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'Toddlers & Tiaras' producer explains pageant moms

Though Tom Rogan isn't exactly an advocate of beauty pageants, he’s clear that the world of babes in bikinis is one worth exploring and understanding ... even if his audience doesn’t always agree.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Meet Tom Rogan. He's an accomplished reality TV producer with multiple series under his belt, from “Auction Kings” to “Ace of Cakes” to perhaps his most controversial — “Toddlers & Tiaras.”

Though not exactly an advocate of beauty pageants, he’s clear that the world of babes in bikinis is one worth exploring and understanding ... even if his audience doesn’t always agree.

Q: What’s your goal with 'Toddlers & Tiaras'?

A: The larger goal with any series is to find a world that’s rich and deep enough to sustain multiple episodes. We felt this was such a rich and deep world because there were so many people involved in so many places around the country. There are about 100,000 girls who participate in pageants.

Q: What was behind your decision to include the recent scene where a 5-year-old got her eyebrows waxed?

A: We document what’s happening in the field. We’re not causing these things to happen; we’re just seeing what people do in the lead-up to the pageant. This is something that this particular mother decided she wanted to do for her child to prepare for the pageant, and we documented that scene.

Q: But didn’t it make you uncomfortable, or make you wonder if you should include it in the show?

A: We’ve all seen things that are sometimes a little difficult to watch when it comes to how parents relate to their kids. You can see a parent who is doing something that is making their child cry or unhappy that the parent think is the best thing for them — making them brush their teeth, or telling them to go to bed.

Q: So you’re equating an eyebrow wax to brushing your teeth?

A: Not to necessarily equate it, that’s just something that could make children unhappy. Not to infer what the mother was thinking, but these pageant parents believe strongly that having their child being successful in pageants is a stepping stone to a good life. They learn values from that, discipline from that, they get a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. This was something the mother in the long term thought would be helpful to her daughter.

Q: Have you ever felt the need to step outside your producer role and intervene in some behavior?

A: I’ve been lucky in that the shows we produced over the years have followed interesting people with fascinating stories, and I’ve never felt a reason to step in and stop anything. Being a storyteller, I try not to judge people. Everyone has their approaches to things, their belief systems, and they have a right to them.

Q: So if a parent feels that striking her child is appropriate, you wouldn’t judge?

A: We’ve never had an instance of (a parent striking a child). We’ve all seen parents do things to kids, and it’s very difficult to make a judgment call on what that parent’s relationship is to that kid, and what the situation is. We’d be hesitant to step into a relationship between a parent and a child. If we ever saw someone doing something illegal, we’d have an obligation to step in and do something about that, though.

Q: Would you ever enter your children into a beauty pageant?

A: Certainly if it was something my kids wanted to do, I’d support them in it. There are a lot of these mothers who were raised in the pageant world, and enjoyed the experience so they want their kids to enjoy it. But it isn’t something I feel compelled to get my kids involved in.

Randee Dawn is a freelance writer based in New York, and was born with a remote control in her hand. She is the co-author of "The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion."