“Make sure you smash it, ok?” mum Becky tells her six-year-old daughter Lacey as they head to a casting for a short film. But a couple of hours in, Lacey has other ideas, sulking in the corner of the audition because she’s bored and tired.
There’s something quite unsettling about the idea of a six-year-old being told to jump around and smile when she clearly doesn’t want to. Shouldn’t she be up a tree or watching Frozen instead?
That feeling of slight horror mixed with total fascination stayed with me through two episodes of The Tiny Tots Talent Agency, a fly-on-the-wall look at child model agency Bizzykidz.
“It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you but you might not get the job. That’s life…” agency owner Debi tells a crying boy. Well yes, that is life, but kids already have plenty of rejection in the playground, in the lunch hall, in the classroom and everywhere else. And lord knows, there’s plenty of rejection in adult life too. Do they need more woe at the age of six?
Channel 4’s documentary series doesn’t do much to dispel concerns about child stardom, especially for the babies who certainly haven’t asked to be in fashion campaigns or become Instagram stars. Parents and children are clearly ravenous for fame, and Bizzykidz gives them the chance to go after it. But the show also reveals a surprising and heart-warming aspect of the industry too.
Ornella – who may be the most adorable child to have ever existed – is only ten months old but is already an in-demand model. Her mum is thrilled when her baby gets cast in a luxury shoe advert, because she’s trying to save enough money to send her to a private school. Her pride in her child is clear, and it’s hard not to be happy for the baby as she gurgles her way to a more financially secure future.
And to Lacey’s mum’s credit, she does end up taking the restless six-year-old out of the industry for a while. “I’m not going to push her to do anything she doesn’t want to,” she says.
But while the kids are hugely entertaining, it’s the psychology of the parents which is most fascinating. For them, pursuing their children’s stardom is a full-time job – and some are clearly living through their offspring. 10-year-old Cenk’s mum, an ex-managing director at Goldman Sachs, is bankrolling her model son’s solo single and clothing line because she wants him to pursue all his passions and never be bored.
And sisters Lydia, 7, and Aggie, 11 (below) are doing well in the industry thanks to their mum’s absolute dedication as she ferries them to castings and organises their auditions. When a very excited Lydia flies to Dublin after getting the part of Gretel in The Sound of Music, it’s a moving moment. Interestingly, mum Lisa tells the camera that if they ever want to stop, she will support their decision but secretly be disappointed. “Because if I’m honest, it’s my dream as well as theirs,” she admits with refreshing honesty.
Tiny Tots Talent Agency is a hugely watchable, slightly unnerving look at child modelling – a world which seems stratospheres apart from most of our childhoods. And it’s amazingly tricky work for everyone involved, not least the photographers trying to get the perfect shot of a baby who won’t stop crawling away.
For some of the kids, though, auditions are a breeze. As one young model says with a grin, “of course I can do it. I’m cute.” She’s got a point.