Poor Miss Utah — the latest victim of the loathed on-stage interview meltdown.

That was a likely reaction for viewers of the live interview portion of the Miss USA pageant Sunday night, as contestant Marissa Powell stammered out an incoherent ramble of an answer. Add her to the list with Miss Teen South Carolina’s epic ‘and the Iraq’ fail.

Less sympathetic critics may have seen the uninterpretable 30 seconds as validation of the beauty queens stereotype.

(Read the full interview question and answer here.)

But that is a little too easy, says Michelle Holmes,  the sponsored coach who works with Miss Illinois and Miss Maryland contestants, including Miss USA 2012 Nana Meriwether.

“They put you on a stage in front of thousands of people and you freeze up — you can’t prepare for that moment,” Holmes says. “You can ask questions all day long and prepare answers but you can’t ever recreate the pressure of that moment, the lights and the people, you just can’t.”

Holmes likens it to athletes choking, or that high school presentation when suddenly every fact you stayed up late cramming into your head slips away. Though thankfully your classroom wasn’t being broadcast to millions of people on live television.

Did she even hear or comprehend the question? Probably not.

“It is loud [on stage] and sometimes they don’t hear.” Instead of pausing and asking for the question to be repeated — which Holmes suggests Powell should have done — girls often feel the need to start speaking immediately. This can result in a bumbling jumble of words that the girl may not even realize she is speaking.

Holmes also notes that most viewers don’t realize the contestants have already been in Las Vegas for two weeks, competing in preliminary competitions, practicing and doing appearances.

“They’ve been up late, they’ve been up early, their diet is very limited,” Holmes says. “And they’re with 50 other girls competing for the same thing.”

Holmes wagers that if Miss Utah had been asked the same question on the first day, she would have had no problems.

“If Miss Universe [organization] made the questions a little easier this wouldn’t happen, but that is part of it,” she says. “Part of the reason people watch car races is to see who is going to wreck.”

The ability to handle unknown questions under pressure is very important for selecting a winning contestant, whose job will revolve around interviews and appearances as Miss USA for the next year.

“If she can’t think under that pressure, or can’t handle it, it is indicative of how the year would go.”

But for those who can, even contestants who don’t place in the very top, many doors can open through contacts made on the circuit. At the after party, the young women can meet representatives from the sponsor companies who often ask contestants they like to be the face of their products, model their clothes or work with photographers.

“Some of them are already signed with agencies, some of them will sign from this,” she says. “And some will get out of it that they were their state title and got to go to Miss USA. At this level, it is just very competitive.”


Read the full questions and answers from the Miss USA pageant

Miss USA crown goes to the 25-yar-old Connecticut contestant

Giuliana Rancic: Swim suit competition works for Miss USA