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Shanna Moakler knows a thing or two about adult beauty pageants as Miss USA 1995 and the state director of Miss USA winner Alyssa Campanella. But she also specializes in child modeling competitions.

The mom of three, 36, opens up about Toddlers and Tiaras, and why the pageant life is best for daughter, fellow beauty queen Alabama Barker, 5, whose dad is ex-hubby Travis Barker of Blink-182 fame.

“She’s Miss Gold Coast, and she won Grand Supreme [laughs] last year,” she says. “Really cute.”

Plus, she tells me what led daughter Atiana De La Hoya, 12, whose dad is boxer Oscar De La Hoya, to get out of the business. 

According to Shanna, her youngest daughter competes in a pageant “every six months or so.” To gear up, she practices walking and dancing with a coach, and gets her makeup applied professionally.

What does she think of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras?

“I love it,” she tells me during Miss USA’s 60th Anniversary High Roller event held at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino this week. “I would rather have mothers spending time with their kids than slapping them in front of a television and ignoring them. As long as the child wants to do it, great. The minute the child doesn’t want to do it, you’d better stop. But I think anything in excess isn’t good. If you have a football father who’s making his kid do football every day, that’s not good either.”

She says, “My daughters watch the show, and they loved it. My daughter’s one of those – not every little kid is – but my daughter was one that was like ‘Mommy, I want to do that.’ She loves it, enjoys it, and we do it together. We have a lot of fun doing it – Mommy and daughter time. We go and we travel, and have little weekends together. We love it, but it’s not for everybody.”

For Shanna, child beauty pageants provide a way for parents to bond with their children.

“I enjoy doing the hobby with my kids,” she explains. “I love the time that I get to spend with my children. I’ve also been the mom in the audience. Being a state director – I have California, New York and New Hampshire – I feel like these girls are like my kids. I’m in the audience and I’m nervous, and I wish them the best. You get all that excitement that any parent would get.”

Still, it isn’t for everyone.

“Alabama is very girly and she loves performing, she likes being onstage, she likes dancing in front of people, and makeup and big dresses and big hair and eyelashes, and all of that fun, girly stuff. And my oldest doesn’t. She likes to paint and do arts and crafts. She’s not really into it.”

Beyond beauty and poise, there’s a formula to becoming a titleholder.

“Beauty’s confidence, and I think the girl that goes out there, who is confident and comfortable in her skin, and has a lot of fun – that’s the girl that’s going to win.”

What misconceptions could she clear up about Miss USA and the pageant lifestyle in general?

“I think a lot of people, when they hear the word ‘pageant,’ it’s a dirty word. All of a sudden, Toddlers and Tiaras starts going off in their head. I love me some glitz, but Miss USA’s a fabulous program. It gets the girls in every single state, in different towns, out into their communities. They work with different organizations, they become goodwill ambassadors, and we need that. We need them in the parades; we need them out in the communities; we need them working with different charities and political officials. All the pageant girls are driven, ambitious and poised. Pageantry helps the girls learn interviewing skills, and it teaches them to talk in front of people. There are so many positives about it. I’d say don’t knock it until you try it – truly.”

Certainly, being chosen as Miss USA opened many doors for Shanna.

“Well, when I won, I was 19 years old and I was a model in NYC, and back then, once you were crowned, you moved to Los Angeles, and I’ve been in Los Angeles ever since, so I found my home. I wanted to be in the entertainment industry, so shortly after, I signed with William Morris, and I’ve been on Pacific Blue. That’s my whole life!”

Pick up the OK! on newsstands now for more about Miss USA. The cover line is “Kim’s $10 Million Wedding.” And check out Shanna’s guilty pleasure, Toddlers and Tiaras, which airs on TLC tonight at 10/9c. Psst: Shanna and I have something in common: We were both involved with Miss USA! Of course, she’s Miss USA 1995 and the state director of newly crowned Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, and I was a preliminary judge. ;) Fun times.

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