15 Jun Interview with Ashley Eicher
What do you envision when you hear “beauty pageant?” Does the type of objectification and overindulgence portrayed in reality TV come to mind? After a career in pageantry and hosting, Ashley Eicher talks boundaries and the goal of empowering young women in the pageant industry. #BodyImage
Ashley is a television personality and host who has booked, produced and covered a wide range of artist interviews, music segments and festivals for AXS TV, ABC.com, WhatsTrending.com, Radio Disney, CMA Awards, American Country Countdown Awards, Warner Music Nashville, GAC and NASH Country Weekly magazine. She began her career as a Music Agent Trainee at Creative Artists Agency and in artist management for Wynonna Judd.
Click to read Transcript
EASLEY: Welcome to the broadcast. We have Ashley Eicher in the studio. Thanks for coming by!
EICHER: Of course. Thanks for having me.
E: You know reading over your resume takes a long time. My word! Are you from Louisville, Kentucky?
EICHER: Louisville, (She pronounced it differently)
E: Louisville. See I’m from different places.
EICHER: That’s ok. I had somebody argue with me one time if it was Louisville,(is pronounced like an e) or Louisville. I was thinking, “Maybe you shouldn’t argue with the person that grew up there.” It’s all dialect.
E: Miss Tennessee 2004?
EICHER: That is true.
E: We’re going to talk a lot about that.
E: In 2006, you won a Gracie Award for Individual Achievement as an Outstanding Program Host. Congratulations!
EICHER: I Did. Thank you.
E: Fun for you.
EICHER: It was a lot of fun.
E: As far as your on air career, you have been a co-host of ABC.com on Inaugural Coverage of the CMA Awards 2006, Red Carpet Live Specials. That’s got to be kind of phronetic crazy.
EICHER: It’s so fun.
E: Is it fun?
EICHER: I love the insanity of live television and it being red carpeted, especially for that. That was the first year that ABC had done the deal with the CMA so we were sort of the tester to see if anybody would watch any content online. So we now know that everybody does but at that time they didn’t so it was crazy.Three hours of a live Red Carpet! You never know what can happen.
E: That’s right. That’s the word “live” right? That’s why I like recorded radio. Ashley is currently featured as the host and producer of television, AXS TV, a premier destination of live events. So you guys go to the live event with the crew and that’s the signature of AXS?
EICHER: It is. It’s a lot of live concerts and live programming. Now it’s turning into more just entertainment based, but also comedy. We cover a lot of comedy and actually AMA Fighting which is thoroughly entertaining.
E: So Season 2 you were on the Nashville. Was that a fun set?
EICHER: It was so fun. You know it’s funny. I was in one episode for about five to ten seconds.
E: Hey! It’s on your resume.
EICHER: Hey, I’ll take it, but you know it’s a fine oiled machine over there. They’ve got it down pat. It’s great fun though.
E: Where I want to start out is as the father of three daughters and one son. When did you want to get into the beauty pageant thing? How did that start?
EICHER: It’s so funny because I did not grow up doing pageants. When I was in college, I actually was very much a tomboy. I loved wearing sweatpants to class, which is not stereotypical of a beauty queen, I guess, or a pageant girl. So when I was in college a couple sorority sisters of mine said, “You can sing, you can speak, so we’re going to put you up to represent us at Miss TNSU,” because I went to TNSU. I looked at them like they were crazy because I’d never done a pageant, so anyway I did. It was quite the entertaining experience, one that I’m so thankful now that I did, but I remember after the first pageant saying, “I don’t think I could ever do this again,” feeling like this is not my world. Then about a year later I met a guy that said, “Why don’t you just let me work with you?” And he did. We started doing more pageants, and then a couple more and did well, and then went on to Miss Tennessee and did well there.
E: What did your Dad think of this?
EICHER: (Laughter) My Dad is a pageant Dad.
E: Really? Really? Interesting.
EICHER: It’s hilarious. He’s the sweetest man, but he literally thinks he could judge any pageant, which he could. I mean, I said to my Dad, “Dad, you don’t need to judge a pageant.” He’s very funny about it. He loves them.
E: That is interesting.
