Look closely and, 30 seconds into the trailer above, you'll catch a glimpse of a familiar face—or, more likely, his unmistakably recognizable blonde mane. It's J.J. Smith, Houston's own star-making pageant coach, live and in the flesh, featured in the upcoming second season of Mama June: From Not to Hot.
The WE TV series–which returns tonight, June 15—turns the camera on June Shannon, mother to reality TV goldmine and former child beauty pageant star Alana, better known as Honey Boo Boo, made famous by TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras spin-off Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. In 2012, that series first introduced America to the loud-mouthed, unfiltered Georgia family; five years later, Mama June got her own spinoff.
Last February, Mama June: From Not to Hot began chronicling, among other things, Mama June's dramatic weight-loss transformation and the end of her marriage to Sugar Bear, Alana's dad. Speaking of Alana, at 12, she's decidedly all grown up now, the "cutie-pie, moon-faced" antics of toddler Honey Boo Boo a thing of the past.
In season two of Mama June, viewers learn that, though Mama June has gained some of the weight back—a fact she just yesterday attributed to impending blindness—she's back on the pageant circuit, this time preparing for a mother-daughter competition with Alana. Enter J.J. Smith.
The man is well-known around these parts, even considered the best in the business by some, thanks to his ability to turn Texas wannabe pageant queens into crown- and sash-wearing stars. Beyond the practiced poise and glittering gowns, Smith focuses heavily on the interview portion of the pageant with his clients, a slice of the market he's effectively cornered with his coaching business, WinnerViews.
Now, he's bringing that magic down to Georgia, where he's been tapped to whip Mama June and Alana into shape. That was a tall order, Smith tells Houstonia, but an incredibly fun one.
"It all just sort of rolled into my lap," he says, explaining Mama June's L.A.-based production company connected with the talent agency that represents him to offer a role in the reality show. And, he insists, it was actually real: "There were no memorized lines, there was no script ... they just let me go; they just let me do my thing," Smith says. "Every single thing that you see on screen in this season of Mama June that I'm a part of is completely impromptu, off-the-cuff, unscripted."
Smith, who debuts on the July 6 episode for a six-episode run, thinks that will be particularly clear to viewers when they see his reactions to the outlandish mother-daughter duo now added to his client roster.
"The thing I guess I had to get used to the most is that they are—and this is Mama June and 12-year-old Alana—they are completely, 100 percent unfiltered. So whatever pops into their mind is kind of what gets blurted out," Smith says. "Not that I'm any kind of prude or anything like that, because, you know, I was born and reared right here in Texas, and it takes a lot to make me blush. I enjoy a bawdy joke as much as anybody does. But when the F-bombs start and the spewing of the multiple descriptive expletives come just right out of either one of their mouths, it tended to sort of stop me in my tracks for a minute. I was like, okay, did I just hear her say that in front of her mother? Because if I had said that in front of my parents, I probably wouldn't have any teeth left."
His reactions, caught on camera, "add to the hilarity of the situation," he says."It was an eye-opening experience. It was a hoot and a holler, and they're unlike any people I've ever met."
That's not to say he felt out of place–on the contrary, "I felt very welcomed, very embraced," Smith says, despite being, well, out of his element. "In person, Mama June is an absolute delight. She is sincere, she is genuine, she's naturally funny, she's smart, she's intelligent, she's a wise woman, and she's very, very nice to be around. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment around her and with her."
"She was cute to work with, and she does have a funny personality. She comes out with things that are very unexpected that can sometimes leave you speechless," Smith says. The behavior that made Honey Boo Boo so entertaining, though, "doesn't really make the transition now that you're knocking on the door to your teenage years," Smith says. "I tried to basically impress upon her, convey to her, that no matter what age we are, all of us at some point have to gracefully surrender things of youth. Some of those things she didn't do so gracefully, but she was a trooper as far as getting ready for the pageant."
What's sure to be a major plot point of the show was a highlight for Smith, who assures us he really did coach the Shannons like he would any other clients, from stage presence to interviews. In the end, he says, he was pleased with their performance.
"I thought that they both tried really hard; they put effort into it," he says. "It was not without pratfalls, if you will, along the way, and gobs of mistakes. But hey, we all learn from our mistakes. Overall, I ended up really proud of their efforts."
Beyond his six-episode run, Smith isn't sure of what's in store for his reality TV future, though he hints that, if his character resonates, he'd relish his own spin-off opportunity. "It was challenging and yet it was exciting and exhilarating and really just overall a fun experience that I would do over again in a heartbeat," he says.
Until then, he's plenty busy—he plays the lead in a locally produced feature-length comedy, Krazy Meets Karma, that just wrapped and is set to premiere on August 15. That's a project with Smith's creative partner, Stacey Summers, who he's also recently worked with to pen a screenplay of a book called Cairo Unzipped and a separate script for a scripted TV comedy pilot. And, of course, he's still coaching.
"One of my philosophies is, you can if you believe you can, and that simple phrase has really been a catalyst for a lot of my success," Smith says. "The only thing that you can't make happen is you can't add so much as even another minute to the day—we all have the same 24 hours ... I try to fill up every bit of my day, as much as I possibly can, with something that's positive, that's moving forward, and most importantly something that I can be proud to put my name on."
Season two of Mama June: From Not to Hot premieres at 8 p.m. tonight, June 15, on WE TV.