The Miss USA 2016 pageant begins to resemble a political debate with its onstage questions


Ilena Peng

“Would you vote Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President?”

That’s a question you’d never expect someone to ask in public, let alone on a nationally televised pageant. Yet that was one of the questions that Miss Hawaii USA was asked onstage during the Miss USA 2016 pageant.

As the presidential election grows nearer, the discussion over our country’s issues is at a peak. But what’s more unexpected is that politics have crossed over into our entertainment in places like Beyoncé’s latest album and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton,’ which both tactfully bring to light themes of discrimination, racism and more. But where Beyoncé and Lin-Manuel Miranda incorporated the themes of discrimination, racism and politics subtly while keeping the spotlight on the music, the Miss USA pageant Q&A portion threw subtlety away.

And on June 5, the Miss USA 2016 pageant joined the growing list of politicized entertainment events in a slightly distasteful manner. Questions that ask about issues that can’t be solved or ones that ask for someone’s extremely personal opinions, like the one given to Miss Hawaii USA about whether she’d vote for Clinton or Trump, goes to an uncomfortable extreme. And that question was one that stuck with and bothered me, as it did with many of my fellow pageant girls.


Politics are fueled by controversy and the more controversial the answer, the more media attention a candidate gets, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly proved. But pageantry isn’t fueled by controversy; it revolves around confidence and beauty. The Miss Universe organization’s motto is, after all, “confidently beautiful.” And even though Donald Trump may have previously owned the Miss Universe and Miss USA organizations, I’m sure the point of Miss USA isn’t to become a female version of Trump by pissing off the general population with controversial statements.

And the questions they asked Miss California USA and Miss Hawaii USA certainly pressured them to give a controversial answer. Miss California USA Nadia Mejia was rendered speechless when she was asked a question about the wage gap.

One of the biggest challenges facing the United States is social and economic inequality. How do we narrow the gap between the rich and the poor?”

After thinking for several seconds, she stumbled over her words before saying how the rich should be more giving, the poor more hardworking and how the middle class should work together to bring them together.

Although I know that on-stage question is nerve-wracking, I do think that she could have maintained her composure a little better. Regardless of the hesitation, her answer was still a well-crafted one and I think the question is largely at fault. There isn’t any uncontroversial way to answer the question. And in a pageant, she’s expected to stay kind and gracious. Is there really any kind or gracious way to directly answer the question? The few direct answers include : “tax the rich like crazy” or “kill the rich” or “kill the poor.” Of course, Miss California could have offered a better answer relating to unemployment rates or similar, but either way, it was a bad question.

Even if I don’t want to conform to the stereotypical “world peace” answer for every on-stage question, it’s still pageantry. Offstage, pageant girls are educated individuals who all have some very strong thoughts about politics, but at that very moment, they’re still pageant queens on a pageant stage, not politicians engaging in a political debate. I’m all about defying stereotypes — just look at our new Miss USA Deshauna Barber, an African-American commander in the U.S. army. So although I love the idea of defying stereotypes, one pageant stereotype that I think shouldn’t be messed with is that onstage, pageant queens remain politically neutral.

There are a number of things pageants are judged off of, mostly confidence, along with eloquence and all of that. Offstage, every single pageant girl I know has their own strong political views — and I should know because many of those views pop up backstage during every pageant rehearsal. Not to say that politics don’t have a place in pageants; politics play an enormous role in our society, so naturally, political questions tend to come up in the private interview portion of pageants where girls have more time to explain their thoughts.

Questions that can’t be answered in a politically correct way basically sets up the unlucky contestant for two equally unfortunate outcomes. They would either a) struggle to try to give a politically correct answer and then dodge the question completely or b) give a direct answer and get hate on Twitter, both of which would lead to losing the crown they’d dreamed of. And that brings us to the worst on-stage question I have ever heard.

With Hillary Clinton expected to surpass the delegate count needed to win the Democratic Party nomination, my question to you is: if the election were held tomorrow, would you vote Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President, and why would you choose one over the other?”

This is a question I wouldn’t even answer in a school classroom surrounded by people I saw everyday, a question I’d hesitate to answer among even my closest friends, and definitely something I would never answer — ever — on national television. And that’s because no matter what I answered, someone would disagree. Then to tone down their anger, I would end up spending an hour explaining why I’d vote for that person. Even after all that, someone would still be mad. Now imagine trying to answer that in 30 seconds. Honestly, there’s only one way this could’ve been more controversial and that is if Trump still owned the pageant. Imagine this: “Hi I’m competing in Trump’s pageant but I wouldn’t vote for Trump and here’s why.”

This is an exemplary example of a question that is technically a valid question with a valid answer — “I would vote for Trump” or “I would vote for Hillary.” But either answer would result in hate. Miss Hawaii, whom the judge asked the question, answered it in the best way possible: by completely avoiding a direct answer. All she said was that regardless of what gender a candidate is, “what we need in the United States is someone who represents those of us who feel like we don’t have a voice, those of us who want our voices heard. We need a president to push for what is right and what America really needs.”

Miss USA 2016

Asking about current events and world issues is one thing. But asking a question about an issue that can’t really be solved or asking for someone’s personal and political views takes it too far.

Where the Miss USA pageant crossed the line is the fact that subtlety was slaughtered and personal barriers crossed when they asked “Trump or Clinton?”. Politics weren’t a “subtle underlying theme,” they became an explicit component. They flat out asked someone whether they’d vote for Trump or Clinton. Miss Hawaii made the right choice in dodging a direct answer; neither of those answers is a good one. Judges shouldn’t be able to ask questions where the only valid answers are those that can’t be said due to political correctness. Even if the most well-spoken pageant girl has extremely strong opinions, some of those are best kept to themselves — not broadcast to the world. That sort of public controversy is best left to politicians and Nicki Minaj’s music videos, not ladies on a pageant stage.