EICHER: So it was a wild little journey. Again, not growing up doing those, I really felt like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality at times. You sort of figure it out and I think after I went to Miss Tennessee, I went to the top 10 and I looked around and went, “Ok, maybe I could do this again.”
E: Ok Ashley, what goes on in your head and heart to say, “Why would I do this again?”
EICHER: So for me it was the job of Miss Tennessee. The deal was that for a year I would be a spokesperson for the governor in the Department of Education. For me, it was the fact that I was going to be traveling..(did not complete sentence.)
E: This isn’t world peace? Now come on.
EICHER: This isn’t world peace. I mean..it could be, but no it wasn’t.
E: I’m sorry. (laughing)
EICHER: It’s fine. I’ve heard everything.
E: I’m sure.
EICHER: For me it was more the fact that I was going to be traveling and speaking in schools and speaking on character education and at that point in my life I had just started my career in the music business when I won Miss Tennessee and I loved what I was doing, but I wanted to be doing more. So this was an opportunity for me to travel and speak in schools and work with students and so I saw an opportunity for my life to have a bigger impact beyond just wearing a crown on my head. That definitely provided an opportunity as a platform to be able to go out and share my heart and the things that I learned over time, and the things I learned growing up and to also be able to help other people. That was the cool part about it for me.
E: A friend of mine that was in congress for many years made the comment to me after a long career, he said, “You know, if I’d known it earlier in life, I would have gone to being a congressman ( He was a congressman) for one term and then exploited that the rest of my life,” because once he was in political life, and we can vilify reasons for why people do such things, whether it’s pageants or politics or whatever, but the platform it gave him the rest of his life.
EICHER: That’s exactly what it is.
E: Alright. Ok. Some parents would overindulge a child with this whole pageantry thing, do you think about that?
EICHER: No,I mean that’s one of those things that always sort of concerns me. I get asked to judge a lot of times some of these pageants for younger girls. I think it’s really, what is your heart behind it? Pageants can be used in a very beautiful way to help empower young women, and help you to learn public speaking skills. I think for me that’s where I really honed my abilities in public speaking and then being able to communicate and then going on and getting into Television from there. But at the same time there was a flip side where it’s your heart behind it and why are you doing that? You know for me again, it was the opportunity to travel and also I got a lot of scholarship money. It paid for my masters so for that I will always be thankful.
E: Let’s talk about your spiritual journey.
E: Obviously, this pageantry thing gives you a platform, but where’s your spiritual journey in this process?
EICHER: I grew up in church. We were there every time the doors were open. My parents were really active, my grandparents were really active and so that’s just how we were raised and I grew up singing in church, which is where those skills were developed. I mean the first time I ever sang in front of an audience was in church.
E: How old were you?
EICHER: I think six or seven.
EICHER: (Continued thought) As far as a solos concerned. But you know going through high school I always wanted to be the perfect “Christian girl” and I put quotes around that because I always wanted to do “everything right” quote, unquote. I very much had this mentality as much as I loved God and I loved the Lord as a kid, I mean I became a Christian when I was nine in terms of actually accepting Christ, but it really wasn’t until I was in college that I understood what it meant to have a relationship.
E: What was it in college that sort of made it your own?
EICHER: When I was growing up there never really was talk about relationships. I don’t want to say there was a lot of legalism, but there was the mentality that you should follow these rules, and this is exactly what you should do. I very much had this mentality if I do all these things right then, my relationship with God will be stronger. I think for me again, it goes back to what is your heart behind it. So when I was in college I got involved with Campus Crusade and did some mission work with them living in Russia and also in Clearwater, Florida. So I think it was being with people who had grown up differently learning from them, and then being in this environment where it really was about a relationship you have with another person; it’s building that relationship with God, spending time with Him. I can’t pinpoint a specific day, or specific time.
EICHER: It was in college where that process really started to change and my eyes started to be open so by the time I had started competing in Miss Tennessee that was already something that was in my life and a very important part of my life. Actually, I won talent with a gospel song.
E: Obviously, you’ve been asked this a thousand times, how do you keep your faith, your modesty, your orientation with Christ in a world that is very visual, that’s very measured by, as your pageant Dad would say?
