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Guest Column: The view of Miss USA from behind the makeup

May 21st, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

Did Arizona Immigration Question Cost Miss Oklahoma the Crown?

By Renae Cowley

Editor’s Note: USU JCOM senior Renae Cowley, former Utah Rodeo Queen, is VP/Business Development for a new Salt Lake City-based political consulting group, Humdinger. Cowley’s column is excerpted here with permission.

Imagine sitting courtside at an NBA game. The squeak of sneakers on the polished wooden floor, the smell of sweat, the cursing of coaches and players, and even being able to jeer and criticize the refs who are within earshot. My experience at the Miss USA pageant was  similar—aromas of hairspray, glittery nail polish and self-tanner filled the air.

Bikini-clad young women strutted their stuff on stage as well for national television. Just days prior they had participated in “Waking Up in Vegas,” a racy lingerie shoot with tousled hair, cat eyes, and wrinkled men’s dress shirts.

So who knew the real controversy this year would be in the final on-stage question . . . yet again?

Contestants were judged in categories including interview, swimsuit, and evening wear, along with the dreaded and now habitually controversial final question. Oddly reminiscent of last year’s pageant, this portion of the pageant has once again come under fire.

The eventual winner, Miss Michigan, Rima Fakih, wasn’t even on my radar as a potential crown-bearer. First runner-up Miss Oklahoma, Morgan Woolard, was clearly an early favorite (bias aside—my family is from the Sooner state) since she displayed that inescapable “it” factor, spoke eloquently and confidently, and had the most breathtaking gown in the competition.

(OK, so my experience in pageantry lies in the realm of rodeo queening, in itself a more difficult and competitive discipline.)

Typical of this type of pageant, the panel consisted of seemingly normal celebrity judges, such as Paula Dean, Carmelo Anthony, and Melina Trump (we will overlook the selection of flamboyant Olympic ice skater, Johnny Weir, as a “normal” judge). One would have confidence in their ability to select the best girl for the job. But this is Donald Trump’s pageant, and anything he says goes. I’m not accusing Trump of intervening, but expressing a potential, and highly likely, explanation for the outcome of this year’s pageant. It isn’t a stretch to say Trump, perhaps the most arrogant man in the Fortune 500, is prone to tweaking things to his benefit.

As Oscar Nunez began to ask his final question to Miss Oklahoma regarding Arizona’s recent immigration law, the Oklahoman became visibly worried (as observed from Section 206, Row J) before he could finish the question, as the audience began booing loudly. Whether this hostility was directed at the question or the law itself is open to interpretation. Nunez stopped mid-question and addressed the audience with, “Listen to the question before you boo.”

He finished by throwing her the biggest bone possible in this setting by asking if she thought this was a state’s right, or that of the federal government. Now in the real world, this issue is discussed in coffee shops all over the country. In fact, even rodeo queens competing at the high school level have been asked about this issue in their interviews. So you can bet the winner of Miss USA will be asked this and much more difficult questions and will need to be able to answer them all articulately and directly.

This was clearly the hot-button question of the night. Who drew it would attract both detractors and sympathizers.

Pageant diehards—like me—saw this coming as the question was being formed. It precisely echoed the upheaval of Carrie Prejean’s loaded question last year. You’ll recall she was asked about gay marriage by gay blogger Perez Hilton. One can only speculate how Miss Michigan, an immigrant herself, would have handled this same question. Regardless of her response, would she, too, have been clad in the protective drapery of political correctness?

Instead it was posed to a blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty from the breadbasket of our great nation who responded by saying she was a “huge believer in states’ rights,” and followed up with, “I believe this is one of the greatest things about our country.” A huge ovation followed that last statement.

Contrast that with the chosen winner.

Muslim-born, Catholic school-educated Fakih wears a bikini in public and advocates birth control (per her final question), neither of which aligns with either of those ideologies. She had two opportunities to impress me with her public speaking. She failed on both counts and additionally committed the unpardonable pageant sin of stumbling in her evening gown. All right, her comment about having to sell her car to cover pageant debt is endearing, especially since I am no stranger to the high costs associated with pageants, but her rambling about “buying American” and then sounding confused and lost for words when answering if she thought birth control should be covered by insurance, was irritating and spoke to her intellect.

The clincher is this: The public is not privy to the personal interviews conducted by the panel of judges behind closed doors. It is possible, though hard to swallow given the public display, that Oklahoma bombed her interview and Michigan hit it out of the park. It is a widely-held belief that crowns are won and lost within this portion of the pageant. If a competitor can endear herself to the judges here, they are more likely to overlook a stumble or flubbed answer down the road.

It comes down to this: Does the Miss USA pageant want a girl who will regurgitate what she thinks the judges, directors and organization owner want to hear, or do they want someone firmly set in her convictions and able to convey them in a non-offensive manner? I would like to believe it is the latter. Yet, the recent history of the competition may tell another story. Regardless, I would bet next year’s viewer ratings will continue to climb if only to see the final-five question, and if any new controversy will play out.

One final note: Rima, it is elbow-elbow, wrist-wrist. Hope you don’t hear uttered those now famous words—“You’re fired!”

Renae Cowley, a senior at Utah State University, was Miss Rodeo Utah 2008-09 and Fourth runner-up to Miss Rodeo America. She coaches aspiring rodeo queens, and has written the book, Compendium of Queen Knowledge. Aside from being a genuine cowgirl, she is politically active, and an Elvis Presley diehard. Originally posted here on onepointsix.org.


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