is there any jealousy from other pageant moms that your child has a camera crew on her and theirs don't?
Wood: You don't even have time [to notice]. It's like being on a train that's going 105 miles per hour with cars jumping in front of you. We have people that will say stuff to our agent or people that are with us, but as far as me being aware of it, me an Eden are in the zone. I don't know how to say it without being ugly about it but...we have our own agenda. As far as what's around us, I'm sure there's some of that. That's just human nature. With anything you do, there's always going to be haters.
Speaking of them, there continues to be criticism directed at this show and child pageants in general: it's exploitative, it's a means of parents living vicariously through their children, it's dangerous, etc. Have you ever received a piece of criticism that made you stop and reevaluate?
Wood: No. You have to understand my personality type, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Back in high school, I never was in a clique. I did as I thought was best for me. I had my own opinions. I've lived my whole life that way. I respect people's opinions, but does that mean I'm going to change if I know this is something my child enjoys and loves? I don't care. It's irrelevant to me. We are strong in who we are, but as long as Eden is happy, I don't care. Educate yourself about something before you run your mouth on something you may have not even ever been to. Now, if she decided tomorrow that she wanted to do gymnastics or be a rodeo girl, I want to give her every opportunity to experience what life has within the boundaries of being a good parent. We're not weirdos, we're not freaks, so I don't care what people say.
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What if she decided never to perform again?
Wood: She wants to be an artist, a rock star and a scientist. When she said that, I didn't even know she knew what a scientist was. We're raising her to be strong and independent. I don't want to force her to do something. Why would it benefit to traumatize my child? On the other side of that coin, every parent's job is to see what their child excels at. It's our job to pick up on those subtle nuances that they hint to us at an early age. It just happens to be that this is what Eden is all about.
I read that you started enrolling her in pageants because you didn't want her to be shy.
Wood: Well, yeah. I teach music and drama and I've seen so many kids, when asked to read in class, come to me and say, "Miss Wood, please can't you just give me my grades some other way?" They were just mortified to stand up and I don't want Eden to be scared.
I'm curious about the scene in the premiere in which Eden receives a facial. Why give a 6-year-old a facial?
Wood: Because it made good TV! I'm not stupid. She did enjoy her cucumbers, though.
Much is made about the price of the pageant competing. How much have pageants put you in the hole?
Wood: I've spent easily $100,000 in savings and Eden has made back maybe $40,000 or $50,000 in prizes. You gotta know going into this, you're never gonna make the money back. It's an extremely expensive sport, but it's what we love.
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I know that Eden performs and has an album on the way. What do you see of her future in pageants, though?
Wood: We're probably going to retire at least by the end of this year. We don't have anything lined up pageant-wise, and that's unheard of. We've always had one every couple of months, even since the media hit. Eden is in a different place now and she wants to be a performer, an entertainer. We've really slowed down and are focusing on what she wants to do, which is to be onstage. It doesn't have to be in a pageant. We finished the last three songs on her album and we're getting ready to go on tour with two other little Toddlers & Tiaras girls. Eden's the headliner. We start that in Little Rock, Ark. on Sunday.
It sounds to me like instead of being invested in whatever art there is to pageantry, pageants for Eden are more a means to an end.
Wood: She is the pioneer of the pageant world. It's always been frowned on in the [entertainment] industry to work with pageant girls. There were a few in Little Miss Sunshine, and there may have been some modeling gigs, but nothing to the magnitude of Eden. This is uncharted territory. We're from a town of 566 people [Taylor, Ark. ], and [Toddlers production company] Authentic Entertainment has given her a national and international love affair with an audience. She's gotten further than some people get in their whole careers just from being on that show. I know she isn't A-list. Or B. She's more D or E. But she's known.
Watch footage of Eden and her infamous competitor Mazenzie from Wednesday's Toddlers & Tiaras season premiere: