Imagine a room with mirrors covering an entire wall. A bronzed young woman glides before the mirrors, her long, blond hair flowing as her sequined gown floats across the floorboards. Her white smile gleaming, she gazes into the mirror beneath doe-like eyelashes. At any beauty pageant she would hold her audience’s attention captive.
But this time in the mirrored practice room, all eyes focus, instead, on a man: a lawyer. He is tanned, himself, and his dark hair is gelled into place and peppered with gray on both temples. He has a hip-swinging, shoulders-back swagger and a smile like a strand of pearls. His electric green eyes beam back at the mirrors.
Bill Alverson, a family and criminal defense attorney from Andalusia, boasts the last four consecutive Miss America winners as his disciples. This Southern lawyer moonlights as the country’s most sought-after beauty pageant coach.
Famous, maybe infamous to some, for his unapologetic critiques and unmatched savvy about the pageant world, Alverson has accumulated worldwide attention and earned his own international television show, “Coach Charming,” which aired for its first season last fall.
He often compares his coaching strategy to surgery. His tool of the trade? A sharp, honest tongue.
Offering the level of brutally honest criticism that pageant contestants need in their training, Alverson is an expert about all facets of beauty pageant competitions: fashion, stage presence, interview skills and fitness.
“I’m the scalpel, and we’re gonna cut to the tumor,” Alverson often says during appointments.
Whether he’s recommending “little friends” (read: bra inserts) to his pageant clients or teaching them to articulate their interview answers, Alverson trains every one of them to come out on top.
“I remember on one night, I had five girls in the top 10 Miss Oklahoma, five in the top 10 at Miss Alabama,” he says matter-of-factly. “The next morning I woke up and a girl I had worked with won Miss Oklahoma and another won Miss Alabama, and then Miss Hawaii. Then two weeks later I had Miss Georgia.”
That’s just another typical day in the life of Bill Alverson, and I’m about to meet with him for my own session.
I’m sitting as straight as I can in the lobby of his small town law office, my ankles crossed, trying desperately to look graceful when I meet him for the fist time.
I’ve been researching this man for weeks, watching episodes of his show and reading every article written about him that I can find on Google. As a result, his celebrity status has reached monolithic proportions in my mind.
As if with a nervous tic, I glance at the door, anticipating his coiffed hair silhouetted against the limestone Covington County courthouse across the street. I force myself to try to act natural. The receptionist seems amused.
After what feels like an eternity he enters the room through the back door, the one I wasn’t watching obsessively. Even before he takes off his RayBan aviators, he greets me with an unimpressed, “You ready?”
He sits down in the navy blue high-backed leather swivel chair behind his desk and removes the sunglasses. His green eyes are even more electric in person than on screen.
Before I even have a chance to hit my opening question, he’s already talking. About his sexuality, his salvation, his success. Everything. He pours it all out in one long stream of consciousness. But just as quickly as he starts talking about his own life, he starts asking me about mine. He launches long, multi-part questions at me about my life, my education, my aspirations.
Before long, I felt like I was playing dodgeball.
And he was winning.
By a lot.
I muddled through vague answers about my aspirations, completely unprepared and caught off guard. He leans back in his chair, cocks his head to the side and furrows his brow. He grins in amusement as I stumble through his questions.
Pointing out every flaw and ambiguity in my answers, he blows holes in my argument until it looks like a single, flimsy slice of Swiss cheese.
This is what he does with each client. He drills her, tests her, prods her, frustrates her. Eventually, he knocks down her façades, her rehearsed answers, her preconceived notions, until the only thing still standing is the person she is inside.
To him, that’s what matters most.
Then he builds her back up, brick by brick, around her true identity and helps her organize her thoughts into a package that her interviewers will understand and admire.
As a young adult, he also discovered the importance of finding confidence in his own inner self.
He was born into a classic nuclear American family: a mother, a father and two children.
Because of his father’s job, Alverson went to five different elementary schools before his family settled in Dothan, Alabama, but it didn’t bother him much to move. He thinks his family’s many relocations still play to his advantage today.
“Different communities, from Mobile to Montgomery to Pensacola to Dothan, and while that’s all in the South, it’s still different types of communities and different exposures,” Alverson says. “I had the advantage of learning to adjust and relate to different people.”
Growing up in the volatile 1960s, Alverson remembers the South’s social tension at that time. He says it helped shape the progressive mindset he brings to his law practice and to his pageant coaching life.
