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Miss USA pageant under scrutiny as two winners step down

By AFP

May 10, 2024 10:04 AM


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The resignations of the reigning Miss USA and Miss Teen USA in the space of a few days have put the pageants' parent organization under the microscope -- especially as the young women cited mental health and differences in values as their reasons.

The pair stepped down just days after an employee of the Miss USA organization -- which was created in 1952 and owned for a time by Donald Trump -- quit, citing "workplace toxicity" and claiming the two titleholders were mistreated.

Claudia Michelle, Miss USA's social media director, resigned on May 3, saying in an Instagram post that she had worked without compensation for two months, was not given proper staff, and believed management disrespected the winners.

Michelle said she had worked closely with Miss USA Noelia Voigt -- a 24-year-old Venezuelan American who was crowned in September -- and had seen "a decline in her mental health" -- an issue Voigt mentioned when she resigned on Monday.

As for Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava, who is 17, Michelle said she had "firsthand seen the disrespect toward Uma and her family."

"I disavow workplace toxicity and bullying of any kind," Michelle wrote, slamming the "unprofessional and inappropriate" way she felt management had spoken to Voigt and Srivastava.

In her own Instagram post, Voigt -- who represented the western state of Utah -- said she was resigning, noting: "Never compromise your physical and mental well-being. Our health is our wealth."

She called her time as Miss USA "incredibly meaningful," highlighting her charity work and being the first Venezuelan American to win the title.

But she also said she hoped 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."

Internet sleuths have even pointed out what they believe to be a coded message: the first letters of each sentence in Voigt's statement spell out "I AM SILENCED."

Srivastava -- a self-described "first generation, Mexican-Indian American" from New Jersey -- said Wednesday she was relinquishing her crown as her "personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization."

In response, the Miss USA organization said: "We respect and support Noelia's decision to step down from her duties. The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority."

Miss Teen USA issued a similarly worded statement about Srivastava.

- Controversy -

The Miss USA contest has seen a number of controversies and scandals in recent years, with multiple allegations of preferential treatment given to certain contestants, according to media reports.

The organization later found those claims to be unsubstantiated, but the president of Miss USA, former titleholder Crystle Stewart, stepped down.

Her husband Max Sebrechts, who had served as the organization's vice president, left amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations made by past contestants.

Voigt's resignation was the first time that a Miss USA titleholder had surrendered the post since the inception of the competition for any reason other than being crowned Miss Universe, a linked pageant.

Cheslie Kryst, who was crowned Miss USA in 2019, died by suicide in early 2022.

In her memoir, published posthumously last month and excerpted by People magazine, she wrote of "long-standing insecurities" that again came to the fore when she won the title and suffered online abuse.


AFP


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