California Dreaming

Miss California

Two years ago, in the race to become Miss Teen USA, Miss Teen South Carolina answered a question about why one-fifth of Americans couldn't find the United States on a map. Her answer made her an instant (and notorious) celebrity. "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps," she began, and her ramblings only got worse from there. Ironically, with that unintelligible response, young Lauren Caitlin Upton had actually provided a roadmap for all future beauty pageant hopefuls on what not to do during a live, internationally televised Q&A. So when Miss California (née Miss Jolla) faced trash-talking blogger Perez Hilton and his inquiry about same-sex marriage at the Miss USA pageant on Sunday night, there's no doubt that Carrie Prejean knew she needed to choose her words carefully.

"Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage," Hilton began. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?"

It was a tough question, one that might send even the most seasoned politician scampering for the hills.

Nonetheless, Prejean handled the query confidently and gracefully. Though it must have been a sweaty-palm moment, Prejean simply smiled. (The same cannot be said of show co-host Billy Bush, who needed to adjust his collar after the California beauty left the stage, indicating his own relief that the awkward moment had passed without a Lauren Caitlin Upton moment.)

Regretfully, it didn't take long for Hilton to fire up his webcam and launch into a diatribe against Miss California, calling her "stupid" and worse. (Clearly, her answer—which has won her both critics and fans—was not to his liking.) Although he later apologized and offered to take her out for a cup of jo and a chat, the damage had been done. (P.S. In a not -so-shocking turn of events, Prejean has decline Hilton's invitation.)

In the final analysis, Hilton was fully within his rights to ask the question. He posed it politely and clearly. And his presence on the panel was obviously devised to give the show a greater edge than it's had in years past—not to have him inquiring innocuously about cookie recipes or some such. We'll even overlook the blogger's clear desire to make his target feel uncomfortable. (When Prejean selected Hilton's name from a bowl, co-host Nadine Velazquez asked her: "Are we worried?" Hilton jumped in with: "You should be.") Again, this is a competition and a judge is simply doing his or her duty by throwing out tough questions. But here's where he dropped the manners ball....when he didn't like the answer he got (an answer he must've expected she'd give), he went on the attack, even going so far as to say that she'd have won the contest had she not furnished such a lame answer.

If the rest of us lashed out each time we heard an answer that didn't match our own beliefs, we'd be living in a sorry world indeed. The lesson here is that if you're not ready to respect a person's opinion (yes, even the opinion of a beauty pageant contestant), then you shouldn't ask for it.

So what's the silver lining in all of this? Perhaps it's that the woman crowned at the end of the show was Kristen Dalton, formerly known as Miss North Carolina. After the embarrassment of two years ago, at long last, the Carolinas had something to crow about.

What do you think? Was Perez Hilton out of line?

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