Monday, January 21, 2008

Pageant Press: Lipstick Sabotage

I guess it doesn’t just happen in Puerto Rico! You won’t believe this upsetting story:

Beauty queen's gown vandalized

A beauty pageant winner's expensive dress was vandalized during the event at the South Florida Fairgrounds Saturday.

A $3,400 dress belonging to Jessica Wittenbrink, 21, the eventual winner of this year's Miss South Florida Fair pageant, was discovered vandalized backstage in the middle of Saturday night's event, prompting a police inquiry and questions about the fair's handling of the situation.

In many ways, the point was rendered moot by virtue of Wittenbrink's victory, which came with up to $6,000 in cash and scholarship money and the opportunity to compete in the Miss Florida statewide pageant that feeds into Miss America.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over the fairgrounds, said there was not enough ''conclusive evidence'' to name a suspect, be it one of the pageant contestants or someone from the outside.

''Unless new information presents itself, the case is going to be inactive,'' said Sgt. Pete Palenzuela, a PBSO spokesman.

But the incident still brought a note of tabloid-worthy intrigue to an event that has traditionally been one of the fair's bright spots, a well-attended showcase for some of the region's most talented and ambitious young women.

Now that same showcase has a mark against it -- or rather, four red streaks of lipstick.

That was the visible sign of damage to the light-blue outfit that Wittenbrink wore as part of the evening-gown competition. [left]

Shadoe Stein, a contestant from Jupiter, said she learned something was awry when she headed backstage during the pageant. First, she found a sobbing Wittenbrink.

Then, she got the word: ''Somebody ruined Jessica's dress!'' Stein was told.

Efforts were made to steam-clean the gown, but to no avail. By evening's end, the 13 contestants were instructed to gather backstage, where they were met by police and pageant producer Kelly Wagner-Fason, according to those who were present.

Some connected to the pageant felt the situation could have been better handled. ''They were all corralled together and not given the benefit of the doubt,'' said Shannon Stein, Shadoe's mother.

Others noted that the backstage dressing area -- essentially one of the fair's restrooms converted for such a purpose -- could have been kept more secure, especially from bathroom-seeking fair patrons. That left the possibility that the damage to the dress may have not been sabotage, but simply a random act of vandalism.

But fair officials insist they there was little chance for non-contestants to find their way to the dressing area, since it was kept off-limits and staffed by fair officials.

''I'm fairly comfortable in saying there was no public back there,'' said South Florida Fair President Rick Vymlatil.

And what about the fact that there was a long delay -- almost 30 minutes -- in naming a winner after the competition's last event was completed? Could it have been a sign that judges were retabulating votes based on the dress mess, as some connected to the pageant suspect? Pageant director and South Florida Fair board trustee Dan Hrabko dismissed that idea, saying that delays can be caused by other factors, including the need for resolving a tie.

The above was written by Charles Passy of the Palm Beach Post. A similar article with a slightly different ending can be read here and yet another piece reported that she did compete in the lipstick stained dress..

Speculation that her win was based on sympathy is not surprising; but, it’s important to note that at that point the auditors would be tabulating the scores and the judges would be done. Also, here in Ohio we’ve all sat through our fair share of local pageants that take FOREVER to announce the results, due to the complicated scoring system.

Non-pageant folks often ask me if this type of thing really happens; I tell them in the cyber age the nastiness has moved to anonymous message boards. Luckily, in my seven years of competing I never experienced any of this in person. Hopefully it’s not making a comeback.

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