On the surface, one could easily peg Karen Vesprini as a overbearing pageant mom straight out of “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
What else would account for not one, but two daughters — the first sisters to do so in Michigan —.winning pageant crowns?
Last month Isabella Vesprini, 9, was crowned the the 2015-16 National American Miss Michigan Junior Pre-teen Queen and Eva Sarai, 6, won the title of 2015-16 National American Miss Michigan Princess Queen. The event was held at the Royal Park Hotel in Dearborn. In November, the sisters will go on to compete for the national titles in Anaheim, California.
And yet the 44-year-old St. Clair Shores mother of four and wife of Detroit chiropractor Dr. Frank Vesprini is the antithesis of the stereotypical exploitative stage mother. “I’m definitely not trying to live my life through them,” she says.
Parenting is more of “a go with the flow approach,” Vesprini says. “I think it’s important to be fluid. Even with the auditioning and pageants — which by the way are not focused on beauty and don’t allow make up — there is no sense of urgency. We are really just having fun with it.”
Far from the nightmarish moms who coerce their unsuspecting little girls into cut-throat competitive beauty pageants, Vesprini is a Panama-born, laid-back singer/songwriter formerly of the group Black Bottom Collective, an alternative hip-hop soul band out of Detroit in the 90s.
Before her husband, Frank, went to medical school, he played bass and guitar, which is how the two met. “The ongoing joke between me and my husband is that he wanted children,” Vesprini says laughing. “And I wanted a Grammy.”
The Vesprinis first entered the pageant world in 2011 when Isabella was 5. “She was painfully shy back then and I was looking for something that would encourage her to talk and have confidence in herself, bring her out of her shell.”
Vesprini home-schools their four children: Isabella, 9, Bennett, 8, Eva Sarai , 6, and Rocco, 4. It was a decision that evolved, in part, because Vesprini was 35 when she had her first child and found she loved being home with her children. “We looked at schools, but then we just thought she can just stay home and learn about the world from me,” she says. “You can educate yourself and expand your mind every day without having to go to school.”
So far, whatever she’s doing is working: Isabella was recently accepted into the Michigan Opera Theater’s Children’s Choir. She is also a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Youth Ensemble. In Girl Scouts, Isabella just received the Bronze Award — the highest award that Junior Scouts can win. To earn the award, she helped raised money to purchase 1,000 collars and leashes to be donated to the All About Animals Rescue. (The troop fell only 22 short of their goal; Isabella was responsible for more than 500 of the collars and leashes.) She also won the Summit award.
In the “I’m not making this up category,” Eva Sarai recently earned a pin as a Daisy Girl Scout by performing the Heimlich maneuver on her brother, Bennett, who was choking on a piece of cheese. “It was just a week after her Daisy troop learned how to do it,” Vesprini says. “I get chills every time I think of it.”
While the kids attend Kumon math training and study language arts at the Education Enrichment Center in Troy, the musical genes inherited from their parents is fully evident.
All four of the kids are skilled musicians; Rocco plays cello. Bennett plays the piano and guitar, and both girls play the violin. Two years ago, Eva Sarai won a national talent competition in Florida singing “Tomorrow” from the play “Annie.”
Vesprini says the kids that are driving the show. “It’s truly incredible and I’m loving every minute of it,” she says. “They need some coaxing as far as practice goes but because of home schooling, I can say to them, ‘Well, OK, you tell me when you’d like to do it.’ We don’t necessarily have the same schedule every day, but we are able to get things done.”
For now, she will let the girls do the pageants as long as it’s fun and provides a healthy dose of self-esteem. “What great about these pageants is that they teach young girls how to speak in public, how to be a positive person and be confident. That’s really important for girls.
“The minute it’s not bringing them joy, we will try something different.”