MCINTYRE, Ga. — Hello from Honey Boo Boo Country.
With a global audience embracing the small-town, belly-baring, pig-chasing, GoGo Juice-chugging 6-year-old whose antics on "Toddlers and Tiaras" spawned her own show, we decided to red-neckonize and headed south this week to meet Alana Thompson and her family.
"It's been a blast," her dad, Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson, said of the TLC show airing at 8 p.m. MDT Wednesdays. The premiere episode attracted 2.2 million viewers, and its fan base is international.
"Honestly, it's still surreal," said Alana's mom, June Shannon, recalling a fan letter from Italy. Her youngest daughter "will stop in the middle of anything she is doing and watch the commercial," she said of the "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" promo. ("I will not!" Alana protested.) The second-grader, who invented her catchy nickname, bounced around like a pingpong ball while we visited on the porch.
"Can I have a Pop-Tart?" she asked, having determined there were no Oreos in the house. "I have three boyfriends," she confided a few minutes later. "I love them all equally." Well, maybe love is too strong a word. "You think I love taking pictures with boys? I don't!" Then she displayed some sparkly pageant shoes and noted, "I don't wear them to school. You know why? They start hurting." One of the show's story lines concerns the quest for more prominent pageant wins.
Lauretta Hannon of Powder Springs, Ga., author of "The Cracker Queen," joined in this little adventure. There is no quick route to McIntyre, so riding with someone makes the trip more fun. We also figured Hannon would bring a certain je ne sais cracker to the endeavor.
Sure enough, when family friend Tony Lindsey arrived (he's the one toppling over on a four-wheeler during the "Honey Boo Boo" credits), Hannon immediately started figuring out mutual friends. Plus her mama 'nem live in Dublin, near the site of the annual "Redneck Games" featured on one episode.
"They personify some of the key points of my book, one of which is the resilience, beauty, love, bad choices and good humor of people who don't look so promising if you take them at face value and interpret them through your own biases," Hannon said.
Her memoir includes anecdotes such as roaring around in the butter-colored Cadillac her father won in a poker game with her mother, tossing cartons of cigarettes to inmates working on road gangs.
The show also has prompted criticism from pundits commenting on everything from the family's diet to Alana's pregnant 17-year-old sister. Baby Kaitlyn arrived a month ago with two right thumbs but otherwise healthy, Shannon said. She was candid when discussing the attention her family has attracted.
"Yes, I got locked up," she said, referring to a contempt-of-court charge four years ago. "It was the worst four days of my life. Yes, we really do have our Christmas lights up. The GoGo Juice was a one-time thing." "Toddlers and Tiaras" captured Alana knocking back the Mountain Dew-energy drink concoction meant to give her a boost during long pageant days.
"TLC has been great," Shannon said, adding that there is talk of a second season. "They like that we're not scripted."
Driving around McIntyre, which might take two minutes if you get stopped by the train, we found locals who love their notable neighbors and some who think their show does no favors for the town of less than 1,000 people about 30 miles east of Macon.
"The show should be filmed somewhere else," said Terri Jackson, who works at a convenience store around the corner from the "Honey Boo Boo" clan. "I was born here and I want to be buried here, but I don't want 'hillbilly' written on my grave." Florist Anita McGahee finds "Honey Boo Boo" amusing even if it does make her cringe. The show has featured members of the family belly-flopping into mud pits, engaging in malodorous bodily functions and playing with Glitzy the pig, who slept indoors during his tenure as the family's pet.
"We don't act like that," McGahee said. "We do have manners."
Phyllis Davis, another area resident, can't get enough. "They're doing their thing," she said. "Next time y'all need a reality show, come up to my house!"
During our visit, a Fed Ex guy showed up and asked for a photo, leaving behind a package containing an umbrella hat and letter from Australian fans Michelle Mohr and Paul Moran. Alana clamped the hat onto her head and read the letter aloud. The second-grader is an excellent reader, tackling the word "Australian" with ease.
In a subsequent email, Mohr explained the appeal.
"I suppose it's something that few Americans and most Australians understand," she said. "Life is to be enjoyed and not taken so seriously and this family gets it."
Other visitors included a truck driver who stopped by to say he and his wife are fans and a car full of people who slowed down and shouted, "We love you, Honey Boo Boo!"
"It does get crazy at times," said Shannon, who shoos away fans after Alana has had enough. "I am a parent, first and foremost. We're down-to-earth, everyday people. If you actually sit down and talk to me, you realize we're not crazy."