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Pageants Behind the Scenes: Toddlers, Tiaras, Tempers and Tantrums

Photo: Pageants Behind the Scenes: Toddlers, Tiaras, Tempers and Tantrums: Are Beauty Pageants Playing Dress-Up or Promoting Perfection?

The Texas State Beauty Pageant in Austin, Texas, is home to pint-size beauty queens with big attitudes and high style.

In Texas, "we like all the glamour, we like the rhinestones, we like the sequins, we like the big beautiful hair," said Annette Hill, the owner of Universal Royalty, which runs the pageant.

"Everything's gone to high fashion," concurred pageant judge Kathy Petty. "The gaudier the better."

At this year's pageant, 50 girls and boys -- even babies as young as 2 weeks old -- were competing for a shot at the tiara and $2,000 in cash.

Winning is "very important," said 9-year-old Brooke McClung, who added that when she doesn't win she feels sad.

"I should have done better, I should have done better. I should have nailed it!"

Four-year-old Eden Wood, who is featured on TLC's reality show "Toddler's & Tiaras," was considered the beauty to beat at this pageant. She's been on the circuit most of her short life.

"I like the makeup, and I like hair spray," she said. "Makeup makes me happy. I like being pretty on stage with my makeup on."

Watch the story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET and Thursday on "Good Morning America" at 7 a.m. and CLICK HERE to see more of Eden Wood's pageant photos.

When ABC News visited Eden last month in her small Arkansas town, it was obvious she'd found her calling. The Wood's home is full of hundreds of trophies and crowns.

When asked which one is her favorite, Eden pointed to one crown and said, "This one, because it's so big."

For Eden's mother, Mickie Wood, a former beauty queen herself, pageants have become a full-time job. She said she's committed to giving her child the best possible chance to shine.

Toddler Pageants
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But being the best doesn't come cheap. It's estimated that 250,000 children compete in more than 5,000 pageants in the United States each year, and pageant officials admit some families have gone into debt, even paying entry fees before paying the rent.

Wood said she can afford the $70,000 she's spent on necessities for Eden, such as professional photos, spray tanning, coaching and $3,000 dresses.

"Is that excessive?" Wood said. "It probably is. But there's no telling how much we have invested in my child's future in every aspect, in all the lessons of the different things she's involved in. We work and we have our money in the bank. … Why can't I spend it on my child if that's what I want to do?"

Tough Toddlers Still Have Tantrums

The Woods traveled to Austin to defend Eden's title as reigning queen. If she won she was promised a puppy, but this year she had some fierce competition. Pageant watchers pitted her against 5-year-old Tarilyn Eschberger from Crowley, Texas.

VIDEO:  Are contestants in "Toddlers and Tiaras" too young for a healthy competition?
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Before the pageant started, Hill said the two were "running neck and neck."

"It's a very hard competition, very stressful, and I think both contestants have their game faces on, but it's going to be tough," she said. "You're looking at a beautiful baby doll, which is Eden, and you're looking at Tarylin, which is a top-notch bubbly professional."

That's a lot of pressure for a 4-year-old like Eden, whom Mickie Wood calls her "little diva," but she has a secret weapon for stressful situations.

Hand puppets that Eden plays with when she needs to be distracted "definitely help," her mom said.

"It takes her mind off whatever, if she's tired of sitting or not real focused."

But even the puppets can't prevent the tantrums that are normal for children her age.

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