You may expect a child forced to wear caked-on makeup, fake teeth and scratchy, sequined cupcake dresses to rebel against her pageant mom, but that hasn’t been the case for teenager Liana Pirraglia.
“I’m happy with my pageant career. I had a great time,” Liana, who as a kid was featured on TLC’s “Toddlers in Tiaras,” told The Post. “I loved the experience that me and my mom got to have together.”
She still spends her days learning choreography and songs and making sure she looks just right for stage performances. But now, the 19-year-old is prepping for photo shoots and musicals, not beauty pageants.
The Selden, NY, resident is returning to screens on January 21 in “Toddlers in Tiaras: Where Are They Now?” The three-part special, available on Discovery+, gives fans of the controversial TLC reality show, which ran from 2009 to 2016, updates on their favorite over-the-top tots.
Delving into the child pageant world, the reality show was criticized for hyper-sexualizing young girls. Oftentimes, parents featured on the show would force their kids, sometimes as young as 3 years old, to compete in hourslong competitions, undergo spray tans, and wear heavy makeup, fake teeth and revealing costumes. Some moms forced their kids to drink energy drinks or soda to add “pep” to the performances.
Although she was shown as a pageant “underdog” on “Toddlers,” Liana said that wasn’t the case: She still has loads of trophies and crowns to prove she was a big winner.
Liana’s mother, Mary, entered her daughter in her first pageant when she was only 2 months old.
“As a child, I always wanted to be in pageants, but my mother was not about the pageant life,” Mary, 59, told The Post. After giving birth to two sons, Liana’s arrival finally gave Mary the perfect opportunity to pursue her dream.
Once Liana brought home a trophy, Mary was hooked. Their life soon became devoted to pageantry.
“When you have a child who likes to perform, that’s something you want to nurture and you want them to do it as frequently as possible,” Mary said. Pageants happened every weekend all around the country, so it was an easy way to get Liana up onstage.
She competed in both “natural pageants,” which are more toned-down affairs, and “high glitz” ones featuring extra dramatic get-ups.
Liana said she wasn’t bothered by the intense scrutiny and “never thought of comparing myself to the other girls.”
She gave up pageants when she was 11 to focus on acting in plays, commercials and small, independent movies and hasn’t stopped performing since.
She’s currently majoring in musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan. Recently, the model was flown down to Atlanta to appear in the new Hooters of America campaign. She also works on creating content for her 17,000 TikTok followers and Instagram fans.
Liana still draws on her pageant training today, although she and her mom say being on the reality show did have its drawbacks.
Mary said that when filming their original episode, she and Liana were told they’d be competing in a natural pageant, and were stunned when they showed up at a glitz competition, leaving them totally unprepared.
When appearing on the show, Mary said she had to sign a contract that allowed her child to be interviewed three times without her there.
“When we watched the episode with a whole bunch of family and friends at a rented location, I was horrified,” said Mary. During an interview, Liana took her long locks and pulled them under her armpits, pretending to have armpit hair, something she had never done before.
Still, “I’m grateful for the experience, even though I was a little awkward,” Liana said. “I have ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’ on my résumé,” she continued. “That’s something casting directors always ask about.”