EICHER: He’s going to kill me if he hears this and say I called him a pageant Dad. (Laughter)
E: I like it. I’ll have to be sure and send him a copy of it. But seriously, how do you navigate this? You’ve heard this question.
EICHER: Yes, it’s very much for me, I think it’s a balance. It’s a struggle. If I’m just being really honest, it’s hard because I see the magazine covers everyday and I see (unfinished thought)
E: Which by the way, overly photoshopped, overly edited? No one looks that way.Would you please say that for the record?
EICHER: No one looks that way.
E: One more time please.
EICHER: Nobody looks that way!
E: My daughters, when they were young, believed they could look that way.
EICHER: I’ll be honest, it’s something I struggle with because I’m on television and then I go and get new headshots done, and you’re seeing the things you don’t necessarily want to see, or realize are there, but we’re all getting older so lets just be honest.
E: I wouldn’t know a thing about that. (Teasing)
EICHER: I know I can tell. So you want to photoshop those things, but at the same time you’re like, “Where’s’ the authenticity in that?” So there’s a balance.
E: Years ago I came across an article and Cindy and I, my wife, used to speak in marriage conferences for fifteen some years and I’d read this article about perceptions and reality and it was the models of the day, the supermodels of the day, and they all listed the things they would change about themselves. These are the top paid models in the US, lips, feet, hands, chew their cuticles, and it was astonishing and they had all this photo spread. It was a USA Today article. I thought what a crime that this is what the girls in America hear.
EICHER: Everybody’s scared to say that. Nobody wants to say that. There’s a video that Colbie Caillat did which was beautifully done.
EICHER: The reason it has connected so much isn’t necessarily about how much makeup we put on or we don’t put on, it’s more about the fact as women, that we want to be loved, adored and accepted for who we naturally are, not for who we project ourselves to be.
E: But are you willing to go out and look the way she did without makeup?
EICHER: Funny you say that because I just wrote a blog post about this that I’m about to post where it was hard to take a photo with no makeup on and be ok with it. If I’m being really honest, I don’t remember the last time I walked out of the house except to go to Barry’s Bootcamp or Yoga without some form of makeup on. It’s really one of those things where we really do live in a world where it’s a struggle, and it shouldn’t be so crazy that a woman is barefaced in a music video is just this outlandish thing, but it is because we’ve lived in this world of thinking that everybody is so perfectly photoshopped all the time.
E: Alright, so bring it down to reality. Young girls reading these magazines, not even magazines, they’re online now. Their whole world is on their phone and their ipad so how do you as a woman who “succeeded” in that world, how do you keep that in perspective with Christ who sees you not in the same way as the world does? You’re a representative of Christ in those environments?
EICHER: Honestly, for me, number one starts with my relationship because I have to keep going back to what is true. But regarding the media, the images that come out, it’s almost like we’re pushed to do that in some perspective. I always have to keep going back to whenever I start to really struggle, about the way I look at myself, because we all have these insecurities to some degree. I mean I struggle with it all the time.
E: Do you really? Do you hate watching yourself on youtube?
EICHER: Drives me crazy. I watch it because I need to learn and you grow from each experience, but it took me a long time to be able to do that because I’m very admittedly, (not my greatest trait) very self critical. I want to nit pick everything. It’s really been a lesson in the last couple of years for me to say (actually my best friend said this to me the other day) “Stop all the negative self talk.” She said, “Why are you talking about my friend that way?” As women we apologize for things we don’t need to apologize for.
E: I wouldn’t say it’s just women in the preaching pastoral communication world. I don’t know a pastor that likes to listen to himself, and if he does he’s probably a narcissistic sicko.
EICHER: Right! And you realize that there’s a lot of pride there and a lot of ego and so I think that for me it’s having people around me that are grounded.
E: So we’re moving to accountability. You’ve got a tribe of folks around you that tell you the truth.
EICHER: Yes. Some of it’s painful, actually. If you had my best friend on the phone right now she could tell you all kinds of things. (Laughter)
E: Maybe we should pull her in. Can we grab her and pull her in? (Joking)
EICHER: I think for me it’s having that accountability and I’ve got really strong women around me that I’ve been friends with, several of them for eight, ten years. So we’ve all walked through some life together and all are just strong Godly women, but are very humble at the same time. It’s having that accountability and to be able to look at you and say, “You know what I love you, but this is something you are doing that is not the best for you. This is not true of you,” or If I say something like, “Oh I look fat today,” or whatever.
