Exclusive Q&A with Kim Gravel
How did the idea for the show come about?
I was approached by the production company as an over-the-top character. They developed the show around the pageantry world because that's my world. That's how it happened. I didn't go audition or anything. They saw my reel because I've done a lot of TV, so I've made the rounds, but pageantry and the beauty business are my business, so they said, "Why don't we just work it around that?"
How did you get started in pageants?
My very first pageant was as a freshman in high school. Girl, I'm not an attractive person; I do a lot with what God's given me, but I'm not one of these raging beauty people. The girl that's just naturally pretty? That's not me. I basically did pageants to get exposure with my talent and my singing. I wanted to sing. I did my first pageant and I was second runner-up. I'll never forget [the girl who] beat me. I remember calling my mom at Parkview High School lunch room at the pay phones and I said, "Mom, I'm gonna be Miss Georgia." And she said, "Girl, you can't win Miss Georgia. You've got short hair!" I won my very first Miss Georgia preliminary. I shouldn't have been entered because I was underage, but I ended up winning the whole thing: Talent, Interview, everything. At 16. I had to give up the crown because my dad wouldn't let me graduate high school early. So I waited a year until I was a senior in high school. I won another preliminary, went to Miss Georgia, and I won Talent. I was chosen as Miss Georgia Superstar to travel around with Miss Georgia, entertain, and kind of open up for her. Went back the next year and won. And I was one of the youngest girls who ever won it. [VIEW KIM'S PAGEANT PHOTOS HERE]
Were your mother and sister also involved in pageants at one point?
Yeah! My mother was in Miss South Carolina when she was 19. They wanted her to come back; she probably could have won Miss South Carolina back in the day, but she decided to marry my father and start a family. My sister was on the Miss Georgia track. She's been in several preliminaries and won Swimsuit and Talent in several, but she got pregnant. Back then it was like, "Oh my god!" But now we love it—they've been married forever. So she went and entered a missus pageant and won that. That's what we were encouraged to do. There were not a lot of outlets for girls back then other than pageants for us. You could be in the school talent show but where was that gonna get you? There was no "American Idol" back then.
You and your mother and sister have an interesting dynamic.
We're three strong women. We don't take ourselves too seriously. Once you get around us and stay around a while, you want to be a part of that. I've always been the hub, the mover and the shaker of the family. I've been trying to get somewhere all my life. They don't push me, I push them. We have a great dynamic. I'm like Allisyn's second mom because she's six years younger. I've been pulling her out of messes her whole life. My mom is strong and beautiful, and I've always looked up to her.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
I love to shop, of course, every woman does. I'm addicted to reading. I love to read anything. Biographies are my favorite, but I'll read fiction, self-help; I just read a book called "The Untethered Soul," and it was so deep it took me like two months to get through it. I love to learn. I love to take any kind of classes, online classes, or if I can audit a class to learn something new. I'm right now in the playdate central with all the other moms. I'm 42 and I have a 4- and 6-year-old. And I run a business. I have the Pageant Place and a makeup company that we run. I do travel around and speak a lot to civic groups, churches, women's retreats, conferences, just about women's empowerment, how to be the boss of your own life. Encouraging, inspirational things for women, because we need it. We carry so much on our shoulders. And I love to do that! I go to my bible study and my church. I like to be busy.
What made you decide to open a pageant studio?
I've trained girls for the last 20 years on and off. There wasn't a lot of money in it, and while I wasn't driven by money, you gotta pay the bills. But I would take on specific girls that I thought had potential, or that I thought needed something, needed that "It takes a village" person, needed a mentor. I had a mentor outside of my family. She's 93, in great health. Her name is Nancy Williams, and I met her when I won her pageant as a 16-year-old. We sewed all of my clothes together. She took the time with me, she really poured into my life for the betterment of me. She cared about me. And I feel like that's what I'm giving to these girls: A little big-sister/best-friend/mama-that's-not-your-mama love. I'm a coach, that's what I do. It's more than pageant coaching, it has to be. It's life coaching. I'm not some big scholar, I'm not super super smart, I just care. That's all.
How do pageant moms compare to dance moms?
I think they're more intense because pageants are centered around beauty, and that's a hot-button topic for women and people all over the world.
Which Lifetime star would you train and mold?
Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh! I'd love to get me a piece of Abby Lee Miller. I'd love to see what is there, meaning: Is there more than meets the eye, or is that it? I would give her a makeover for sure. She'd have to dance, honey. But I gotta hear her sing. With that voice, we maybe could give her a sexy little raspy-voiced song.
What about celebrities? Anyone youíd like to take under your wing?
Physically? Emotionally? I'd love to get a hold of Miley Cyrus. I'll tell you why: there's a lot there that that child has been through. Everybody judges that girl, but there's a lot going on underneath. I think she's a beautiful girl and I think she writes catchy songs. But Miley Cyrus for sure. If you're smoking dope on stage, we gotta talk.
What are three basic beauty tips that you swear by?
One would be brows. Very important to me. They say eyes are the window to the soul and brows are the frames. Know where and how to arch it. It makes a world of difference. And exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. You cannot start exfoliating too young for skin. I spent a lot of time in Japan. I was a Goodwill ambassador and I learned all about the art of taking care of your skin. Third, black eyeliner. I see kids coming in looking like a raccoon. I don't mind black eyeliner, but use it the right way. Put on a base color line and then take a thin liquid black line and enhance it that way. No raccoon eyes on the liner.