When I heard about Miss USA's stumble last weekend at the Miss Universe pageant, I was saddened. I won't lie. Was it entertaining at a certain level? Sure. But mortifying as well. And since I got to know Crystle Stewart (the woman behind the title) a little bit this spring, I didn't laugh as much as I normally would have.
A few months back, I interviewed her at the Miss Universe headquarters (yes, there is such a thing) in midtown Manhattan. She was not at all what I expected. And that's a good thing. My expectations were low, if not non-existent. The only beauty queen with whom I was at all familiar was Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007 -- and if you've seen this YouTube classic, you know she didn't set the bar very high. Still, Stewart won me over easily. She came across as genuine and smart, and dispelled my notion that all beauty queens were better seen than heard.
So why was I there in the first place? After she was crowned in April, all sorts of news organizations were labeling her as an entrepreneur and when the PR folks at Miss Universe confirmed it, we figured Inc. should check it out. In my hour-long face-to-face she gushed about her business, Inside/Out, which offers self-improvement workshops, birthday party planning, and motivational speeches for girls and young women in her hometown, Missouri City, Texas. It sounded like a young venture, but a promising one. She spoke about her plans for expansion and how her recent win might help it along. It sounded feasible. And she hypothesized about the effect a win at the Miss Universe contest could have on going global. I couldn't help but root for her. She was an entrepreneur, I was convinced, and as you may have read in our June issue, I wasn't afraid to put that in print.
So, yes, I was a bit bummed when I watched the clip of the fall. There are plenty of "celebrity entrepreneurs" who simply slap their name or endorsement on a product after they've achieved fame and expect that to be enough. I wouldn't have a shed a tear for Lindsay Lohan. But that's not Stewart. She deserves a mulligan. So Crystle, if you're reading this, I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself. I hear that you'll be in attendance at the Inc. 500 conference this September in Washington, D.C. If you want a re-do at that evening gown strut, I'll see what I can do.
Last updated: Jul 16, 2008
JASON DEL REY was a senior reporter covering technology, branding, and company culture for Inc. magazine. Before joining Inc., his work appeared in Newsday, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, and the Staten Island Advance, and on ESPN.com. He lives in New Jersey. @DelRey