E: One day maybe you’re going to have little girls and they’re going to want to wear bikinis, so as a parent it changes your perspective a bit because we have objectified women. Obviously, we are in an overly sexualized culture. No question about it! But in a way when you put yourself out there on television; when you put yourself out there in a contest; think forward a little bit. How do you teach them to differentiate with the way we look and our walk with Christ and the culture and the tension there?
EICHER: That is a great question. I don’t know. Without having kids, I don’t know that I could answer that. I mean I think I look at my nieces and there are values that I want to instill in them. I know they look to me saying, “You did these things,” which were incredible experiences. There’s some balance and I don’t have the perfect answer for what that is, not having children and being able to (didn’t end thought).
E: Sure, sure it’s a bit of a theoretical question, but again as a Dad of three girls, I used to take my girls shopping because they would wear things I would consider as a Dad inappropriate in their early teen years. I would tell them, “You don’t need to dress this way.” My solution was, “I will pay for things. I will take you shopping. I will buy you lots of clothes but I get to approve.” My one daughter and I had so much fun because I would always bring the long sleeve turtleneck thing over to her.
EICHER: Of course you would! “Which Dad, is not always realistic.” (Laughter)
E: What’s wrong with a long sleeve turtleneck to prom? Come on. You could be a trendsetter. I lost those arguments.
EICHER: I bet you did. I bet you did. (Laughter)
E: You know at some level there’s your faith in Christ and to whom you’re accountable to, and I would say more importantly, the people that are in that culture that aren’t on the same page that we’re talking about; it’s going to be the greater challenge.
EICHER: You know it’s funny because it’s only been recently that I’ve at least allowed things to be on Facebook, or I’d lead worship at church in town, and there’s a photo that was posted and it was clear that I was leading worship. I work in a very mainstream world in television and so with a lot of different cross sections of people, with a lot of different backgrounds of life, and so for me it’s about loving people and they know I’m a Christian, but it’s not like throwing a Bible in their face. That’s just not me. It’s one of those things recently where one of the guys that I work with called me and said, “Are you a Bible thumper or something, because I’ve gotten a couple of texts about it? ” I said, “Well what are you talking about?” I knew immediately he had seen this picture, but the reality is, it shouldn’t matter because that’s a part of who I am and a part of my faith.
E: Do you ever see that as an opportunity for you to move into those people’s lives?
EICHER: Oh definitely, and even in this conversation, it was a definite opportunity to just talk about it in a very nonthreatening way. It just sort of opened that door to say, “Yes, this is a part of my life and this is what I believe.” I actually said to him, “This is not about being a Bible thumper.” I think sometimes negative connotations are given to Christians, but this is about having a relationship with God and fostering that relationship.
E: How do you feel, prevent, respond, when men objectify you?
EICHER: What’s sad is I’ve been known to give a really dirty look or just say, “I don’t appreciate that.”
E: Where is it the man’s responsibility, and where is it the women’s responsibility from your perspective?
EICHER: It’s such a fine line. It really is. I think as women you need to be aware of what you’re wearing. I look in the mirror and say, “Ok, is that a little ridiculous?” Because we all want to look pretty and be attractive to the opposite sex, if we’re just being real honest about it. Again, it’s what is your motivation behind and what is your heart behind it. Even being in downtown Nashville, I will see girls and want to say, “I wish you would put a little more clothes on.” I also think for men there’s a balance. Guys are accountable as well. I know guys that are trying to be really strong and that will literally turn away and I have a great respect for that. I mean I have other guys that I know that are trying to be strong Christian men, and then they’ll just stare and make a comment and that’s disheartening. There’s a balance that we are all responsible for our own action.
E: So imagine you’re now on a Red Carpet somewhere and it’s not the church; it’s not Christian men.
EICHER: Honestly, I don’t know which is worse to be honest with you.
