June 11, 2009 (San Diego’s East County) – Carrie Prejean, a senior at San Diego Christian College in El Cajon, has been dethroned as Miss California USA. Her turbulent reign, which weathered revelations of topless photos and a controversy over her statements opposing gay marriage, came to an end over the beauty queen’s alleged refusal to honor commitments for public appearances on behalf of the pageant. Her saga sparked controversy both locally and nationally. Here in East County and San Diego, community leaders say the Prejean controversy raises issues not only about her conduct, but about the conduct of pageant officials—and pressures imposed on teen beauty contestants.
“This was a decision based solely on contract violations, including Ms. Prejean’s unwillingness to make appearances on behalf of the Miss California USA organization,” said state pageant executive director Keith Lewis. Pageant owner Donald Trump was involved in the decision to fire Prejean, CNN News has reported. Runner-up Tami Farrell, Miss Malibu, will replace prejean as Miss California USA.
Mary England, who has organized pageants including the Miss La Mesa pageant, made these observations.. “The young girls of today and the pageant ladies of tomorrow need to read all the fine print of the pageant, understand what they are getting into and then make an informed decision before they run for Miss California. Being Miss California is not any different than being an employee of a company - you need to understand the rules and obligations of the job - then abide by them.”
She added, “ Whether you have a high profile job as Miss California or a "regular"job as the majority of the world - you need to fulfill all of the obligations that are expected of you. If Miss California did not fulfill all of the obligations - refusing to show up at public appearances, etc. then Miss California did not fulfill the obligations of her "contract" as Miss California.” But she added, “There are always two sides to every story - so none of us know what has really transpired, internally between Miss California and the people that govern the pageant...The message that this should send is: No matter what job you have in life - there will be challenges with that job - do the job to the best of your ability, complete all of your tasks and responsibilities related to that job and be the best person you can be!”
Prejean did not respond to an interview request from ECM. She first drew national controversy when pageant judge Perez Hilton asked her opinion on legalization of same-sex marriage. “Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage,” Prejean replied. She added, “ I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised …”
A second controversy ensued after pageant officials admitted to paying for breast augmentation surgery for Prejean in preparation for the Miss USA World competition. In addition, a series of revealing photos released on the Internet from lingerie shoots done by Prejean, a model, sparked further heated debate. Pageant rules ask contestants to disclose if they have posed for any semi-nude photos, which would be grounds for disqualification.
Prejean blamed photos showing her topless on the wind blowing her vest aside during a modeling shoot; the photographer disputed her story and said the shots were posed. Prejean also claimed photos were made while she was a minor; Victoria’s Secret countered that the lingerie line shown was not manufactured until after her 18th birthday. While some in the Christian community defended Prejean, others contended that her actions made her an inappropriate spokesperson for groups that promoted “family values.”
Despite those controversies, Trump determined in May that Prejean could keep her crown. However, the pageant producer, K-2, announced today that it decided to terminate her contract for “continued breach of contract issues.” Prejean has starred in a TV ad opposing gay marriage after winning her crown (despite a prohibition on outside appearances) but has reportedly failed to meet her official pageant appearance obligations.
“This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion, isn’t it?” observed Doug Deane, education committee chairman for the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, when the scandals surrounding Prejean became known. “I get the strong sense that Carrie Prejean’s life is not her own, and that she has been, and is still being manipulated by those whose concern for her career and well-being is not their highest priority.” He noted that Prejean answered Hilton’s question honestly, “knowing there might be a price for doing so. That’s something that should be admired, no matter how we feel about her answer.”
England, in an interview conducted at the time of the marriage question controversy, faulted pageant officials for turning the event into a political hot potato. “Pageant officials should ask questions that are relevant—views on same sex marriage or other politically charged issues seem to me to be out of that realm,” she told East County Magazine when the controversy first erupted. Questions may legitimately test how a contestant “thinks on her feet” and assess the contestant’s views for purposes of determining whether she will be an appropriate role model at community events, England believes. “But she observed, “Rallies for same sex marriage or against same sex marriages I bet would not be on her calendar. Hence, why the question?”
But she added, “I believe that each candidate in any public contest has a right to her or his opinions. This is America. We should never be judged because we do not believe with the norm.”
Steve Whitburn, past president of the San Diego Democratic Club and a supporter of gay rights, had a different view. “If they think asking political questions will make the show more entertaining and draw more viewers, then that’s what they’ll do,” he noted. “I think it’s important to stand up for what you believe, and I don’t fault her for that.”
Whitburn also defended the reactions of audience members, including some who booed Prejean’s response on gay marriage. “If your viewpoint is that I shouldn’t have the same rights that you do, then I’m certainly offended by that.” But he added, “I do hope that she will become more accepting and come to understand that there’s no good reason why a loving gay couple shouldn’t be able to enjoy marriage just like anyone else.”
England drew this conclusion. “I believe this has been made to be a huge media story, rather than the story that it is - we have a person that has been outspoken, in the limelight and has been given a huge media opportunity in life,” she observed. “ How she used that media opportunity is her decision. The pageant and the public need to move on."