All the allegations against Miss Universe leadership as latest beauty queen declines crown

Pageant queens Noelia Voigt and UmaSofia Srivastava announced they were stepping down from their respective positions, writes Mike Bedigan

Mike Bedigan
Tuesday 14 May 2024 19:54
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Miss Teen USA Resigns, Cites Value Misalignment

The world of beauty pageants is firmly in the spotlight after both Miss USA and Miss Teen USA abdicated their positions amid accusations of unprofessional behaviour, workplace bullying and harassment from management.

Pageant queens Noelia Voigt and UmaSofia Srivastava, both announced they would be stepping down from their respective positions in the past week. Both women issued lengthy statements online detailing their decisions.

Ms Voigt, 24, the first Venezuelan-American woman to win Miss USA, highlighted the importance of prioritizing mental health, while 17-year-old Ms Srivastava said that her personal values “no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

Over the weekend, Miss New York Teen USA 2023, Stephanie Skinner, announced that she’d declined to take Ms Srivastava’s place, citing prior commitments and a lack of knowledge about what caused the pageant queen to step down.

The announcements came following the resignation of Miss USA Social Media Director Claudia Michelle, who voiced a number of concerns.

In her own post on Instagram, Ms Michelle said the decision had not been easy, but that her experiences at the organisation had been “disheartening”.

Here are some of the accusations levelled at the Miss Universe Organisation (MUO), which owns the pageants.

Noelia Voigt, who was crowned Miss USA 2023, highlighted the importance of prioritizing mental health in an online post announcing she was resigning her title (Getty Images)

Bullying and toxic work environment

In her resignation post, Ms Michelle said she had had first-hand experience of poor treatment of Ms Voigt and Ms Srivastava and their families. “I disavow workplace toxicity and bullying of any kind,” she wrote.

“I feel the way current management speaks about their titleholders is unprofessional and inappropriate,” she said, adding that “not enough time and attention” was given to the teenager.

“I have first hand seen the disrespect towards Uma and her family. In my opinion, not enough time and attention was given to our national teen titleholder, especially on social media.”

In her own post, 17-year-old Ms Srivastava said that she would remember her time as Miss NJ Teen USA “fondly” but that “I find my values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

Ms Michelle wrote: “I don’t believe in taking sides. I believe in telling the truth. I believe Noelia and Uma’s mental health and happiness has taken a toll and I cannot remain silent about that.”

Sources also told the New York Post that the workplace conditions at MUO were “harmful” and a “serious concern”. “There is an urgent need for intervention at the leadership level,” the source told the outlet.

The women’s mothers spoke out against Miss USA on Good Morning America in a segment that aired on Tuesday. Jackeline Voigt and Barbara Srivastava said their daughters were “abused, bullied and cornered”.

The mothers told the outlet that they chose to speak for their daughters, who have been silenced by confidentiality clauses in their contracts. Ms Voigt said that her daughter was sexually harassment while attending public events.

In one instance, she said a man asked her daughter if she was into “old men with money”. When the beauty queen reported the interaction to executives, she was told that the organisation could not protect from such comments during public events.

Meanwhile, Ms Srivastava said that her daughter was bullied by management, causing her to miss out on opportunities while her personal social media accounts were controlled by the organisation.

Both moms say they want Laylah Rose, the president and CEO of Miss USA, to step down.

In a statement to the outlet, Miss USA said: “We are committed to fostering a healthy, communicative and supportive environment for all contestants, state titleholders, national titleholders and staff.”

The CW, which aires the contests, said it is reevaluating its relationship with the organisation.

Downplaying ‘personal advocacies’ of titleholders

Ms Michelle claimed that both Ms Voigt and Ms Srivastava had been “threatened” by MUO about sharing personal advocacies on social media due to the organization’s policies which she wrote “I am yet to see”.

Ms Voigt in particular is a fervent advocate for mental health and a champion for children’s charity Smile Train, which she highlighted in her resignation post.

“Every time someone asked me what my favorite part of being Miss USA was, I would always share with them how much I loved getting to work with Smile Train, being a fervent advocate for anti-bullying, dating violence awareness and prevention, immigration rights and reform,” she wrote.

“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."

Ms Michelle claimed that the power of the titleholders to use their social media platforms to champion causes had been “diminished” by oversight from the MUO management.

Earlier this week, fans of Ms Voigt flagged that the first letter in each sentence of her resignation spelt out a message: “I AM SILENCED.” Sources told The New York Post that this hidden message was intentional.

On Wednesday, several 2023 state titleholders shared a joint statement on social media, saying the majority of the Miss USA class of 2023 supports Ms Voigt’s decision to resign.

Both Ms Srivastava (left) and Ms Voigt have issued statements announcing their intentions to resign within the past week (Getty Images for Supermodels Unl)

The post also requested that MUO release her from the confidentiality clause of her contract in perpetuity “so that she is free to speak on her experiences and time as Miss USA.”

The Independent has reached out to Noelia Voigt and UmaSofia Srivastava for comment.

Lack of payment and micro-management

“As a social media director, you become in charge of a team and create strategies to enhance the growth and presence of the brand. However, there was no social media team to manage,” Ms Michelle wrote in her post.

The former social media director said she had been brought in with “zero in-house team members” to assist her and was then not “financially” permitted to hire more. She also claimed to have worked unpaid for the first two months, and that multiple decisions were taken by higher-ups instead of allowing her control and agency in her role.

“The only thing I can truly take credit for is the in-person content I was able to capture of Noelia and Uma during events. All pages blocked, comments that were deleted, and story reposts that were not branded right, were not done by myself or under my guidance.

“Despite verbal approval that I was able to run the account when brought on to the team, I felt like I was never truly able to run it in the professional level that I had planned to.”

Ms Michelle said she was left “shocked and disappointed” that several former assistant national directors at MUO were fired “for reasons still undisclosed to me”.

The Independent has reached out to the Miss Universe Organisation for comment on Ms Michelle’s claims.

Previous controversy

The resignations and accusations of the past week come following previous accusations that MUO had rigged competitions.

In 2023 the organization denied allegations about rigging the Miss Universe competition, days after former Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel became the first Filipina American to take home the crown.

The company issued a statement to The Independent at the time, after multiple online users claimed that the competition favoured Miss USA over the other contestants and called Ms Gabriel’s win a “fraud”.

The statement addressed how fans assumed that the competition was rigged because it’s owned by the JKN Global Group, founded by transgender businesswoman Anne Jakkapong Jakrajutatip, which also owns the Miss USA competition.

“The allegations re: rigging of Miss Universe are false,” Amy Emmerich, the then-CEO of MUO said. “People saying that it’s ‘suspect’ that JKN Global Group owns both Miss Universe and Miss USA aren’t familiar with the history of the organizations. ??One of the top 4 accounting firms in the United States handled the results and verified the process.”

Ms Emmerich also revealed that when a firm looked at allegations, first made in October 2022, about Ms Gabriel’s Miss USA win being rigged, those claims were not found.

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