If you’re familiar with TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras, you’re probably fluent in at least two things: flippers, those terrifying fake tooth panels that pint-sized beauty contestants pop in to create the illusion of a row of adult pearly whites, and Eden Wood, the breakout star of the below-9 pageantry world. Eden is the endgame of the scary world where panic-stricken mothers drag their kindergarden-aged girls to spray-tanning sessions, nail salons, and poise lessons. Before her own show, Eden’s World, premièred on Logo tonight, Eden had already been in the recording studio and on The View, retiring from the pageant circuit at the tender age of 6.
Eden’s World is one of those reality series that you’re sure is just a joke from some avant-garde television executive-meets-artist intent on teaching the United States a lesson about our horrible, profligate ways. I mean, really: A show about a 7-year-old and her infighting handlers? Isn’t this some kind of allegorical George Orwell essay?
Alas, it’s not. If there’s anything that Eden’s World proves, it’s that the group of professionals handling Eden’s career are just as terrifying as you might imagine. Heather, her manager, is endlessly paranoid that Andrew, her publicist, is trying to take over her job. Most of the episode shows Andrew and Heather bickering about things while Eden plays nearby and Eden’s mom, Mickie, looks on with a amusement. Seeing Eden jump around a playground is psychically satisfying, even with the brouhaha of the so-called “E-team” in the foreground. It doesn’t seem like the perfectly polished little girl has many chances to simply frolic without someone judging her on her posture and eye contact.
Ostensibly, the premise of Eden’s World involves Eden encouraging other pageant-going youngsters as she tries to scale the career ladder. It’s not exactly clear that girls who do pageants need moral support as badly as Eden and Mickie think they do. The first to receive an Eden visit is a Adrianna Harris, a 12-year-old from northern Wisconsin who feels like her peers don’t understand the whole pageant thing. Eden and her mother arrive in order to coach Adrianna and her mom through this semi-obstacle. “They probably are just jealous and stuff I think,” Eden declares to the camera, shaking her ringleted head for emphasis. The remedy for all this hateration is a good, old-fashioned makeover party, where Eden helps Adrianna friends do “make-up and dress up” before teaching them the choreography to a line dance. It’s hard to forget in this sequence that Adrianna is almost twice as tall and as old as Eden. What 12-year-old isn’t dying to take lessons on cool from someone five years younger than her?
But the Eden seal of approval works wonders for Adrianna, whose friend Mimi hesitantly accepts the life of beaded glitz dresses and overbearing stage moms with a half-hearted “It’s cool, I like it.” Eden and Mickie fly in again for Adrianna’s pageant, micromanaging Eden’s harried stylist Fran and adding a frisson of extra stress to the competition which Adrianna seems to win without much trouble.
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The real cringe-inducing part of the show is seeing the fur-vested Andrew and skeptical Heather set up a meeting for Eden with a team of record executives from A&M. Andrew is feeling all kinds of Disney sad: “I’m being attacked like Simba does in The Lion King by the hyenas.” Heather is clearly wishing for the meeting to fail, and Eden doesn’t seem quite prepared to show A&R a demo of her screechy off-pitch singing. She jumps up onto a boardroom table in a poofy blue glamour dress to belt out one of her standards, and you can almost hear the executives’ internal pleading for her to leave. They invite Mickie and Eden to come back when they have another song, which Mickie takes as a victory. But I’d be surprised if that was anything more than horror masked by politeness.
Eden’s World is a show without even the small amount of suspense that Toddlers & Tiaras afforded the viewers. I can’t tell what’s sadder: That Eden is poised to be a reality-television washout before she hits the third grade, or that her team is so intent on pushing her success that they seem perfectly suited for this kind of run-of-the-mill “docu-series” about high-stress work environments. Heather remarks that her relationship with Andrew may push her to the breaking point, but it’s all for Eden’s career. “I might spend her teen years in jail, but at least she’ll be famous,” she declares resignedly. You wonder to for whose benefit that is. I doubt it’s Eden’s. It won’t be a television audience’s, either.