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Baby's a Star

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Mom Gets Mileage From Her Model Tots

Last year Wendy Callaghan drove 12,600 miles schlepping daughters Carlie, 5, and Kelly, 3, the 100 miles from their Ocean-side, Calif., home to modeling auditions in L.A. She even has a potty in the back of her van, lest the girls create a bad impression with casting directors by asking to use the bathroom. And if that makes her a stage parent, so be it. “You know what? Every father and mother is a stage parent,” says Callaghan, 33, “and if they’re not, that means they’re not involved with their kids.”

Callaghan scours thrift shops for costumes and ferries the girls from school to jazz, tap and Polynesian dancing classes. The kids, she says, “have a great time.” And so does Mom. “Winning a spot “is like a drug,” she says. Husband Sterling, 37, a firefighter, is lukewarm to the business. “My girls are perfect,” he says. “Any beauty contest won’t change who they are.” Callaghan hopes they’ll earn enough from modeling to help pay for college tuition, and dreams of someday buying a condo in the city to cut back on the commute—”When we hit it big,” she says.

What It Takes to Make It

•$200 a year on costumes

•$1,368 on dance classes

•Four or five hours waiting around for each audition

What They Get

•Earnings: $5,500

•Goosebumps: “Nothing,” says Callaghan, “can compare to the joy of seeing your child on a poster at Disneyland.”

American Juniors: the Stage Parent Olympics

Take a bunch of talented tweens, the chance of TV stardom and the American Idol formula, and what do you have? The ultimate stage parent nightmare. “There were moms saying things like, ‘Sing! Show them you can sing! Just do it!'” says Tami Thompson, whose girls Taylor, 11, and Tori, 9, both made it into the group of five who won a recording contract on FOX’s pint-size Idol spinoff American juniors. “I’m not that way. I let them do their own thing.” But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t watching intently on the sidelines. Not long after the girls started performing vocal duets at county fairs near their Santa Maria, Calif., home, Thompson, 38, a hairdresser, found herself in a new role: manager. “I was trying to work full-time, get them to their lessons, set up their gigs and pick their music,” she says. She was almost ready to give up last April, when they heard about an open call for Juniors. Now Thompson, who has been living with the girls at an L.A. hotel (Dad Tracy, owner of a painting company, visits weekly), doesn’t have to worry about wardrobe, hair or transport. Juniors took care of that. “It was nice. I was ready for that,” she says. “I just want to be their mom.”

What It Takes to Make It

•Up to 60 hours monthly commuting to auditions

•Up to 15 hours a week in rehearsals

•Identity Crisis: “The girls are gaining this huge identity,” says Tami, “and I’m kind of losing mine.”

What They Get

•A contract with Jive Records

•Excitement: “It’s all worth it,” says Tami. “We’ve jumped in all the way. We’re here for the ride.”

Mom Keeps the Family Spellbound

Of the 10 million children who enter the annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, only about 250 make the finals. In five of the last six years, one of Mona and Jonathan Goldstein’s four kids has made it—and placed in the top 20. The reason? “Mommy’s the genius in the whole thing,” says JJ, 13 (seventh in 2000 and third this year and last). “She taught me everything.”

A former lab technologist, Goldstein, 50, is so dedicated to coaching her young spellers that during the three times she was hospitalized this year for knee surgery, she brought her word lists, dictionary and a laptop to quiz them. “I’m a hands-on mom; that’s what I had kids for,” says Mona, of West Hempstead, N.Y., who also has Amy, 19 (4th in the 1998 nationals), Ari, 16 (16th in 2001), and Amanda, 9 (not yet a competitor). Her husband, Jonathan, 51, a health-care data analyst, says they just want their kids to get the best possible education. Mona shrugs off comments from other parents—and even teachers—who have told her to “get a life.”

“If it were a sport,” she says, “they wouldn’t be talking to me this way.”

What It Takes to Make It

•5 hours per week of spelling drills (20 in the two months before the finals)

•Stress management: “It’s really painful to watch your kid up there,” says Mona.

What They Get

•JJ, the biggest winner, won $2,250 this year and last—and two computers.

•Unity: “This is something the family does together,” says Mona. “It’s a bonding time.”

The Girls Preen, Mom Panics

“We learned as we went along,” says Tammy Sikes. “Things like, you don’t dress them in ruffled socks and you don’t cut their bangs.”

Welcome to the world of children’s beauty pageants, where one tiny dress can cost $2,000 and the mothers are far more charged up than their charges. Here’s what a regular pageant day involves for Sikes, 36, whose daughters Savannah, 6, and Sealy, 5, competed in 20 pageants in six different states last year: “When we get to the hotel, I take them to get tanned,” she says. “The night before, while they’re watching TV in their pajamas, I’m hot-rolling their hairpieces. Then I take the hairpieces to the hair-and-makeup people, who prepare them for the next day. Then I have to get up early to fix their hair, take them to have their makeup done and feed them their snacks like a little birdie so they don’t smear their lipstick. At pageants,” she adds, “Mom is the one whose job it is to panic.” For Sikes, a former trial lawyer who now runs guest cottages and gift shops in Fredericksburg, Texas, with husband Barry, 38, it’s “a chance to enjoy our love of sparkly clothes and have some getaway, fun, girl time,” she says. “For the kids it’s a fun road trip with hotel swimming pools, room service, other girls to play Barbies with.” The gibes of those who might suggest she’s the one playing with Barbies don’t bother Sikes. “People say the moms are living vicariously through our children,” she says defiantly. “Well, I dare anyone to say that about me.”

What It Takes to Make It

•Photo portfolio: Up to $450

•Costumes: $3,000 per year

•Makeup and hair: Up to $300 per contest

What They Get

•Earnings: A few hundred dollars a year

•Trophies: The Sikes girls have 100.

Dad’s Rehearsal Roundabout

When Blayn Barbosa told his dad, Raymond, he wanted to be an actor, his father tried to dissuade the 5-year-old by bringing him to a cattle-call audition where he was 673rd of 800 children competing for a movie part. Instead of opting out, Blayn told a casting director he was going to lunch—and to call when his turn came. Says Barbosa, 41: “I knew that Blayn would do well.”

Blayn, 13, has landed more than 30 roles in TV commercials for companies like McDonald’s and Best Foods. His father—a former hairdresser who works in corporate finance—spends long hours preparing Blayn for a part, analyzing character, role-playing and sometimes videotaping Blayn’s private rehearsals. (Mom Suzanne, 44, a medical technologist, handles the money, most of which goes into savings.) “I’m a stage parent if that means I’m going to protect Blayn and be there for him and encourage him,” Barbosa says. Still, says Blayn, “Dad always let acting be my choice.” At least for now. If he wanted to act as a career, says Barbosa, “I’d say, ‘Get your law degree.'”

What It Takes to Make It

•$300 annually for head shots

•$300 a month for acting classes

•Sign-language classes enable father and son to communicate privately on set

What They Get

•Between $1,000 and $80,000 per commercial

•Minor roles in TV and films

•Good vibes: “Blayn is my gift to the world,” says Raymond.