Answering reporters’ questions is an integral part of competing in pageants. Like any entertainer, politician, or pro athlete, a pageant titleholder has to be able to handle the press effectively. At the bottom of this page, we have provided some excellent pageant answers to help you deal with controversial questions asked by reporters or emcees.
Whether it is during talk shows, press conferences, or media interviews, an ability to control the message a pageant titleholders communicates to reporters is critical. “I respected the press,” says Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, “because they were my best means of communication with the public, with America. I respected them, and in exchange, I think they were able to respect me. Overall, the press was wonderful to me.”
Fortunately, most reporters are professional, ethical, and fair. However, other reporters approach pageants with negative preconceptions, hopes for a hot story, and no compunction about lifting remarks out of context to fit the slant of their story. A young woman who carelessly offers reporters colorful opinions can quickly find herself embroiled in controversy. In fact, several national contestants who innocently shared controversial views about premarital cohabitation and intimacy, and abortion during Pageant Week found themselves the focus of a media feeding frenzy that turned their experience into a nightmare.
Handling Reporters’ Questions About Controversial Topics
Controversial topics that require careful handling include:
- your virginity or sexual experiences
- birth control
- living together prior to marriage, premarital sex
- homosexuality and gay marriage
- past use of drugs or alcohol
- whether you have had cosmetic surgery
“Avoid controversial subjects as much as possible,” advises Roger Knight, a judge, business executive, and retired Miss Florida officer. “You don’t need to be totally paranoid, but you’ve got to exercise discretion. If they ask you something you don’t want to answer-don’t answer it. Don’t have an opinion.” Some titleholders use an automatic “no opinion” strategy to avoid controversy. Dorothy Benham, one of the most successful titleholders of all, was a master of the technique. When reporters goaded her, “Don’t you have an opinion on anything?” she’d reply, “I’ve learned that the best thing is to keep them to myself.”
Even Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, who reporters labeled “refreshingly outspoken,” politely sidestepped issues she didn’t wish to address.
“Just because I have the Miss America crown on my head doesn’t mean I have all the right answers,” she’d say. “Even the president of the United States doesn’t have all the right answers. I’m human. I don’t have all the answers to every world situation or crisis.” Her philosophy was simple: Be able to live with every word that leaves your mouth. “I answered what I wanted to,” she admits. “I knew that everything I said to them could follow me – not only for the year, but for the rest of my life.”
Don’t Speak “Off the Record” to Reporters
Be especially careful about answering reporters questions “off the record.” Several years ago, a Miss Florida shared insiders’ gossip about the national winner, assuming that her remarks were off the record. Instead, she was quoted in papers from coast to coast with a predictable “sour grapes” slant. She eventually apologized on Larry King Live. Anything that you say within earshot of a reporter is considered fair game for publication. If you wouldn’t want to see it in headlines, don’t say it.
That’s not to say that today’s contestants should not hold opinions about the issues of the day. Any young woman who aspires to represent her community, state, or country should have a broad knowledge of social issues, politics, and current events to be able to express her views capably on those subjects in public. But phrase remarks made to reporters thoughtfully, intelligently, and diplomatically to avoid controversy that might cause judges to think twice about awarding you an important title.
If you are selected as the winner, your year in the spotlight will require unfailing self-confidence, stamina, and verbal poise. Always handle reporters questions with wisdom, caution and clarity.
Pageant Winners’ Answers to Reporters Questions and Emcee Questions
On what she thought about girls who think they’ll have a better chance of winning if they copy previous winners:
“I found that just being yourself works the best.” – Michelle Royer, Miss USA 1987
Reply to a question for which she did not know the answer or have an opinion:
“I am not an expert on that subject. I form my decisions based upon what I have read in the newspapers and editorials and I have not read enough about that subject right now to feel that I have a well-rounded comment to make.” – Susan Powell, Miss America 1981
On what she thought about all “tricks” contestants use, what some of the common tricks are, and is she used any:
“You bet. One of the tricks is to put Vaseline on your teeth. I’ve never tried it because I don’t have the old problem of dry-mouth. But a lot of girls do put Vaseline on their teeth. It keeps your mouth kind of moist.” – Michelle Royer, Miss USA 1987
On how she felt about so-called “pageant-hopping”:
“The point is not being in a pageant. The point is allowing these young ladies to grow as a person and get scholarship money. As set in the guidelines and rules of the pageant, you are eligible to compete in a state in you are living there, working there, or going to school there. So a young lady is not excluded because she lived in a different state than she went to school in – Because this is a scholarship program, geared toward college-bound or college students. Since most people travel outside their states to go to college, it would be counter-productive to exclude people who do from being able to participate in the system.” – Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990
On whether she had any “skeletons” in her closet (Reference to Penthouse photos scandal involving Vanessa Williams):
“Everybody has skeletons in their closet. I don’t feel that any of mine would be anything that I would be embarrassed about.” – Susan Akin, Miss America 1986
On whether she as been pleased with the President’s performance:
“That’s something so broad that I hate to even touch on it. But I will say that he’s done some good things. Yes, he’s done some good things.” — Susan Powell, Miss America 1981
On whether she would change her mind about voting for a political candidate because of his or her infidelity:
“I think it is important that the elected officials that I vote for have private standards as exemplary as their public standards are. I feel that it is important so I do feel that it is my right and privilege to know that and I would change my mind if he was practicing infidelity.” –Miss USA, Shannon Marketic
On whether she spent a lot of money on your pageant wardrobe:
“Once I won the state title, the Miss Missouri state board helped me get ready for everything, down to the pantyhose. So basically, all I had to buy was lotion and shampoo. The cost for me was minimal. The point is to make money. My advice to any young lady is to go about it in a way to make money. The maximum that I spent of my own money was $1,500-$2,000 over seven-and-half-years.” — Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990
On if she felt it would be fair that a transgender woman won the Miss USA title over a natural-born woman:
“I do think that that would be fair, but I can understand that people would be a little apprehensive to take that road because there is a tradition of natural-born women,” Culpo said. “But today where there are so many surgeries and so many people out there who have a need to change for a happier life, I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.” — Olivia Culpo, Miss USA 2012