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Why Did Steve Harvey Ask Miss India To Meow? Former Miss Universe Speaks Out After Backlash

It’s been a few weeks since the meow heard ‘round the world. That is, since the 2021 Miss Universe pageant, hosted by none other than Steve Harvey. This year’s events went viral, and not for Harvey's fashion sense this time. In fact, it went viral after the Family Feud host asked then-Miss India contestant Harnaaz Sandhu to make cat noises. There was backlash following the incident, and now a former Miss Universe winner is speaking out about why the moment even happened onstage

Lara Dutta, who represented India in the 2000 Miss Universe pageant (and who was the last contestant from her country to win her pageant prior to the most recent event), recently explained that while people might have been up in arms about Steve Harvey asking Harnaaz Sandhu such a seemingly silly question, the reason he did so actually makes a lot of sense.

 Per Dutta, when a contestant chooses to participate in the Miss Universe pageant, they actually fill out a multi-page questionnaire about their interests. This paperwork can be as long as 15 pages! The former Miss Universe told Pinkvilla more about what the pageant is looking for before also defending Steve Harvey, noting,

So, they want to know: Who is the candidate that’s coming? They ask about your interests, what you like doing, what you like doing for fun. All of that. It's a bit to see the lighter side of your personality. Every question does not have to be about saving the world or being Mother Teresa or ending world hunger. You know, so in Harnaaz's form, one of the things she had written is that she used to enjoy mimicking animal sounds – which is why that is what they picked up and why Steve Harvey asked her that question. So the question came from what she had written in the form. The idea of it was not to put her down or ask India a bizarre question. It's just to see how you would perform when something like that is — and life is going to put you in so many situations along the way.

One of the big complaints made after Harnaaz Sandhu did her best impression of a cat – an impression that was honestly really pretty spot-on– was that some of the other contestants were asked serious questions while the contestant from India was asked to mimic a cat. At face value, it’s easy to see how there might be outrage that followed, but Lara Dutta’s comments on the matter gel more with what Sandhu herself actually said after the moment went viral. If you somehow missed the moment, you can see it play out in full, below.

This year’s Miss Universe winner did not seem to sweat the question from Steve Harvey, either. She actually previously noted she was “having so much fun” and just trying to “enjoy” herself while on such a major stage, even after she was asked to do an animal impression. So, while fans watching from the comfort of their homes may not have been happy, she didn’t seem to be sweating it. 

The moment may have gone viral, but former Miss Universe Lara Dutta also says she feels Harnaaz Sandhu represented India well in the moment. She went with the flow and it’s easy to see how she later won the pageant event.

I think Harnaaz handled it very well she was very nonchalant about it. She didn't give it any [sic] thought that ‘Oh my god now I have to mimic a cat’, she just went with it and had fun. I think that's the most important thing is a lot of time you shouldn't take yourself too seriously. Being Miss Universe or being Miss World is not about wearing the crown and having the perfect wave. It's about being yourself, being the young wonderful girl that she is. She's very genuine, she's a little goofy, she's real. She's comfortable about who she is and how she is. I think that's very refreshing to have. So I don’t think people should put too much thought behind why Steve Harvey would ask a question like that.

Part of the reason Steve Harvey may have not been given the benefit of the doubt here is because he has been known to flub at these live events before. Harvey once announced the wrong winner of the Miss Universe pageant and made a similar mistake during a second event. The man’s a consummate professional, but there’s a component to live events that is very different from taping an episode of a game show (though Feud has had its own bizarre moments). 

Harvey himself has not spoken out about the meow backlash. At this point, both the lady involved and her predecessor have tried to clarify what happened, and we'll have to wait and see if he follows suit.

Jessica Rawden
Jessica Rawden

Amazing Race & Top Chef superfan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.