Now she is following in the steps of Abby Lee Miller of "Dance Moms" fame and turning her work into a reality show, dubbed "Kim of Queens" on Lifetime. It debuts January 1 at 10 p.m. following (what else?) "Dance Moms."
The first episode features her taking in a country girl who likes to hunt and take care of cows. She tries to turn her into a pageant girl by honing her strong Southern accent and softening some of her rough edges. At the same time, Gravel is like Miller in that she doesn't sugarcoat. She provides "tough love," focused on transformation.
"I'ts not about training the girls for pageants," Gravel said at a Panera Bread last month in Johns Creek. "It's about training the girls for life. The fact is you won't always win. It's learning to cope with that. Losing isn't failure. It's an opportunity to grow. You also learn that life isn't fair."
The South Carolina native and Parkview High School graduate works with girls 12 and up.
(She isn't a fan of the pageants for little girls featured on TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras." "It's a little exploitative," she said. "It seems like it's more about the moms.")
Gravel is modest about her own pageant success. "I was borderline ugly," she said. "I wasn't a natural beauty." She said she made up for it with a spunky personality and great operatic singing. She credits very supportive parents who "told me I could do anything as a female." She therefore has a soft spot, she said, for underdogs.
And while pageants superficially focus on external aspects such as dress and hair and makeup, Gravel thinks "it's not as much about how much you weight or how perfect your hair is. It's who you are on the inside. Let people see that. You may not win the crown but you'll win authenticity." So she not only focuses on the exterior aspects but trains the girls on how to answer questions intelligently.
She said she will only take clients who want to do the work. "You can tell two days in," she said. She has one girl who is a little lazy and thinks she can get through pageants on her charm. "She keeps losing and she asks me why."
Gravel, who also runs a makeup company, isn't a stranger to TV, having hosted a talk show on a community station WATC-TV: "I love interviewing, mentoring and talking to people."
And she is hoping to stay grounded even if the show becomes a huge success. "It's easy in this business to get a big head,' she said," and forget about what's real."
"I don’t want to be the next anybody," she added. "I'm just a normal, raw, ready 35 pounds overweight mom of two who is exhausted. I can't have it all but I do it all. I don't care about being famous."
'Kim of Queens," 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Lifetime, debuting January 1