Idols in Training

"Before we start the conversation, how do you feel about pageants and children?" asks Wanda Barham, the organizer of the Junior Miss Texas Rodeo Pageant.

Damn. She really knows how to take the bull by the horns. "The downside of pageants is sometimes we have stage moms and that kind of thing," Barham begins. "But there's also a whole lot of good. As a young person growing up, you learn the tricks of makeup, of putting clothing together, as far as making a wardrobe and self-confidence."

Barham has been in the pageant biz for almost 30 years. "I've grown very old doing this," she jokes. A stage mom herself, she's quick to extol the virtues of pageants for children, especially in relation to what the experience did for her own daughter. "She could go into any situation and meet with any type of person and be very comfortable," she says.

Fair enough. It seems like pageants aren't such a bad thing, teaching little girls about poise and whatnot, so why's Barham so suspicious of our intentions? "We went through a real downside when the little girl, JonBenet Ramsey, was murdered," she explains. "The sad part of that is that the media focused in on the fact that this little girl did pageants, and they made something very ugly out of it. They set aside the fact that this was a child that was brutally murdered, and pageants had nothing to do with it." Ah…now her reticence is starting to make sense.

Open to all Texas girls ages three to 20, the Junior Miss Texas Rodeo Pageant takes place over two days: Friday night the girls demonstrate their talent, while Saturday night they strut their stuff in the beauty competition. Kimberly Caldwell of American Idol fame, a former Junior Miss Texas Rodeo herself, will be judging the talent competition. We can only wonder if any of this year's contestants will eventually earn the right to be dissed by Simon Cowell in front of millions of people.

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Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek