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Miss California's question flub was about more than economics

On Sunday, Miss California Nadia Grace Mejia earned a spot in the Miss USA pageant’s final five. While the beauty queen was all…

It happened again.

Another beauty pageant contestant tripped up during the onstage interview portion of the competition while answering a random question about how she would solve one of society's many problems.

At the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas on Sunday, Miss California Nadia Mejía  — the stunning 20-year-old daughter of ‘Rico Suave’ rapper Gerardo — stumbled while answering a question about how to solve economic inequality.

During the pageant, the top five finalists are required to answer an onstage question. Each question is different. There's only 30 seconds to deliver a response. Plus, it’s all done in front of a huge audience in the T. Mobile Arena and it's aired on live television to millions of viewers. It's not an easy task!

Here’s what fashion photographer and Miss USA judge Nigel Barker asked California: “One of the biggest challenges facing the United States is social and economic inequality. How do we narrow the gap between the rich and poor?”

Standing in a flowing tangerine gown, the full-time model paused for nearly five seconds, closing her eyes before attempting to answer Barker’s question.

“When it comes to social and economic inequality, I think that the rich and the poor need to stop being so segregated. I think there is a middle class. I think that the rich need to…” she began before stopping with the host encouraging her to “take a breath.”

After regaining her composure, she continued: "I think that the rich need to be able to be giving, and I think the poor need to work hard. And I think the middle class need to come together and find an in between.”

The timer went off and her dream at the ruby and sapphire-encrusted crown ended there. She did not advance to the final three.

It's harder than it looks

Naturally, social media exploded, making fun of California for her "embarrassing" response. She’s not the first pageant contestant to mess up, and she won’t be the last. In 2013, Miss Utah Marissa Powell failed to successfully answer a question about women being paid less than men. She also received widespread ridicule.

Sure, we might think we have a perfect response or a great solution that would blow away the pageant judges. The reality is that if we were in California's place, we would probably fail too.

“We’re familiar with the terminology ‘arm chair quarterback’—you’re sitting at home eating popcorn drinking a libation, you look at the pageant girl and say, ‘Oh gosh, you took too long. You totally flubbed it up.’ What you don’t know is the nerves are real,” said Steven Roddy, the founder of The Pageant Planet, the largest online pageant coaching resource in the world.

On top of that, Mejía received a question that the average person wouldn’t be able to answer from the comfort of their living room, let alone on a stage with all that pressure.

“With the intensity of having the TV cameras and answering in front of a crowd of thousand-plus people, most people can’t hold a microphone and speak articulately,” said Roddy. “We’re asking this young girl to not only hold a microphone, speak articulately, but to answer a highly political question that our politicians today hire extensive consultants just to learn how to dodge.”

Roddy, who’s coached many pageant contestants, was not surprised by the topic of question since it's been a widely-discussed issue for a number of years. That said, the question was particularly challenging because there’s no clear answer.

“This is one of those hidden things. There is no clear answer. That’s the challenging part to prepare for,” said Roddy. “Honestly, I don’t know if I would be able to answer that in front of an audience.”

The nerves are very real

As someone who has competed in a pageant (Miss United States 2014 representing New York), I can tell you for certain that the nerves are real. Very real.

From the moment you walk out on that stage and introduce yourself and your state, you can feel your heart pounding in your chest. You're also anxiously waiting to hear your name called to see if you've advanced to the next round.

Now, I never made it to the onstage question portion, but I can tell you that everyone on that stage prepared as much as they could beforehand. For months, they've been practicing potential questions and reading up on current events. That's in addition to all their other preparation including volunteering, working out, and making appearances as a state titleholder.

In that moment of answering the onstage question, the contestants know that the crown and their dream of becoming Miss USA is within reach. And sometimes, your nerves just get the best of you.

Fortunately for California, she has a great sense of humor, posting a parody Instagram music video with Backstreet Boys' Howie D. to the tune of "I Want It That Way."

"Why can't the USA see, I don't know about the economy?"

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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