As regular readers know, I used to compete in beauty pageants.  For seven years, from May to September my sole focus was pageants.  Shopping, working out, dieting, meeting with interview coaches, modeling coaches, photographers, stylists…it was, in a word, my obsession.  And as someone who knows exactly how it feels to expend the money, time and emotion it takes to prepare for a pageant only to come in first runner-up; I felt I should say something about last night’s incident at Miss USA.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Miss California had the crown pretty much locked up until the final question when Perez Hilton, gossip blogger and judge, asked the following:

Perez Hilton: “Vermont recently became the 4th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit. Why or why not?”

Prejean: “Well,  I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you very much.”

Prejean’s answer angered Hilton, leading him to call her a nasty name.  Apparently, it also upset the other judges and in Prejean’s mind, may have cost her the crown.

Today, the media coverage has been filled with grousing from both sides.  Some believe this was unfair, others think it was just.  But this post isn’t about whether Miss California’s views on gay marriage are right or wrong, this post is about Miss California’s subsequent behavior after her loss.

When you enter a pageant you agree to be judged.  Your looks.  Your body.  Your sense of style.  Your intellect.  Your life.  Your resume.  Your opinions and belief system. This type of judgment comes in second only to what we will receive at the pearly gates in terms of scrutiny.

This is why competitors spend hours poring over every question on the entry form, making sure that every interview answer is prepared and prepped.  No possible question is ignored.  We run through everything from “What kind of tree would you be and why?” to “What are your thoughts on abortion?”  because no question is off limits.  And you tailor your answers depending on a judge’s gender, age and whether they are from a rural, urban, conservative or liberal place.  Wordsmithing is the name of the game.

In fact, the whole process bares a striking resemblance to how politicians prep for speeches and debates.

Thus, I believe that the answer Miss California gave last night is the answer that she prepped with trained professionals based on her own opinion and what she thought would be acceptable to the largest number of judges.  But she probably didn’t expect to get the question from a gay man on national television.

Pageant competitors enter the competition knowing that one answer can cost them the crown.  It happened to Miss Missouri USA in 2002, it happened to Miss South Carolina Teen USA in 2007 and to countless ladies before and after them.  It hurts when it happens to you, but for Miss California to publicly claim that she feels like she won and hint that she was cheated by the liberal elites is immature and selfish.

I understand what it’s like to lose a pageant.  I even understand what it’s like to lose a pageant because one judge on a panel may have treated you unfairly.  But that is the nature of the game, and someone who won her local, regional, and statewide pageant, beating out hundreds of girls in the process, to grace the final stage at Miss USA should understand that too.

Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton, won her crown fair and square.  Miss California, Carrie Prejean, should handle this situation with a little more respect for that.

After my devastating loss at the age of 17, I didn’t shed a tear in public.  In fact, I stood on the stage of the ballroom and secured the tiara on the head of the girl who had beaten me with bobby pins that I removed from my own hair.  I was dying inside, but it was her moment.

When it was over, I went upstairs and bawled my eyes out for twenty minutes before devouring two appetizers, four entrees and three desserts at the Applebee’s next door.

And to Kristen Dalton the new Miss USA, I say: Eventually the press coverage will fade, Miss California’s fifteen minutes will end, and you will be the one holding the crown.  You just ignore all the hoopla and focus on enjoying your year and being the best Miss USA you can be.  Good Luck, girl.