Skip to content

Pageat Interview Queen

How Should a Beauty Pageant Contestant Handle Conflict? In Regard to the ex-Miss Pennsylvania vs. Mr. Trump’s Miss USA

The 2012 Miss USA pageant was televised earlier this week. The lovely Miss Rhode Island, Olivia Culpo, won the crown. She was thoughtful in her on-stage answer, she was beautiful, and she had a spontaneous, sparkly quality way about her.

But the now ex-Miss Pennsylvania, Sheena Monnin, apparently couldn’t see that. (Click here for a news article on the matter.) Instead of crediting that Miss Rhode Island could have actually earned the crown, she complained the pageant was fixed. She’s under the impression that somehow the winner, or at least the finalists, were determined before the pageant.

If indeed she believes that then one must applaud her integrity for raising the question.

But, on the on the other hand, one must wonder if it is sour grapes—if after all her own efforts she just couldn’t cope well with the fact that she didn’t make it even as far as the semi-finals. Just making it to Miss USA is a huge accomplishment, but some folks can’t accept that as “enough.”

Or we could wonder if she saw this as an opportunity to get her own 15 minutes of fame.

Or, to be fair, maybe she just showed bad judgment in how she approached what she felt was a real problem.

We can learn from anything that happens. So here are some things to think about as we consider pageants, pageant criticisms, and ourselves.

  • Should we look for trouble?  Should we listen to gossip? 

Miss Florida allegedly saw a list. It could be anything. It makes one wonder, if the list seemed that “real”, why she isn’t the one bringing this to the attention of the pageant or to the press. And why would Miss Florida be nosing around in folders anyway? That doesn’t seem an appropriate practice. Not very queenly.

So Miss Florida, either accidentally or on purpose, snooped. Then, for whatever reason, she announced some of the results of her snooping out loud. Or, news reports says she made a “throwaway comment…never meant as fact.”

Whatever the case, Miss Pennsylvania ran with it. Is this the kind of behavior we want in titleholders? 

  • Can we handle confusion and conflict more productively?

If either Miss Florida or the ex-Miss Pennsylvania were truly concerned, is there a better way to handle it?

If you really love pageantry–which presumably you do to stick with that far, one might consider approaching her state pageant director, someone involved in the national pageant, or Mr. Trump himself directly with serious concerns.

Approach privately first. That’s the classier thing to do. If nothing precludes doing so, that would seem the course of graciousness and wisdom.

Put another way, seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Maybe this was a big misunderstanding, but Miss Pennsylvania did not, it seems, give the pageant any benefit of the doubt or approach it in a way that would allow the doubts to be addressed, if possible. Her way was blunt, asumptive and harmful to the pageant.

By starting off in a more neutral way, by inquiring first rather than accusing, she would not forfeit any of her options to go public with her concerns later.

Think about your own life and how you handle matters. What can we learn, pro or con, from her approach? On what foundation do we want to build our relationships? Our careers? 

  • Reality check about big televised pageants.

Every pageant is different, of course, and you should know the rules, expectations, and judging policies for any pageant in which you participate. That’s on you. Don’t assume anything.

But it doesn’t take mega-brains to figure out that, to some degree, aspects of the pageants are determined before the public competition night.  That’s what the preliminary competition days and nights are all about. 

By the final night the judges have already seen the pageant contestants in various ways.  By the televised night there is someone “in the know” about who the SEMI-finalists are for sure.  That’s how they can announce them so quickly after the show begins. We don’t accuse the pageant of being fixed because of that.

Remember, the preliminaries include the all-important personal interview (if the pageant has one). How a beauty queen handles the pageant interview questions can firmly situate a contestant in the judges minds and create a “halo effect” for how everything else is judged.

After all, it only makes sense that when all the women are beautiful it is what you say and how you say it that makes all the difference. A beautiful mind and spirit that shows in personal interview can outshine physical beauty.

So, yes, going into the final competition night of a multi-competition-day pageant, we should assume the semi-finalists are somehow known by someone.

Do they know the finalists?  Presumably they would not, if the parading in pageant evening gown or swimsuit on the final nights is judged fresh and carries enough scoring weight.  But, again, know your pageants judging policies. Some the slate is wiped clean at each stage, some carry some scoring over.

But once you get to FINALS, and answer that final on-stage interview question, that could make or break a contestant.  If she’d come in at the front of the pack and then offered a weak on-stage answer, it could lose her the crown. If she’d come in at the back or middle of the pack and shined brightly with her answer, it could seal the title for her.

  • Why are you a contestant in beauty pageants?

Whether or not you place in the semi-finals or finals, whether or not you take home the crown, why do you compete? What is your motivation? What life skills have you learned?

Is it all about the win? Are you building skills at learning how to win and lose with grace? Is what you want to be known for is disrespecting the contestant who won by claiming the pageant was fixed?

I’m all for the empowerment of women. Despite naysayers of beauty pageants, I believe they can be fabulous for personal and professional development. In my own experience and through studying about them, it is clear to me that they are, or at least CAN be depending on the contestant and pageant, an empowering experience in which to practice life skills and learn some more. 

So if the ex-Miss Pennsylvania must explore these allegations to feel in integrity with herself, then, as I said, on some level we must applaud that. To model the behavior we want to see in others, we must allow the space that her motivations may be pure and recognize that life isn’t always black-and-white; there are many gray areas.

I just wish she’d gone about it by starting in a different, less negative way.

Dr. Stephanie Raye writes on matters pertaining to pageantry and is the author of the definitive Pageant Interviewing Success: The Collected Series and the Pageant Interview Queen blog at



Leave a Reply