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Scandal in the pageant world: Why did Miss USA and Miss Teen USA both quit?

Scandal in the pageant world: Why did Miss USA and Miss Teen USA both quit?

The world of pageants is seemingly never without controversy, but this week’s news that both the reigning Miss USA and Miss Teen USA relinquished their crowns for unclear reasons has caused wider speculation about the state of the Miss USA Organization.

On May 6, Noelia Voigt announced that she was resigning as Miss USA, saying she had to do what was best for her mental health. Only two days later, UmaSofia Srivastava, the current Miss Teen USA, wrote on Instagram that she would also resign from the role, saying that her “personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.” Both winners are Latina women: Voigt is of Venezuelan heritage while Srivastava is of both Mexican and Indian ancestry.

Their cryptic Instagram statements and lack of any clear context for their sudden resignations have granted a peek behind the scenes of their parent organization amid mounting public scrutiny on pageants as a whole.

So why are people theorizing that Voigt’s Instagram statement spelled out “I AM SILENCED” with the first letters of the first 11 sentences? And why did Srivastava’s resignation start with an improbable quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps alluding to the tumultuous underbelly of pageantry? 

Here’s what we know so far about the controversy and previous controversies that may be connected:

Voigt and Srivastava resign just days apart from one another

Voigt won the Miss USA title last September at age 24, representing her home state of Utah. She described her seven years of pageant competition as the fulfillment of “a lifelong dream.” She expressed her gratitude for her career and platform and also praised her “darling beloved, Miss Teen USA UmaSofia,” but also said, “Never compromise your physical and mental well-being.”

She wrote at the time: “Deep down I know that this is just the beginning of a new chapter for me, and my hope is that I continue to inspire others to remain steadfast, prioritize your mental health, advocate for yourself and others by using your voice, and never be afraid of what the future holds, even if it feels uncertain,” Voigt wrote.

Srivastava shared similar sentiments when she was crowned Miss Teen USA in September, at age 17. But she opened her resignation statement this week with the Nietzsche quotation, “There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.” She wrote that she had spent “months of grappling with this decision.”

“I will always look back on my time as Miss NJ Teen USA fondly, and the experience of representing my state as a first generation, Mexican-Indian American at the national level was fulfilling in itself,” she continued. “After careful consideration, I’ve decided to resign as I find that my personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

Srivastava said she is excited about heading into 11th grade and starting the college application process while also focusing on her advocacy. She said that working with education and literacy-centered nonprofits and working on a multilingual children’s book about acceptance was “my true purpose.”

After both top titleholders abruptly abandoned their crowns, the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA Instagram accounts posted statements acknowledging both resignations. 

The Miss USA Instagram account said “Thank you, Noelia, for your service as Miss USA. We wish you the best in this next chapter.”

The statement said, “We respect and support Noelia’s decision to step down from her duties. The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority, and we understand her need to prioritize herself at this time. We are currently reviewing plans for the transition of responsibilities to a successor, and we will soon announce the crowning of the new Miss USA.”

The Miss Teen USA account echoed similar sentiments, in virtually identical language. None of this has done anything to quell online theories about hidden messages or some kind of hidden scandal. NBC News reports that TikTok posts with millions of views, numerous Reddit threads and long-form online essays have aired all sorts of speculation. 

In one such post, TikTok creator AnnaNoel Olsen said, “We need to listen carefully, because someone is trying to tell us something important. . . I can’t even imagine how many contracts, NDAs, all the things she is under. Her putting this in there” — meaning the alleged hidden message — “was so someone would find out.”

Miss USA’s social media director had resigned days before Voigt and Srivastava

Days before Voigt and Srivastava’s resignations, Miss USA social media director Claudia Michelle also resigned, writing in an Instagram post that she, Voigt and Srivastava had been mistreated by the Miss USA Organization. Michelle wrote that although the gig was her “dream job” she had worked without pay for two months and experienced “workplace toxicity.” She said she was able to share that information because she had not signed an NDA.

“This is a women’s empowerment organization and my hope in making this statement is to restore some of the empowerment back to these titleholders that was so deeply lost in their year,” Michelle stated.

She continued, “I have had the privilege of getting to work with Noelia closely and have unfortunately seen a decline in her mental health since we first met. I feel like her ability to share her story and her platform have been diminished. I have firsthand seen the disrespect towards Uma and her family.” 

“I’ve first hand seen Noelia and Uma be unable to share about their personal advocacies on social media and be threatened by [organizational] ‘social media rules and guidelines’ that I still have yet to see,” Michelle said. “I feel the way current management speaks about their titleholders is unprofessional and inappropriate; I disavow workplace toxicity and bullying of any kind.”

The organization responded to Michelle’s claims by saying it was “troubled to hear the false accusations made by a former Miss USA employee.”

“Miss USA is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and supportive environment, and we take these allegations seriously,” it added. “Indeed, we have and will continue to prioritize the well-being of all individuals involved with Miss USA,” the organization told USA Today.

Controversies before Voigt and Srivastava’s resignations 

For the last several years, the Miss USA organization has struggled with an apparent mental health crisis and allegations of favoritism.

In 2022, the 2019 Miss USA winner, Cheslie Kryst, died by suicide. Soon after, R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned Miss USA, but other contestants accused organizers of rigging the competition in her favor.

An investigation was opened in response, and Miss USA’s national director, Crystle Stewart, was suspended. Not long after that, Stewart’s husband, Max Sebrechts, resigned as Miss USA vice president after multiple 2021 contestants accused him of sexual harassment.

In 2023, Gabriel won Miss Universe and her Miss USA title went to runner-up Morgan Romero of North Carolina. Months later, the Miss Universe Organization said that its internal investigation had found no evidence of rigging. 

After news of Voigt’s resignation, several of her fellow 2023 Miss USA class issued a joint statement on Wednesday supporting Voigt’s decision to step away from her crown.

The post urged that the organization “release Noelia from the confidentiality NDA clause of her contract, in perpetuity, so that she is free to speak on her experiences and time as Miss USA. We request a response within 24 hours.”

“Our goal is to give Noelia her voice back. We are asking for full transparency for contestants in the class of 2024 and beyond.”

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