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Video: Inside the glitzy world of pageant dads

  1. Transcript of: Inside the glitzy world of pageant dads

    NATALIE MORALES, co-host: Back now at 8:09, and we've all heard about pageant moms, mothers who encourage their young daughters to compete in beauty pageants , but what about pageant dads? The world of glitzy makeup and glamorous wardrobes is getting an unexpected makeover. They're pint-sized beauty queens with big attitudes.

    MORALES: But who's helping these young girls win big titles and sparkly crowns? Pageant dads are armed with needles and thread, bobby pins and choreographed routines. Fathers are finding a creative way to bond with their daughters. These pageant dads appear on the TLC show "Toddlers Tiaras." And People magazine has pageant dads in this week's issue.

    Dr. ROBI LUDWIG (Psychologist): What's we're seeing now are these nurturing dads emerging. Perhaps this is a positive thing, where daughters can enjoy and have a special relationship with their dads.

    MORALES: And for these families, that seems to be the case. And with us now are pageant dads David Perez and his four-year-old daughter Ava ; and Lon Enos and his 11-year-old daughter, Halia . Joey Bartolomeo wrote the article in People magazine . Good morning to all of you. Good to have you here. And, Lon , let me start with you because you've become very involved with the pageant world, you help -- you actually design your daughter's costumes, you even help with her beautiful hair, as we see there. She's absolutely stunning. Why do you do this, thought? What made you want to get involved?

    Mr. LON ENOS: Just the togetherness, being -- you know, it's like any sport, I guess, and just watching her grow through the thing and basically learning more and more in the whole pageant industry and making the clothes and the outfits. It's just a fun thing to do with the, you know, with your daughters.

    MORALES: It's interesting, you compared it to a sport, though. You know, I mean, most -- I would imagine you probably get some comments from your male friends saying this is far from beyond the world of sports.

    Mr. ENOS: Yeah. It's just a competition. I mean, that's what they go. They go there to compete. You know, and it's the same thing as I guess any other dad that would be into the -- what their, you know, daughters do. So it's -- we just get more involved in it.

    MORALES: Halia , how has it brought you and your father closer together?

    HALIA: Well, like, when I'm on stage, he'll always shout for me, and then like I brighten up because I know he's there to watch me and just support me on stage.

    MORALES: So you think it's a great thing that your dad's there by your side...

    HALIA: Yeah.

    MORALES: ...coaching you and helping you along.

    HALIA: Yeah, I like it.

    MORALES: You like it. Of course you do. And, David , you're also very much involved in Ava 's pageantry.

    Mr. DAVID PEREZ: Yes, mm-hmm.

    MORALES: And what has that been like for you to do this with her? She's only four years old.

    Mr. PEREZ: Well, it's brought us really close. We're almost inseparable. I have a new -- another daughter right now that's, she's a baby, and she's quite the opposite of Ava , you know, so I spend time with both of them in different ways. But I'm also very close to my sons also, so.

    MORALES: What got you started, though? What was it that made you, you know, start to get into this? Did she want to do this?

    Mr. PEREZ: Well, she was actually eight months old, she was a baby, and we were walking through the mall and saw a mall pageant . And we said, well, you know, every little girl does this, I guess. So it started off from there, and she enjoyed it.

    MORALES: Ava , do you like wearing pretty dresses?

    AVA: Yeah.

    MORALES: Yeah, you do? Now, Joey , I know that, you know, when you talk about the pageant world, and we've all seen, of course, "Tiaras Toddlers," and there's some ideas about that show. You say that you came away from this whole piece that you worked on with a completely different viewpoint. What was that?

    Ms. JOEY BARTOLOMEO: Right. I was really impressed by just the family nature of the whole thing and the bonding experience that these guys go through with their daughters, and it was really a lot of fun. I spent a weekend at a pageant with Lon and Halia , and everyone was laughing and having a good time. And the kids really enjoy it.

    MORALES: Is a little bit odd, though, for you to see young girls wearing makeup, dressed up like this? I mean, how do you explain to people what that's all about, though?

    Ms. BARTOLOMEO: They consider it like playing dress up. And, you know, yes, it's, you know, maybe more extreme than what some kids have in their closets at home, but they really have a good time with it.

    MORALES: And, Lon , to people who question and say are you exploiting your daughter doing something like this, what is your answer?

    Mr. ENOS: I just think, you know, this is what they want to do, and we're not pressuring them, we're not forcing them, you know. This is something that they enjoy to do. So I just look at it like, you know, as soon as, you know, if they don't appreciate it and they don't, you know, want to do it, then -- but as long as they're happy, you know, we just continue just let them think what they want.

    MORALES: And, David , you has -- what do you say to that question as well?

    Mr. PEREZ: I don't feel like I'm exploiting her. I think that I'm giving her outlets for her to see what she enjoys doing. I mean, right now it could be beauty pageants . Later on she can play softball. I mean, the -- a child grows every single day and so do their ideals, and it's my job not to push her into pageants or push her into gymnastics, but I feel like I'm shaping her future.

    MORALES: And, Halia , you -- how far do you want to take this? This is your idea. You want to do this, right?

    HALIA: Yeah.

    MORALES: And how far do you want to go?

    HALIA: Like till I'm a teenager because then I want to be like a model or an actor.

    MORALES: This...

    HALIA: Like this is going to a model, like I'm practicing to be a model.

    MORALES: So do you -- so this is good practice and good preparation then...

    HALIA: Yeah.

    MORALES: ...you think for what eventually...

    HALIA: Yeah.

    MORALES: ...you hope becomes a career?

    HALIA: Yeah.

