— Showing off the deft footwork that carried her to the title of Miss USA 2009, Kristen Dalton lightly tiptoed through the minefield of a question about same-sex marriage that many believe scuttled another contestant’s chances of winning the coveted crown.
“The beautiful part about America is that we have the right to choose. We have the right to choose who we want to love, commit and spend the rest of our lives with,” the radiant 22-year-old told TODAY’s Al Roker Wednesday in New York. “I think that all couples … should be able to be recognized legally. They should be able to enter into a union. Whether or not it should be defined as marriage, I’ll leave that up to the politicians.”
Dalton’s answer was as carefully crafted and prepared as she had been for the pageant last Sunday in Las Vegas. Becoming Miss USA is something she’s been training for literally all her life.
That’s because the pageant is something of a family business. Dalton’s mother was Miss North Carolina USA in 1982, and her sister was Miss Teen North Carolina last year.
“Since I was 3 years old, I watched Miss USA every year,” she told Roker. “I just always knew in the back of my mind I was going to be that girl one day winning on national television, a pretty white smile and a beautiful crown. It came true!”
Dalton said she’d rehearsed endlessly in her mind what it would be like when she won. “I used to scribble my name with ‘Miss USA 2009’ underneath it for a really long time, and now it’s actually official. I couldn’t’ be happier,” she said.
Dalton got through the pageant without any of the slips, wardrobe malfunctions or other YouTube moments that have become a hallmark of the competition in recent years. That job this year fell to Miss California, Carrie Prejean, who was brought down by the same-sex marriage question.
Prejean vs. Perez
Prejean had been asked her opinion on the subject by pageant judge Perez Hilton, the openly gay celebrity blogger. Prejean replied, “We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. I think 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.”
Hilton lambasted her on his Web site, calling her a vulgar name and commenting, “You can't alienate your audience, especially if you're competing for the title of MISS USA! You need to represent the people, not just YOUR beliefs.”
On Tuesday, both Hilton and Prejean had appeared on TODAY. Prejean defended her answer, saying she’d rather be biblically correct than politically correct. Hilton repeated his contention that Miss USA should not alienate people.
Prejean was not the only contestant who had to field a politically charged question. In a departure from the standard beauty pageant procedure of lobbing softball questions at the hopefuls, all were asked about controversial issues.
Dalton had to say how she felt about using taxpayer money to bail out private companies. She drew cheers when she said she didn’t think it should be, and that the money could be put to better use funding education and health care.
‘I’m proud of her’
Prejean finished as the first runner-up in the pageant. Dalton defended Prejean’s response to the loaded question in an earlier appearance on the Plaza with Roker, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira.
“I respect her opinion,” she said. “The beauty of America is that we all have a right to our own opinion. I’m proud of her for speaking from her heart. She’s passionate about what she believes in. She’s proud of herself, so that’s all I can say.”
Dalton also applauded the tough questions the contestants had to answer: “I was really happy about the tone of the questions, because it shows America that Miss USA is relevant, and it shows that we are not only beautiful but intelligent women, and that’s what makes us fresh and relevant in society today. Everybody should be up to date on these kinds of issues.”
Dalton said she and Prejean became good friends during the pageant, which is co-sponsored by Donald Trump and NBC, and predicted that Prejean would be able to join her in the New York City apartment that comes with the Miss USA title.
The reason, she said, is that if she’s chosen to be Miss Universe on Aug. 23 in the Bahamas, Prejean, as the first runner-up, will become Miss USA and the two will share the apartment. And Dalton feels sure she’ll win that pageant, too.
“Watch me take the crown,” she said confidently.