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Q & A with Mrs. America and 'Game of Crowns' star Shelley Carbone

Corine Bogossian

Shelley Carbone, a mom of four, became a beauty queen by accident after her mother entered her in the Mrs. Connecticut America pageant behind her back. She ended up taking home the title and went on to win the Mrs. America 2011 crown. Now she's starring in Bravo's "Game of Crowns," which chronicles the lives of married beauty queens vying for the title of Mrs. America. The show airs on Sunday nights after "The Real Housewives of New Jersey."

How did you get your start in the pageant world?

I always joke and tease that my mother made me do it. It's funny, but it's true! I have a 65-year-old stage mom! I did a local pageant as a teen, which my mother pushed me into. I had no idea what to do, what to wear or how to present myself. I wore a borrowed dress and hated the thought of wearing lipstick. As an adult with four children, I thought my pageant days were behind me. However, after experiencing a personal loss and a change of address, my mother felt I needed a "boost." She mentioned that I should consider participating in a pageant. I said, "absolutely not!" and that was that—or so I thought. Long story short, my mother then contacted the director of the Mrs. Connecticut America pageant and registered me without my consent or knowledge! I was embarrassed and a little shocked but ultimately decided to compete to show my children that when I said you can do or be whatever you want in life, I meant it, that it's important to set goals and work towards obtaining them, and that I actually can do something other than cook and clean.

Why did you decide to break pageant tradition by wearing the same dress to multiple competitions?

When I chose to wear the same gown from my state pageant to nationals, I had no idea that it was not the norm! It was not until I arrived back home did I become aware that that was not traditionally what pageant contestants do. I loved that dress and felt beautiful in it. That is all that should matter.

Are you still competing in pageants or solely focusing on "Game of Crowns"?

It was a very difficult decision to compete again. After winning the prestigious title of Mrs. America, I felt fulfilled and didn't feel the need to have to prove myself to anyone. During filming "Game of Crowns," my previous director was holding a pageant that the other cast mates were competing in. I trust my past directors to put on a beautiful, well-done pageant and wanted to have a little fun with my cast mates. You will have to tune in to find out how it goes!

How did you get involved with "Game of Crowns"?

My friend Vannassa Sebastian reached out to me and informed me about this opportunity. I Skype interviewed with the casting director and ultimately was asked to join the cast. The rest is in the can. (That's TV talk...ha!)

How long have you been married, and how old are your children?

I have been married to my husband, John, for 16 years. Wow—some days it feels like it was just yesterday, and others...well, let's just say we packed a lot of living into those years! We have four healthy, beautiful children. Two boys and two girls: Clayton, 14; Mia, 12; Madilyn, 10; and Trey, 7. They are my proudest achievement!

Can you describe your parenting style in one word?

It's difficult to sum up a parenting style in one word! I would have to say "multidimensional." There are many aspects to my parenting. I am nurturing as well as a disciplinarian. I encourage social responsibility and have high expectations that differ from child to child, as they are individually so different. As long as my children know that I love them and am always here for them, in the good times and the not so good, I will figure out the rest as I go. There's a huge learning curve. Every age and stage you face has its unique challenges.

What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?

Jeez, the amount of advice you receive regarding parenting is astonishing! I would have to say my mother telling me: "When they are hungry, they'll eat" helped squelch the nervousness I felt when my kids just would not eat. It is so simple, yet so true! I really just went with my intuition. I have a pretty clear vision of what I want for my children. I try to raise them with those goals in mind.

How are you balancing your time between "Game of Crowns" duties and home? Do you have any tips for working mothers?

We finished filming "Game of Crowns" quite a while ago. However, while we were filming, I did find it challenging to meet all the expectations I typically place on myself. We had a couple of family meetings to give everyone the opportunity to discuss what we were going through as a family and did our best to keep the kids' lives as "normal" and predictable as possible. I think if I had to give working mothers one piece of advice, it would be to manage your expectations of yourself and your family. You can't do it all!

What's your favorite thing to do with your kids?

My favorite thing to do with my children is anything that keeps them engaged. It usually involves us being active. We love to go to the beach, play a family game of kickball in the yard, or ice skating in Newport in the winter—anything where the kids and the grownups are having fun together and doing something healthy by being active!

What do you hope your children see and learn when they watch you on "Game of Crowns" and in pageants?

Whether the show is a success or not, I would like my children to see this as an adventure—another experience and opportunity to learn and grow. To maybe think outside the box and be creative. To not set limitations on themselves and to truly try to reach their goals regardless of how ambitious they may seem. To hold their heads up high and be proud of who they are. And, revisiting question No. 1, that I really did mean it when I said that they can do or be whatever they want. Wow. Maybe I should manage those expectations....Nah. :)