Behind a velvety curtain in a basement bar, chubby-cheeked little girls poke their heads out, bop tentatively to tinny music and dart their eyes around the room.
All but one: Eden Wood. It's showtime, and she's got this.
The lights get bright, the volume goes up and out she struts, shaking her hips to "Achy Breaky Heart." She slaps her bottom. She tosses her rhinestone-studded jean jacket into the crowd. After two minutes, she sashays backstage for the first of what will be several costume changes today.
So it goes for a brand ambassador, former pageant queen and an aspiring "model/actress/scientist/rock star" (her words). At 6 years old, her days can be twice as long as her age.
"It's what she's supposed to do," said Wood's mother, Mickie Wood, 46. "We didn't go looking for it but we're not stupid."
Followers of the pint-size pageant set know Wood from "Toddlers and Tiaras," the TLC show that made her famous. Over the summer, after winning more than 300 titles during her nearly five-year pageant career (she started at 14 months), the Arkansas native retired from the circuit to move onward and upward . "I think she's following in the footsteps of some pretty big people who have done pageants, like Oprah Winfrey," Mickie Wood told "Good Morning America" in July.
Step one: Serve as the face and feet of Cicciabella's Cowgirl Riders line of boots. (Think Uggs with pointy toes.) More than half a dozen girls joined Wood for Thursday's runway show turned dance-off in New York City's Bryant Park Hotel. While some of them faltered when it came time to hit the catwalk, Wood nailed her three numbers, which included a Michael Jackson style moonwalk and a performance of her first single, "Cutie Patootie."
"The baby has literally been on stage since before she was born," Mickie Wood said. "I was doing 'Grease' when I was pregnant with her, being just huge, fat and big. All the kids would rub my belly and say, 'You're going to be a singer, you're going to be a pageant girl.'"
These days, that job comes with controversy. "Toddlers and Tiaras" sparked outrage in August after a mother endowed her 4-year-old with fake breasts and a padded bottom. The show came under fire again last week when a 3-year-old girl donned an outfit inspired by Julia Roberts' prostitute character in "Pretty Woman." Eden Wood raised eyebrows when she made her "Toddlers and Tiaras" debut in a Vegas showgirl's costume.
"I just don't see why everybody attaches so much sexual stuff to it," Mickie Wood said, talking about the "Pretty Woman" controversy. "I know the inside track, I know what the pagents are about and it has nothing to do with that. It's very family oriented."
For those who question the family values of, say, a 6-year-old spanking herself while dressed in spangled hot pants and a midriff-bearing tank top, Mickie Wood explained the inspiration behind her daughter's first performance at Thursday's show: The song "S.I.M.P. (Squirrels In My Pants)" from the Disney cartoon "Phineas and Ferb."
"If you're familiar with the cartoon, the squirrels are coming in and out of her pants and she's doing all kinds of contortions and things to herself," she said. "Don't read more into it, that's what upsets me. Just don't read more into it."
Ciccibella is Eden Wood's first major gig since she left the pageant world. Her compensation is yet to be determined, but she'll do a fashion shoot for the Cowgirl Riders line in the spring and next fall. She's now got an agent and a publicist. According to her mother, she wants to move to New York, "she wants to be Selena Gomez's best friend."
Following the fashion show on Thursday, though, she didn't want to do much of anything.
"But I've been on camera all day," she said to her agent when approached by this reporter.
Not long after, she and her mother stood on the sidewalk in the rain, Mickie Wood lighting a cigarette, Eden Wood hailing a cab, both moving on to the next big thing.