Monday, February 18th, 2008
A Look Inside the Regis and Kelly Beautiful Baby Contest
The Live with Regis and Kelly Beautiful Baby Search is a big deal to a lot of parents. Adrenaline spiked 300,000 parents into submitting their kids in the contest when the prize money grew from $5,000 last year to $125,000 this year. The winner appears on the cover of Parenting Magazine and the cash goes into a 529 college savings plan.
One mother, Nicole Mele from Hamden, Conn., joined a discussion on Thingamababy to share news that her daughter Gianna might become a semi-finalist. It did happen, and we helped vote Gianna into the final five. In the end, she didn’t win the grand prize, but did walk away with a $25,000 start on her college education, $1,000 in Walgreen’s gift cards, $300 for meals and a New York adventure her family will never forget.
I spoke with Nicole by phone for a play-by-play of the experience.
On December 20th Nicole entered Gianna in the contest online. On Monday, February 4th, the contest folks called Nicole and requested a copy of Gianna’s birth certificate and a second photo. This doesn’t mean you’re a semi-finalist, she was told.
On Thursday, Feb. 8th they called to say they would be e-mailing her three release forms the next day (a tax form, a 529 savings plan and a disclaimer that she’s not affiliated with companies involved in the contest). This does not guarantee you as a semi-finalist, they insisted.
“They don’t tell you. You are on the edge of your seat for a week,” she said. “With every contact, they tell you it doesn’t guarantee placement as a finalist. I e-mailed them after I faxed the final forms hoping for some hint, but they responded back and said, ‘Have a great weekend.’”
That Friday they sent her tentative travel arrangements — without times listed. Nicole had to wait until Monday to see if Gianna’s photo would appear on TV.
On Monday, she was announced as a semi-finalist on air, and the general public voted for 24 hours for 5 of 10 kids on the contest website. Nicole was sent a detailed travel itinerary — a 90 minute train ride, chauffeured car ride, room reservations and so forth. “Please tune in tomorrow to see if you are a top five finalist. Good luck,” they said.
Twenty-four hours later, Gianna was announced as a finalist. No one called her. No one e-mailed her. The TV show was her cue to gather the family and head to the train station.
“It was literally within hours we had to be packed and on the train to New York,” she said. “They just expect you to take that travel information and go. They did want us to be accessible by cell phone the entire time.”
While packing, the show called to arrange press contact information. Her local ABC station wanted to interview her for its noon telecast. Sorry, she told them, my daughter really wants to go to preschool today. Between that and Nicole needing to pack while also caring for her 4-month-old daughter Ava, she let the TV news station run a Regis and Kelly clip instead.
At 2 p.m. Nicole, her husband David and their infant Ava picked up Gianna from school and headed straight to the train station.
“Gianna didn’t have too much of an idea what was going on,” Nicole explained. “I said you’re going to be on TV, and she said, ‘But Mom, I already was on TV.’”
In New York City, a car picked the family up and took them to the hotel where a detailed itinerary was awaiting them in their room. A hometown radio station tracked her down at the room and secured an interview by phone.
At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, a private bus picked up all of the contestants at the hotel and the families introduced themselves on the ride to the TV studio. The family that had traveled the furthest, from Austin, Texas, had arrived the night before at 7 p.m., while another family didn’t get in until midnight.
Once at the set, everyone ate breakfast in the green room, then had microphones applied and their make-up done. Each morning that week this process would be repeated — two hours for breakfast and prep for the show, with the families appearing live briefly at the end of each show’s taping.
That Wednesday, all of the parents were prepped with questions, planning to speak on air about what their kids thought of the contest experience, but the show ran long and the segment was cut.
The kids then played with Regis and Kelly in a room, with video footage collected for later use on the show. Lunch was, of course, provided — a “full spread” as they say.
Next, the big event — a photo shoot with the grand prize winner set to appear on a future Parenting Magazine cover.
“Regis and Kelly were absolutely awesome. You
don’t know what they’ll be like off camera, but they were really
wonderful, so personable. They stayed at the photo shoot for 90 minutes
and played with the kids. They were really, really great. The entire
staff of Live and producers were wonderful. One of the producers took
care of my 4-month-old baby whenever we were on stage.
It was a long day for these kids. They took each kid one-by-one and brought them in for photos. One room had a play area where the parents stayed and the second room had clothes and make-up and the big camera setup. They spent about 90 minutes per kid, so it was a long day waiting around.
Gianna was taken in at 2 p.m. The people at Parenting Magazine were wonderful at getting the kids ready to go and interacting with them. Gianna didn’t want them touching her hair or doing make-up. We were listening in the other room, and were relieved when she started laughing and giggling. Afterward, they brought us in for a family picture.
The bus returned us to the hotel at 4 p.m. We spent some time at FAO Shwartz and then went to bed early.”
On Thursday, the set was filled with beanbag chairs, stuffed animals and popcorn, and they all sat around a large screen and watched the taping from the photo shoot. By 11 a.m. the day was theirs to do as they pleased.
“We went to our hotel for a while, then took our kids to Toys R Us, and ate lunch in Times Square, and visited the M&M Store. We were back at the hotel at 4 p.m. because the weather was cold, about 35 degrees and windy.”
A fax was waiting for them in the room — it stated the bus will pick them up at 7:45 a.m. for the finale where the big winner will be announced.
“We sat in the green room until a quarter of ten. It felt like they did 50 commercial breaks. Finally, all of us were on stage and an editor of Parenting Magazine introduced the grand prize winner, Ella Segars from Austin, Texas. Balloons dropped from the ceiling and then the entire group took a picture with Kelly. [It was Regis' day off.] Kelly then posed for pictures with the kids, but she had only 5 minutes after the show because it was Parents Day at her school.”
From there, a car picked the family up at 11 a.m. and by noon they were on a train home.
On Saturday, her local newspaper, the New Haven Register, interviewed her and the story ran on Saturday.
See a Parenting Magazine photo gallery from the photo shoot.
Details for Hardcore Contest Fans:
Parents want every edge when submitting their kids for this contest each year. Here are a few details that some parents wanted to know…
Nicole entered the contest midway through the promotion period, around December 20th. She took her photo with a Nikon DSLR camera and submitted it electronically through the contest website. She doesn’t recall the size of the photo, other than that it was resized down to fit the contest requirements. Gianna is 3-years-and-5-months-old as of February 2008.
Her daughter’s photo appeared on the TV show among many other childrens’ images during the opening of the show and in the show’s online gallery a few days later. About three weeks after that, the show called her to say her daughter might be a semi-finalist. She heard that 20 parents were informed in this manner. At no point was she instructed to keep her news a secret, but she was asked to keep it low key unless or until Gianna was announced as a semi-finalist on TV. This was the first time Nicole entered Gianna in this contest.