“I was in elementary school when integration happened, and I can remember being in high school when some racial unrest happened,” he said. “It helped me form my awareness to look around.”
Alverson and his sister, Sally, who still lives in Dothan, never understood sibling rivalry. He laughs, noting that Sally, although technically the “big” sister, is more than a foot shorter than him at five-foot-two”.
“She was always my biggest cheerleader, and she still is to this day,” Alverson says.
Growing up, Alverson felt like he needed a cheerleader. He wasn’t as athletic as the other boys in his class. Instead of kicking a soccer ball, young Alverson practiced his kicks in dance routines and rehearsed monologues for his school’s theatre productions.
As is the case for other boys who enjoy the fine arts more than sports, Alverson found himself the target of school bullies.
At 6 feet tall and 120 pounds on his 16th birthday, self-conscious Alverson found solace in his schoolwork and learned to develop confidence because of the person he was inside, not his outward appearance.
“In the seventh grade I decided I wanted to be an attorney, and everything in my life was driven in that way,” Alverson says. “I wanted to be an attorney because I was skinny and bullied, and the best way to beat someone is with a brain. You can bring someone to justice a lot faster with your mouth.”
Alverson used those painful experiences to fuel his passion for the underdogs and the oppressed, working hard to make himself an irrefutable candidate for law school.
He channeled his pain into purpose: he would stand up for people when others wouldn’t.
He studied vigorously into his college years at Auburn and immersed himself into campus life, serving as an officer in Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and student government in the mid-1980s. He says he held the school’s largest fundraiser to date, even though he didn’t know he’d done it until it was over.
He completed his law degree at the University of Alabama in 1986 and worked in a variety of law positions before moving to Andalusia, where he started his own law practice. Alverson’s legal career reached its highest point to date when he successfully argued before the 11th Circuit Court, just one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that he started coaching pageant girls. A woman in his church choir, noting his obvious abilities with fashion (he dresses nearly all the women in his life) asked if he would be interested in helping a young member of the church practice for her first pageant. He said he’d try.
Just like he trains witnesses to testify strategically for trial, he trained her to present herself strategically to the judges both in her interviews and on stage.
First-timers don’t normally place at all in pageants, but she won the whole thing.
Word spread throughout Andalusia, a town of less than 10,000, and after coaching many other young ladies on their presentation skills and clothing choices, he thought he might have been onto something. So he turned it into a side business, now charging up to $125 for a one-hour session.
Although he doesn’t keep up with the exact numbers, he estimates he has worked with more than 500 girls since he started coaching nearly two decades ago. Of those, he says, at least 90 percent have won or placed in their competitions.
“Those that really work and are committed and stay true to the task—it may be a longer journey for some—are the ones do well,” Alverson says.
His No. 1 philosophy is honesty. If the young women are truly in the pageants to win the title, they know they need someone whose opinion they can trust. And it’s not just a title they’re competing for, either. In most cases, big scholarship
money is on the line. For Miss America, winners receive $50,000 in scholarship funds.
“When a girl goes into an interview and has five people looking at her, listening to her opinion, I’m telling you, at age 15, that’s empowering.”
And that’s Alverson’s purpose in this work: to empower young women.
Taking his oldest daughter, Blanche, to pageants when she was a child, he saw what it means for young girls to look up to confident, empowered women.
“I would go with him to Miss Alabama, and he saw what a big impact that the girls he was working with had on me when I was little,” she says. “He saw the role model that they can be, and the role models that women can be for other women.”
As a father, Alverson raised his children, especially his daughters, to love themselves and be proud of who they are. Blanche, who played basketball at Auburn, stands at six-foot-three and was unsure of herself growing up because of her height, but he always told her, “Keep your head up high, keep your shoulders back.”
His love for his daughters ignited his passion for women’s equality, which is the idea he promotes throughout his television show and with every young woman he coaches.
Blanche still carries that confidence in her own life. Years after bringing her to pageants to watch his trainees, in light of all of his professional and pageant accolades, Alverson’s proudest accomplishment was presenting Blanche in Jordan-Hare Stadium when she received her own crown as Auburn’s Miss Homecoming 2012.
Using his own experience overcoming life’s hurdles as a guide, he leads each of his girls to their own victory, instilling confidence in them that they can make their dreams happen, whether that is to earn $1,000 in scholarship money or to
represent the entire country.
“The difference between being in a pageant in real life is that the pageant is only the pageant,” Alverson says. “What’s more important is what happens after the pageant, and that’s life.”