EICHER: I have gotten the same from some Christian men as I have from those that aren’t and that’s a whole different conversation.
E: What’s Christ teaching Ashley right now?
EICHER: To love and accept myself for who I am. And forgiveness. Forgiveness has been a big theme in my life lately. I think we’ve all made mistakes in our past. I was in a relationship for a long time that was very destructive and I think I’m finally coming to a place that while I may have forgiven that person at that time, I believed a lot of lies for a long time. These lies they told about me, but also that I started to believe about myself. So I think for me finally being able and allowing God to heal a lot of that and forgiving them, but also forgiving myself. I think as a strong woman, becoming a part of the world as I did with Miss Tennessee and going into television, people think you have it all perfectly together and the reality is none of us do. If we’re being really honest about it and so we are all struggling with something. I think that’s been the theme is believing what the Lord says is true of me, not what this person has said to me for a long period of time, but then also forgiving myself for believing it for as long as I did.
E: Can I pastor you a little bit?
E: Only one person can forgive us. It’s a common thought though, and I think I hear (Michael not finishing thought)
EICHER: Maybe it’s the extension of grace.
E: I hear what you’re saying and I think I know what you mean, but I can’t forgive Michael Easley for my sins.
EICHER: Great point! Yes! True!
E: Some of the world teaches theology because we hear a lot of Christians say, “You’ve got to figure it out yourself.” Well, no, I’ve got to as you said, “I’ve got to embrace that Christ forgives me.”
EICHER: RIght. I should have said embracing the grace.
E: It’s almost like a white marker board. I tell people, “Ok, let’s put all of our sins up there and transgressions or shameful things,” and say, “How does God see me?” He sees me through His Son who accepted, died for, took on, in my place, on my behalf. Instead of me, He took all my sin and so when God looks down at His daughter Ashley, His Son Michael, He doesn’t see all that sin and guilt and He’s forgiven us and embracing that. Am I being too picky?
EICHER: No, I mean I see exactly what you’re saying. It’s all about embracing the grace. I think so often we beat ourselves up. We beat ourselves up about why did I believe this?
E: Negative talk?
EICHER: A lot of times it can look really pretty and be tied up with a perfect bow or it doesn’t look like what it is.
E: How do you see Christ using you in the future? Granted you can’t project your career, but when you say these are my gifts, talents, abilities, strengths, this is the platform He’s given me, for education, whatever your heart may be?
EICHER: Music. Everything I do on television now is mainly behind the scenes with artists, and is music based, and tours, and this is so much of my career. Before Miss Tennessee, my degrees were all in music business. My world has been the music industry for a very long time, so in terms of your question that’s definitely my platform in my world. I think in the last several years, in talking about forgiveness, and allowing myself to accept grace, I’ve been coming to a place where I could not have had the same conversations with women or girls about whether it be dating, or pageants, or television, or media, or whatever, had I not gone through the last couple of years in my life. Things that were broken in me, God healed, and I’ve just being able to be authentic and real about that. For example, I was talking about earlier, people pleasing, wanting to be the perfect girl, there’s still those tendencies in me, but I’m realizing it’s the authentic and real, and us sharing our stories, and what has been redeemed, is what is really beautiful about this path of life.
E: There’s a little girl out there. She’s maybe fifteen, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, and she’s hearing you talk right now and if you could put your hands on her face and maybe she thinks she’s fat, or she’s ugly, or she’s short, she’s too skinny, or whatever, what would you tell her?
EICHER: You are beautiful! You are beautiful because that is what the Lord says is true about you and that you are worthy because you were created. I think that so often what we struggle with we look at our insecurities and we think we’re the only ones. The reality is you have been given gifts and talents that are unique to only you, so use those. Don’t listen to the negative voices and the things you hear people say and the things that are not true of you. That to me is a lie because you are meant for a greater purpose.
E: How can we find out more about Ashley?
EICRE: AshleyEicre.com or Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
E: AshleyEicher.com. Ashley, thank you for coming into the studio today.
EICHER: Thank you. Thanks for having me. This is so nerve wracking. (Laughter: I think Ashley was a little nervous.) 🙂
E: Oh come on. This is Michael Easley inContext. Don’t let the world teach you theology.