At the age of seven, Honey Boo Boo and her family became global stars thanks to reality TV. Less than a decade later, their lives are in tatters.
Sobbing on camera as she pleads with her mum to go to rehab, a distraught Alana Thompson — aka Honey Boo Boo — is unrecognisable from the flamboyant, precocious six-year-old the world fell in love with in 2012.
The season finale of Mama June: From Not To Hot, which airs locally on Foxtel, showed Alana’s mum June Shannon — aka Mama June — storm out of the family home during a drug intervention, her speech slurred and her teeth rotten, before collapsing in the street, reports The Sun.
The show set out to chart Mama June’s weight loss but descended into chaos after the 39-year-old was charged with possession of crack cocaine alongside her boyfriend Geno Doak in March.
During the episode Alana, now 13, can be heard crying hysterically as she is forced to leave home and move in with her sister Lauryn, 19.
“Mama, I would love to come home and stay with you,” Alana sobs. “But I can’t do that because I’m scared.”
It was a far cry from the mother/daughter duo that captured hearts across the world when they first burst on to screens in Toddlers & Tiaras — a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the world of children’s beauty pageants.
Dressed in a cowgirl outfit, spinning around after swigging her special Go Go Juice — a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew — Alana had more sass than a Beyoncé side-eye.
Before long the Shannon-Thompson family was held up as an endearing celebration of America’s hillbilly culture, counting Kim Kardashian-West and Miley Cyrus as fans.
But now it seems the family’s reality TV dream has turned into a nightmare.
“Seeing Alana so upset was devastating,” says her sister Anna Shannon, aka Chickadee, 24. “She’s just a teenager, and this is too much for her to deal with, especially as it’s being aired across the country.”
Psychologist Dr Ish Major, who helped stage June’s intervention, agrees.
“The entire family, especially Alana and Mama June, have been on a rollercoaster journey from being completely unknown, normal people to reality stars,” he explains.
“The fame has come at a huge cost to the family, and Mama June needs professional help to get off drugs and reassess her priorities. Alana has been in the spotlight for years and knows how to handle herself, but she’s terrified at this new turn of events.”
Following the explosive episode, fans of the show rushed to social media to vent their frustrations, accusing producers of exploiting Alana.
One begged them to “stop glorifying these hillbilly crackheads and get Alana out of there”, while others tweeted: “Mama June dump Geno now, your child deserves better” and “Honey Boo Boo needs support rn. I’m ready to call the cops.”
Talking about his famous clients, Dr Major explains: “Alana just wants her mum back, but she feels abandoned because Mama June has essentially chosen Geno over her. She was devastated, and it makes it harder that her personal issues are being aired on TV.”
But how has Alana’s life spiralled so rapidly out of control?
After the world fell in love with her on Toddlers & Tiaras, TLC snapped her up for her own series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
It introduced the rest of the clan: dad Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, 47, and Alana’s three half-sisters, Anna, Jessica “Chubbs” Shannon, 22, and Lauryn “Pumpkin” Shannon.
Airing in 2012, the show was a hit, pulling in 2.2 million viewers, with the family earning up to $5400 per episode.
Anna, a cashier who appeared on the show and gave birth in the series one finale, admits they loved the novelty of being filmed at first.
“It was something fun and different to our everyday lives,” she remembers. “The filming days were long and intense, but we were enjoying ourselves. Alana was the star of the show, so it was much more full-on for her.
“As time went on the cameras did get a little annoying, but unlike Alana, I was living with my grandma so when things became too much I could escape there for some space.”
As Honey Boo Boo’s fame grew, so did the family’s outrageous behaviour — in one episode they went “shopping” at the rubbish dump, while Mama June began serving increasingly unhealthy meals for her already overweight children, such as spaghetti with butter and ketchup.
The show was commissioned for a second series, which aired in 2013. However, Anna says the fame and constant filming started to put pressure on the family, especially Alana.
“It was like she felt she had to play up to being Honey Boo Boo all the time,” she explains.
“She became even more of a diva than before, very bratty and demanding. At nine or 10 a lot of children go through that phase, but because Alana was being filmed and knew it made good TV she’d go over the top.
“Thankfully, she eventually matured a little, but by the end of 2014 she was so famous it became hard for her to be a normal kid.
“Everywhere she went people would stop her and ask for photos or want to hear one of her catchphrases. She was still the larger-than-life, happy Alana we all knew and loved, but I could see being ‘on’ all the time stressed her out sometimes, especially at school or if she was having a bad day.”
However, in 2014 things came crashing down when TLC was forced to cancel the fifth series of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo during production.
After splitting from Alana’s dad Mike, it was reported Mama June had started dating Mark McDaniel, an ex-boyfriend who had served a 10-year sentence after being found guilty of molesting Anna when she was eight years old.
The public backlash was brutal, with fans labelling Mama June “despicable” and “the worst mum in the world”.
It was also reported that Child Protection Services (CPS) had formally opened a case to investigate whether any crimes had been committed by McDaniel against her other daughters.
“It was crushing for me,” Anna says. “Mama June and I had moved forwards with our relationship since everything happened when I was younger, but for her to go back to my abuser broke my heart. I felt so angry and betrayed.
“I didn’t want to stop any of my sisters seeing Mama June, but I cut all ties with her. We’ve barely spoken since.
“Alana seemed both relieved and upset that the show was cancelled, but by this point she was world-famous and still very young. There was an intense amount of attention and pressure on her.”
But instead of slinking away from the limelight, Mama June — who told Fabulous back in 2013 that if Alana didn’t want to do shows “I’d stop immediately … her needs come first” — did the opposite.
She signed her daughter up for even more TV appearances, including Good Morning America, Dancing With The Stars and US talk show The Doctors, during which Alana was diagnosed as obese, prompting the audience to boo Mama June for not taking her daughter’s health seriously.
On top of that, Alana also found time to release a single, Movin’ Up, in 2015, which failed to chart but led to a viral online craze called the Honey Boo Boo Bop.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Siobhan McCarthy, it can be a real challenge for parents who choose to put their child in the spotlight to step out of it again.
“Many have pride in their children’s talents and want the world to admire them,” she explains.
“But the darker side is that parents can have deep inadequacies and frustrated ambitions and wish to live out their own dreams of fame and fortune vicariously through their children.
“Sometimes this fame can lead to the needs of the child being overlooked, and once you’ve become a star it’s hard to step back into reality. At such a fragile age, this leaves the child open to future anxiety, addiction, depression, failed relationships and loneliness.”
However, it appeared the family’s luck had turned again when Mama June landed her own TV show in 2017 to chart her weight-loss journey. No longer with McDaniel, the mum of four finally had a shot at redemption.
In Mama June: From Not To Hot, which aired on American channel We TV, viewers saw her drop 133kg to weigh 76kg. As well as overhauling her diet and exercise regimen, she underwent a $23,000 gastric sleeve procedure to help keep the weight off.
Initially, June and her family seemed to be back to their larger-than-life selves with their public image rehabilitated, pulling in one million viewers per episode.
But as series three aired this year, the show began to spiral out of control when Mama June hit a new low and was arrested at a petrol station with new partner Geno.
It prompted rumours — which Mama June denies — that she had been harbouring a secret drug addiction for years.
With Mama June refusing to cut convicted felon Geno out of her life, the situation became so bleak that a heartbroken Alana was forced to move in with her sister Lauryn, who now reportedly plans to take Mama June to court for custody of her younger sibling.
And while the show hasn’t been officially cancelled following the furore, its future is in serious jeopardy.
Alana and June in 2017. Picture: Paras Griffin/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images