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Toddlers and tiaras and me: What I learned as a beauty pageant judge

After what must have been a long string of declined invitations, the National American Miss Beauty Pageant asked me to judge its Houston competition, which gives out crowns for girls ages 4 to 20.

What prior experience do I have with pageants? None. But when my channel surfing hunt lands on TLC’s big hit, Toddlers and Tiaras, I'm fascinated and my couch time is automatically extended. No matter what your stance on child beauty pageants, the unorthodox culture of pageant life makes for great reality TV.

The excessive makeup, coiffed hair, outrageous costumes, and spirited competitiveness of the tots (and stage moms/dads) are deer-in-headlights mesmerizing. Miss seeing it live and in person? Fuggedaboudit! Of course I said yes.

As a pageant novice, I spent most of my day judging the extra-credit talent competitions. Do you like music? This is where music goes to die. I've never had so much respect for Paula Abdul.

But my judging experience wasn't a total loss. I did manage to learn a few things:

-From diaper-aged kids to college-aged young ladies, each and every one sported the same shade of Oompa Loompa-like spray tan tangerine. I've seen all the possibilities and can honestly say there's not an age at which this is a good look.

-Gift bags include Crest White Strips, Altoids, Alka Seltzer, and Tammy Faye Bakker makeup kits.

-The bigger the hair, the closer to first place. And also asphyxiation, but who cares about that when there's a crown to be won?!

-All that glitters is rhinestones!

-Spanx do come in toddler size.

-In pageant world, the '80s are always in fashion. Roll out the Alexis Carrington shoulder pads, neon colors and leg warmers.

-The key to success? Think Toddlers and Tiaras' Honey Boo Boo Child —super-sized attitude in a mini-sized package.

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