    MORALES: All right. Well, you know, you guys, I think, are forcing us all to open our eyes, you know. There are a lot of people out there who may, you know, look at this and say, 'Hm, you know, I'm not so sure about that.' But it seems like it's brought you all closer together, and that's what's working.

    Mr. PEREZ: Mm-hmm. Yes.

    MORALES: So it's nice to have you all here. Good luck.

    HALIA: Thank you.

    Mr. ENOS: Thank you.

    MORALES: You've got a pageant coming up, right, Halia , soon? All right. And, Ava , you want to sing a little something for us we go to commercial break? " Over the Rainbow "?

    Mr. PEREZ: You want to sing?

    MORALES: Can you do it?

    Mr. PEREZ: Try it.

    MORALES: Too early, right? It's too early in the morning . If you feel like it, go ahead, though. You guys are going to be back, by the way, in our next half-hour. And if you have a question, by the way, at home to send to us, just do so at todayshow.com and we'll ask them as we carry along this morning. Coming up next, Matt is going to go one on one with Rolling Stones' Keith Richards . That's coming up right after this.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 10/22/2010 11:22:13 AM ET 2010-10-22T15:22:13

In the competitive and often controversial world of kiddie beauty pageants, Lon Enos and David Perez are turning the stereotype of pushy stage mothers on its tiara-crowned head. They are “pageant dads,” primping and coaching their little girls around the country in what they defend as an incredible bonding experience for papa and daughter.

Enos, dad of 11-year-old Hali’a, and Perez, dad of 4-year-old Ava, are already known to viewers of the TLC channel’s “Toddlers & Tiaras,” who have watched them put their girls through the pageant paces. Now the dads are featured in the new issue of People magazine; senior writer Joey Bartolomeo followed the families through a pageant weekend.

Appearing on TODAY Friday, Enos told Natalie Morales he could be taking his daughter to soccer on a weekend, but said that Hali’a lives for the thrill of junior beauty competition instead of sports.

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“It’s like any sport, I guess; just watching her grow and basically learn more and more,” Enos said. “It’s just a fun thing to do with your daughter.”

Who beads the gown?
But Enos and Perez occupy an unusual place in a world in which control-freak moms are more the norm. Perez in particular is a self-proclaimed “Super Dad of Pageants” who coaches Ava on her on-stage moves, designs and sews her costumes, and does her makeup and hair.

Perez and his wife, Tanya, were drawn into the pageant world when they waltzed into one by chance. “[Ava] was 8 months old — she was a baby — and we were walking through the mall and saw a small pageant, and we said, ‘Well, every little girl does this, I guess,’ ” he told Morales. “So it started off from there, and she enjoyed it.”

Share your thoughts: Could you be a pageant dad?

And once Ava was immersed in the pageant scene, there wasn’t any question in the Perez household about who was going to take charge.

“My wife and I are always joking: If you need to fix a flat tire, you go to her; if you need to win Miss Universe, you go to me,” Perez told NBC. “I can bead a gown, but I can’t fix a flat tire.”

While children’s beauty pageants are often criticized for exploiting children at ever younger ages, psychologist Robi Ludwig told NBC she sees an upside to pageant fatherhood.

Related: Parents defend putting their kids in beauty pageants

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“What we are seeing now are these nurturing dads emerging,” she said. “Perhaps this is a positive thing, where daughters can enjoy and have a special relationship with their dads.”

Hali’a Enos certainly thinks so. Dad Lon helps her work on her talent routines, styles her hair, and helps with her attire, but Hali’a told Morales it’s his moral support that means the most to her.

“When I’m on stage, he will always shout for me, and then like I brighten up because I know he’s there to watch me and just support me,” she said.

‘Shaping her future’
Enos and Perez are clearly doing something right. Hali’a’s bedroom is literally choked with trophies, nearly 100 in all. And little Ava has won several local and national competitions, and, her dad notes, nearly always finishes in the Top 5.

“I don’t think I’m exploiting her,” Perez told Morales. “I think that I’m giving her outlets for her to see what she enjoys doing.

Video: The world of child beauty pageants (on this page)

“Right now, it could be beauty pageants; later on, she could play softball. A child grows every single day, and so do their ideals. And it’s my job not to push her into pageants or push her into gymnastics. I feel like I’m shaping her future.”

Bartolomeo also addressed the exploitation issue, telling Morales her opinion changed after she spent a weekend on the circuit.

“I was really impressed by just the family nature of the whole thing, and the bonding experience that these guys go through with their daughters,” she told Morales. And as far as the little girls feeling the heat of competition, Bartolomeo says for the girls “they consider it like playing dress up … they really have a good time with it.”

Slideshow: Pint-size contestants strut their stuff

But are pageant dads just a male version of cliche stage moms? TODAY viewer Candy from Macclenny, Fla., e-mailed the show about the meltdowns she’s seen watching “Toddlers & Tiaras.” “Sometimes I’m disappointed by the mother’s response,” she wrote. “Do you think as fathers you handle those situations differently?”

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Perez fielded the question on air, telling Morales that when it comes to discipline, he wears the pants in the family.

“I’ve had quite a few meltdowns with her; she’s like any other child, they get tired,” he said as Ava, as in on cue, gave a big yawn. “But you handle it like a parent. It’s different to see a father out there in the pageants of course, but she sees me as kind of the main disciplinarian in the family, so she pretty much knows if she sees me, she needs to cool down a little bit.”

Bartolomeo observed that many pageant officials prefer dads to moms as coaches.

“When you see the dads, they definitely have a different kind of relationship with their daughters,” she said. “Pageant directors said that a lot of these guys are more laid back than the moms, and a lot of the dads are the ones offstage having fun with the girls.”

 

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