How to Handle Mistakes During Pageant Questions On-Stage
The stress during top final pageant questions can be so intense that mistakes can easily occur. In several major pageants, when contestants were asked questions that unsettled them, several finalists simply gave up halfway through their answer or responded weakly (“Heaven only knows…”)… immediately removing themselves from consideration for the crown.
One of the saddest examples of a botched pageant question on-stage is the now infamous answer given by Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007, Lauren Caitlin Upton, when asked why she thought that a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the United States on a world map:
“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because… uh… some, uh…people out there in our nation don’t have maps…and I believe that our, uh, education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as… and, I believe they should…our education over here in the U.S., should help the U.S. or , uh, should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us.”
When your answer is going in the wrong direction, you’ve lost your train of thought, or you’re “freezing” … don’t give up. Just stop before it gets to the point of no return.
Instead, try these tactics to salvage and close your answer:
- Pause and take a deep breath to compose yourself.
- Keep things simple … focus on one train of thought: What did the emcee ask?
- Smile gracefully as if nothing has happened.
- Judges read facial expressions, so try to keep your expression calm.
- State a simple one or two sentence statement that refers only to the exact point the emcee asked about.
- Smile calmly at the judges.
- Don’t quit in mid-sentence and give up. Don’t keep rambling. Just close the thought as calmly as possible.
- Don’t quit. Close.
Learn How to Recover from Mistakes in your Answer
Learn how to recover. For example, during the 1981 Miss Universe Pageant Bob Barker asked the five finalists, “If the Miss Universe Pageant could offer you the right to have one wish come true—not for the world—but for you personally, what would it be?” Four of the five finalists blundered their answers, including the eventual winner, Miss Venezuela, Irene Saez.
Despite the interpreter translating Bob’s instructions, Saez replied, “To achieve peace in the world.” Startled, Barker repeated that it not be for the world. Despite the rocky beginning, Irene maintained her composure, calmly nodded her understanding of the host’s correction, and recovered with a diplomatic answer that outclassed the other finalists.
Remaining regal in the heat of the spotlight clinched the Miss Universe crown for her. Learn how to recover.
Real Life Case: How Gretchen Carlson Recovered From a Bumbled Top 5 Question
Responding to a tough question with millions of people watching is a challenge that many eventual winners struggled with.
On her way to the 1989 Miss America title, Gretchen Carlson, Miss Minnesota, was asked what she thought about the media in the political process. With her background as a Stanford University and Oxford University honors student who hoped to attend Harvard Law School, the question was a giveaway. Unfortunately, she became fixated on emcee Gary Collin’s teeth, lost her concentration, heard only part of the question, and gave a mish-mash of Norman Rockwell-ism and legal-speak.
“I blew it,” she told reporters after her coronation. “I had enough confidence in my intelligence that I thought I could answer the evening gown question to a ‘T,’ but to be quite frank, when I got offstage, I thought that I had blown it.”
Luckily for Gretchen, the judges saw past the glitch to her bright mind and awarded her the national title. As Carlson’s experience demonstrates, you may think your gaffe has cost you the crown, but, in reality, the judges may overlook a mistake and score you highly for other interview qualities such as personality and poise. It ain’t over until that crown’s on somebody’s head, so don’t let a mistake undermine your confidence and composure.
There is always the chance for a mistake when you compete in pageants. It can happen to the most prepared contestant. It can happen to the eventual winner. The bottom line when you’ve goofed during an onstage interview is: Don’t panic! The way that a young woman handles an onstage flub determines how judges react. If she becomes unsettled by her mistake and loses her composure, the judges will see that she lacks the ability to remain confident and composed under pressure an absolute requirement for a titleholder.
Lose your cool and you lose the crown.
Another Type of Pageant Question Mistake
ABC News commented on another type of mistake during pageant questions that can cost a promising contestant the crown… “Miss Universe contestant Maria Venus Raj said Monday night that she’s never made a major mistake. That may have been the biggest mistake of her life.” (ABC, Miss Philippines makes mistake in pageant question).
ABC pointed out that during the top five question, judge Billy Baldwin asked Raj, “What is one big mistake that you’ve made in your life, and what did you do to make it right?”
“You know what, sir? In my 22 years of existence, I can say there is nothing major, major, I mean, problem that I have done in my life,” said Raj with a wide smile on her face, adding that she thought it was a “great question.”
ABC then concluded: “Miss Philippines had been favored to win the whole contest. But with that answer? Raj took fourth, and Miss Mexico Jimena Navarrete took the title. No answer, no crown, it seems.”
Questions that call for a contestant to share personal information such as her worst flaw, worst mistake, most frustrating habit, etc., are risky because a contestant can easily come across as arrogant or over-confident if she claims not to have made a major mistake, not to have any frustrating habits, not to have any worst flaw, etc. The difficulty with this type of question is that the contestant can reply in an extremely articulate, confident winning style – and still lose!
The key to surviving such final questions in pageants is to remember the importance of humility. For example, had Miss Philippines realized that she could be perceived as overly-confident, she might have opted to deliberately show that she is “human”.
However, in Raj’s defense, we would like to observe that major titleholders are, in our opinion, role-models, and we appreciate the fact that this accomplished young woman had not made serious mistakes in her life, and therefore, could have served as a positive role-model for the millions of young women who look up to Miss Universe. Which only goes to confirm that people react very differently to the same answer – which is a reflection of real life pageant judging. We mention this particular incident only to warn future contestants that an overly confident answer can be perceived as arrogant, and thus be considered a mistake.
The bottom line in avoiding pageant question mistakes is to always remain calm during on-stage interviews, think clearly before answering, and always strive to come across as a responsible, humble, articulate lady.