Michelle Sullivan Communications

Miss Teen South Carolina grows a very long tail

It’s the stuff of urban legends. Or National Enquirer headlines. Or PR nightmares.

Much to her dismay, I’m sure, Miss Teen South Carolina is sporting a long… very long .. tail. As in the Chris Anderson variety. But does this go beyond a simple dim-lightbulb moment? My PR-sense is tingling, Spidey.

The clip of this beauty pageant contestant’s faux pas (that’s French for roadwreck) has not only hit You Tube with a vengeance, it has inspired dozens of satirical response videos and, I’m sure, a Saturday Night Live sketch. Not only is it buzzing loudly already, but thanks to the new realities of social media, it’ll have a long life, coming up every time a prospective employer or eventual grandchild Googles the name Caitlin Upton (long life to Google!)

A small sampling of what’s out there :

Miss Teen South Carolina Calls 911

Parents of Miss Teen South Carolina

Miss Teen South Carolina vs. Bush

But what, beyond nervousness, was behind this horrific disaster? A lot of bad PR-style training with abusive use of key messages, I suspect. Can you hear the poor girl’s coach whispering in her ear? Can you imagine the months of preparation, sleep deprivation, even torture by flash card, all in an effort to get her ready for this nerve-wracking Q&A national television moment? Did you notice the same spin giveaways I did?

Mention Iraq. Check. Mention South Africa (?). Check.

Asian countries (is that a tsunami reference?) Check. U.S. number one. Check. U.S. can do no wrong. Check. U.S. saviour of the world. Check.

I’m surprised she didn’t mention children, puppy dogs or apple pie.

I suspect that when Miss South Carolina blanked out, rather than pull an answer out of the logical part of her brain, the prepwork kicked in and went into overdrive. She relived the flash cards and months of training like an unlucky parachutist whose life flashes in front of his eyes before he hits concrete. It all came tumbling, miserably, painfully, out.

To paraphrase the words of another infamous public speaker, in the name of practicing our love with women all over this country let’s give this particular one a break, shall we? Not everyone is a born public speaker. We all know that it ranks up near, if not at, the top of lists of things people fear most in life. Those of us who actually enjoy it, and do it without blinking or hesitation at every possible opportunity, are probably missing some kind of gene in our double helix or something.

And the next time someone tells me that beauty pageants are more about personality than the swimsuit competition, I’ll remember that despite the quality (or lack thereof) of her response, Caitlin still managed to place 3rd runner up. I bet the other 47 contestants were just thrilled about that.

I have to end this post with a link to my favourite PR-bashing clip, courtesy of Andy Dick. A work of brilliance, imho. Available here.

Hey. If you can’t laugh at yourself…

Keep smiling Caitlin.

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  1. Michelle Sullivan

    2007.09.10 @ 09:05

    Erm .. that should read 48 contestants. So much for counting on your fingers.

    See Caitlin? We all have our ‘blonde’ moments.

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