Leakes, who asked Marissa Powell the question she struggled with, hopes the beauty turns the debacle into a "positive"

By Dahvi Shira
June 18, 2013 09:30 AM
Michael Stewart/Wireimage

If anyone feels sympathy for Sunday’s mocked Miss USA contestant, it’s judge and The Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes, who asked the competitor the now-infamous question that sent cyberspace into a frenzy.

Marissa Powell, 20 – the Miss Utah finalist who didn’t win the competition but could easily be the most searched name online from the pageant – was asked by Leakes, 45, what it says about society that women continue to earn less than men even though they are the primary earners in 40 percent of American families with children.

The flack received for the not quite comprehensive response will pass, believes Leakes, who acknowledges to PEOPLE in a statement, “We all make mistakes that often result in a miscommunication.”

Adds the Real Housewives of Atlanta star: “Unfortunately, Miss Utah’s error was very public. I’m confident she will use this experience and learn from it. Hopefully with all the attention she’s getting … she can turn this negative into a positive.”