When Jezebel EIC Anna proposed interviewing beauty pageant coach Cy Frakes (of TLC's new show King of the Crown), I figured I'd seek answers to my burning pageant-related questions. So I did. And it was fine. Until it wasn't.
Basically, it went like this: Cy came into the Gawker office with TLC publicist, whom I'll call Helen. Cy and I talked for about 50 minutes in a conference room, while Helen sat nearby. I ended up with much more footage than I could ever post, but whatever. I like to shoot a lot and trim from there. Yes, I had a lot of questions, but Cy had long answers. I had no problem with this, as it was an interesting conversation. I thought a lot of what he said was worth posting (as you can see in the video gallery below, which is organized by subject.)
When we finished, Helen said, "That was a hard-hitting interview." No it wasn't. It was about reality TV and beauty pageants. But OK. Whatever! I kind of just grinned. "I was not prepared for that," she said gravely, now looking at me as if I were a tornado that just passed through. "Oh yeah, well, I just think that given Jezebel's nature and the commenters' desire to dissect this sort of stuff, my line of questioning was appropriate." Keep in mind that I wasn't nearly as tough on Cy as many would have been. First of all, he's a nice guy that I believe is interested in the well-being of his clients. Secondly, most of those clients are teens so the whole, "This is child abuse!" reaction that you might have to other pageantsploitation fare like Toddlers and Tiaras does not really apply to King of the Crown. Finally, after prefacing the interview by saying that I wanted to talk not just about plot points, but actual issues, I felt that Cy was prepared for where I was going.
Helen disagreed. "I was not prepared for that, Cy was not prepared for that," she said, almost scolding. She explained that TLC had targeted Jezebel as an outlet for this coverage because of its snarky-but-uplifting nature. I had somehow betrayed her image of that. Still gravely she told me, "This was our hardest interview of the day." Well, glad to shake things up for you, I thought. I said, "Really?"
"I just wasn't prepared for that," she continued. "Is there any way I can see the interview before you post it?" I explained that I didn't know the official policy regarding such approval and she'd have to talk to Anna. "Well, how has it been with interviews in the past?" she asked. "We don't have third parties approving our content," I told her.
"I just wasn't prepared for that," she said again. As for Cy, I don't even know what he was doing at this point. He remained silent. Maybe it was his polite, Southern way. Maybe he didn't have an issue with talking frankly about the world he's ensconced in.
"Well, look," I said, leveling again. "A lot of people think reality shows are just mindless trash, but I don't believe that. I think you can examine so-called 'low culture' from an intelligent perspective and talk about its underlying issues. I figured any of those issues were fair game. I wasn't out to make anyone look stupid. In fact, I trusted that Cy was up for an intelligent conversation. And it turns out that he was, anyway." She assured me that he was very eloquent.
"I really wasn't prepared for that," she said to me yet again. All I could do at this point was shrug. I carefully considered her product and ended up proving that its purveyor could handle questions that probed beyond pageant tips and stage-mom smack talk. I didn't see the problem. They left soon after this, somewhat awkwardly of course, although Helen did attempt to break the tension by asking me what my favorite reality shows were. America's Next Top Model because it's insane and Rock of Love because it's jubilantly trashy, were my answers. I don't think she could relate.
Under different circumstances, if someone suggested that the hours I spent researching and thinking about a subject somehow translated into me not doing my job properly, I would probably lash out and end up yelling. I'm a hothead and condescension is my least favorite social indignity. Here, though, I never lost my cool. All along, I knew I was justified (and if you watch any of the excerpts from the interview, you'll see how not a big deal the whole thing is). But more than that, I was secure that if you're raising red flags for a publicist, you're probably doing your job as a journalist.
This is merely an intro - Cy talks about his professional title and how he got into pageants.
Here, Cy talks about Kayleigh, one of his clients whom we watched struggle with her weight throughout the King of Crowns pilot.
Q: Have you ever turned a client away who seems to be negatively affected by pageants? We also talk about whether pageants have the potential to devastate a girl's self-image.
On the pilot, one contestant who's practicing the interview competition is asked, "How do you respond to people who say that pageants objectify women?" Here's Cy's own answer to that question.
Here we talk about Cy's notorious client, Caitlin Upton (aka Miss South Carolina Teen 2007 aka the "Such as" girl), who begins her road to pageant redemption on King of the Crown. The show also interestingly examines her anguish as the result of her YouTube ridicule.
Q: Besides self-confidence and the ability to interview, do you see other practical uses of pageantry?
Finally, Cy talks about being a gay man in the pageant world, and whether his career has afforded him acceptance he might not have otherwise found in the South.