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Originally published Saturday, May 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Kalama calls itself home to two queens of white trash

Local reality-TV fans who tuned in recently to watch a Kalama hairdresser switch places with a Philadelphia stylist may have been surprised...

The (Longview) Daily News

KALAMA, Cowlitz County — Local reality-TV fans who tuned in recently to watch a Kalama hairdresser switch places with a Philadelphia stylist may have been surprised to learn of two cult celebrities in their midst.

On a Style Network "Split Ends" episode that aired last month, it was revealed that the town of 1,700 is home to not one, but two Miss White Trash USA winners — Dawn Hindman, the reigning queen, and 2005 titleholder Amberleigh (no last name, "like Madonna," she explained).

Amberleigh, who appears in the "Split Ends" episode working at the Stage West barbershop/antique store in downtown Kalama, proudly spilled the beans about her title to horrified Philadelphia stylist Mary Lamb. Then Amberleigh introduced Lamb to Hindman, who stopped by the one-chair shop for a haircut.

According to the Web site www.misswhitetrash.com, the annual Miss White Trash Pageant was founded in 1999 in Portland by the Rev. Tony Hughes to celebrate "women who proudly represent the large and looming underbelly of middle Americana." Contestants are judged in categories including makeup, hair, outfit, talent and overall trashiness.

Hindman, who has lived in Kalama most of her life, took the 2008 title in September's beer-fueled pageant at a Portland bar. Amberleigh had encouraged her to enter after seeing Hindman join the "redneck rodeo" at last summer's Kalama fair, telling her, "I know white trash, and you're gonna win."

"I said I'll try anything once," said Hindman, who recently got divorced and wanted some fun. "I've always been a goofball, always joke around and stuff, but nothing like this."

For her pageant outfit, Hindman wore a glittery bikini top borrowed from Amberleigh with a pair of ripped-up construction shorts. She beat out dozens of other scantily clad contestants, winning a 1973 GMC pickup truck with "Miss White Trash 2008" painted on its camper shell, meat products, a tattoo and a check for $29.99.

Sadly, she has since sold the truck to a Longview man for $100 after her landlord told her she couldn't park it at her apartment.

"It's just a joke, really. I'm just your basic country girl, is all I am," said 42-year-old Hindman, a mother of two who works for Cleaning With TLC. "It was the best time I ever had in my life, and I didn't have to be trashy to do it. I was just myself."

Amberleigh, however, says she takes her title seriously and strives to live up to her responsibilities.

"It's a great honor. I feel that I'm representing a good portion of our population. ... I come from a long line of rednecks," Amberleigh said, rocking her newborn baby, Jameson, while 17-month-old Tennessee played on the floor of the family's new modular home in Kalama's rural hills. Yes, both sons' names are references to whiskey, she grins.

With Amberleigh, 29, it's hard to tell whether her embrace of white-trash ideals is an authentic lifestyle or a smart young woman being campy and ironic. Her dad's family is from the Kentucky/southern Ohio region. She keeps it on the down-low that her mom's from San Diego, where Amberleigh grew up before moving to Portland. She's lived in Kalama, between Vancouver, Wash., and Longview, for a year.

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Adding to the mystique is the bullet tattooed inside her right bicep.

"My gun is always loaded," she said, flexing her muscle, causing much of her ample bosom to spill out the top of the cutout neck of her Motley Crue T-shirt. Her left tricep is tattooed with "Honky," which goes with a friend's tattoo that says "Tonk."

When her Portland co-workers at Big Daddy's barbecue pit suggested Amberleigh was perfect for the Miss White Trash 2005 contest, naturally, she was all over it.

"I said I'll win it for sure. ... I wanted to win that truck," said Amberleigh, a former honky-tonk music roadie. She put on a fake pregnant belly, battered high heels, opened a beer, lit a cigarette and took home the crown.

In addition to the truck, she won a recording contract with Jesus Presley records, a lifetime supply of Spam and a year's supply of Camel cigarettes. Radio shock jock Howard Stern called. She appeared in a Camel ad.

While driving the eye-catching truck, she learned how large a fan base Miss White Trash has. Gas-station employees filled her tank for free. Men wanted to pose for pictures with her. People waved at her at stoplights.

"Every time I started that truck, I'd peel out," she said. The tires were bald when she sold it after a year for $1,000 to federal drug-enforcement agents looking for a truck for undercover meth work, she said.

The tacky allure of the "Miss White Trash Pageant" is catching on. The Style Network is looking at filming a "Miss White Trash" reality show, pitting pageant winners from different states against each other.

But some locals don't get it.

"A lot of people are mad at me in town," Amberleigh said. However, she added, "It's not degrading by any means. It's fun. There's no harm."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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