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Miss Utah USA, Marissa Powell, and the “um” that went viral

First Published Jun 17 2013 10:49 am • Last Updated Jun 18 2013 09:43 am

It was the "um" heard ‘round the world.

Marissa Powell, Miss Utah USA, fumbled a question during last night’s Miss USA pageant - turning a question about women’s income inequality into a hamfisted plea to "create education better" - and the video of the moment has become an international viral sensation.

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The video was highlighted on Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, TMZ and Britain’s Daily Mail, to name just a few.

The question, posed by celebrity judge NeNe Leakes (from "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"), was this: "A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?"

And here’s how Powell - a 21-year-old actress, model and singer - answered:

"I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are continuing to try to strive to figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem right now. I think, especially the men are ... um ... seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to see how to ... create education better. So that we can solve this problem. Thank you."

Powell paused in the middle of the answer, as if aware that her answer was going down in flames - and, with it, her hope of a Miss USA title.

The irony of a grammatically ridiculous answer mentioning education also was not lost on web commenters. However, it also drew a defense, of sorts, from NPR blogger Linda Holmes -- who lampooned the entire situation as an exercise in "spontaneous but convincing balderdash manufacturing."

In the end, Powell was named third runner-up, and Miss Connecticut, Erin Brady, won the crown. But Powell’s performance has become the talk of the pageant.

Powell’s stumble has been compared to that of Caitlin Upton, the 2007 Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina who infamously flubbed a geography question with an incoherent string of verbiage. But Upton ended up a contestant on "The Amazing Race," and did fairly well at it (and drawing the wrath of a competitor, a shrill lesbian from Utah), so there’s always a chance for a comeback.

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UPDATE: Powell tried to laugh off her mistake on Monday. In a statement released through the Miss Utah USA organization, Powell joked, "1st rule of an interview... LISTEN TO THE QUESTION before you answer!!!!"

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