Shocking Miss USA resignations are just tip of the iceberg, insiders say


During their year of service, pageant queens are highly visible, making appearances at major events, championing important causes, and speaking at public engagements, all in an official capacity. But after the shocking double resignations of Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA 2023 UmaSofia Srivastava this week, within days of each other, insiders paint a picture of national titleholders kept absent from their usual functions, their organization in disarray and key players who seem unable to express their experiences and concerns.

The Miss USA organization, which runs both pageants, has come under fire amid accusations of mismanagement, a hostile work environment and conditions that notably led to Voigt’s resignation on the grounds that her role had an impact on his mental health.

While Srivastava, 16, who represented New Jersey at Miss Teen USA, posted a statement on Instagram saying her personal values ​​”no longer fully align” with those of the organization, Voigt, 24, who represented the Utah to Miss USA, wrote a long but cryptic message, citing her mental health. Soon, however, it went viral thanks to a seemingly hidden message: The first letter of the first 11 sentences spelled out “I am silenced.” (Voigt did not subsequently respond to this speculation.)

“We respect and support Noelia’s decision to resign from her position,” the Miss USA pageant said in a statement following Voigt’s announcement. “The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority, and we understand that she must prioritize herself at this time.” The organization did not respond to CNN’s request for additional comment.

In response, a number of current state titleholders who have competed alongside Voigt for Miss USA – including Miss North Carolina USA 2023 Jordyn Ashlee McKey, Miss Wisconsin USA 2023 Alexis Loomans and Miss New York USA Rachelle di Stasio – shared messages on social media in support of Voigt, asking the organization to “release Noelia from the NDA confidentiality clause of her contract, in perpetuity, so that she is free to speak about her experiences and her time as Miss USA.

Denise White, public relations representative for Srivastava and Voigt – and Miss Oregon USA 1994 – claimed both winners were limited by “ironclad” nondisclosure agreements in their contracts.

To date, neither Voigt nor Srivastava have publicly revealed more about what made them quit smoking. But in a resignation letter provided to the Miss USA Organization and obtained by CNN, Voigt outlined a number of concerns, ranging from frustrating management issues to more serious allegations. In it, she describes a “toxic work environment” that “is poor management at best and bullying and harassment at worst.” She accused pageant CEO Laylah Rose of “maligning” her character in conversations with people inside and outside the organization, including calling Voigt “mentally ill.” Rose is an entrepreneur and CEO of the VIP Pageantry Network, which took over the brand in 2023.

Voigt says Rose’s communications with her were “cold and unnecessarily aggressive” and that she never received a formal meeting about her responsibilities. Despite the lack of communication about her role, she was “constantly… threatened with disciplinary action, including removal of my salary,” according to the document.

The organization repeatedly failed to arrange accommodation for Voigt, she wrote, and did not provide him with an apartment or car for months, as had been stated in his package. . She also didn’t have an “effective manager,” she claimed, the latter leading to an instance where Voigt says she was sexually harassed at a Christmas parade in Sarasota, Fla., when she was alone with an anonymous person in a car.

According to Voigt’s letter, Rose is “actively building a culture of fear and control, the antithesis of women’s empowerment, that is… dangerous to future titleholders and employees.”

She also cannot publicly express her concerns, saying she is “contractually silenced and unable to speak out.”

The respective resignations of Voigt and Srivastava were not coordinated, according to White.

“What I saw and saw was harassment, a toxic work environment and bullying,” White said in a phone interview with CNN. “It’s just not conducive to a women’s organization that uplifts women and is supposed to promote the use of your voice.” It’s quite the opposite.

The two pageant winners sought support from Miss Universe management, which owns the Miss USA organization, without success, she added.

“The two young women were always trying to resolve issues quietly behind the scenes,” she explained. “The fact that Miss Universe Organization hasn’t even responded to Noelia’s resignation at this point is just a deadlock… No wonder things are falling apart. Because no one knows what to do.

The Miss Universe Organization and Rose, through Miss USA, did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Voigt’s pageant coach, Thom Brodeur, who has worked with Miss USA contestants since 1991 and began working with Voigt while she was preparing for Miss Utah, pointed to new and worrying territory for the organization led by Rose. “No woman has ever resigned as Miss USA or Miss Teen USA, and she lost them both in 48 hours,” he said.

Even before Voigt and Srivastava resigned, there was unrest within the organization, according to White, Brodeur and former Miss USA social media director Claudia Engelhardt, who also resigned in recent days. Engelhardt claimed on Instagram that she worked without pay for two months after being hired, saw a “decline” in Voigt’s mental health, and witnessed a “disrespect” toward Srivastava and his family members.

And according to Engelhardt, they were far from the only members of the Miss USA organization to leave. When she took office in January, she was part of an already small team of five employees. Today, she says, after several layoffs and resignations, the team is down to Rose and one other employee. Several sources claim that turnover has remained constant.

“It’s not a state competition. This is not a local competition. You need…a whole team,” Engelhardt said in a phone call with CNN.

Engelhardt said she was thinking about applying for a freelance position and was surprised to learn she was being hired as a staff member. Yet, she claimed, she received no employee contract, no onboarding and no orientation. There was no one else to help her manage the day-to-day social media needs of the national brand, she said, and she often ran into what she described as Rose’s authoritarian approach to their social accounts.

“She blocked the Instagram accounts of people with whom she had personal disagreements. She was censoring comments and leaving comments on the Miss USA page like she was Noelia,” Engelhardt claimed.

White also alleged that Rose impersonated both contest winners on their official accounts. A few weeks before Voigt resigned, she announced in a now-deleted Instagram post on her personal account that she “no longer had access” to her Miss USA pages.

Engelhardt said she witnessed the impact of that role on Voigt, whom she considers a friend as well as a former colleague. “(I saw) how stressed she was when the landlord was constantly bombarding her with emails,” she recalled. “She lived in a constant state of anxiety. »

But despite daily stressors, Voigt said she has made few public appearances. She said in her letter that, aside from a handful of press interviews in Los Angeles after her victory and those that followed in Utah, the state she had represented in the Miss USA pageant, she had “yet to make an appearance outside of Sarasota, Florida.” ”, where she lived. This was due to a “lack of communication” that she found “confusing,” she wrote.

“Our Miss USA, who should have been booked and busy with endless opportunities, was sitting around doing nothing, and it’s not because she didn’t want to, but because of poor management,” Engelhardt said.

On May 9, the Miss USA pageant announced that Savannah Gankiewicz, Miss Hawaii USA 2023 and first runner-up behind Voigt in the Miss USA 2023 pageant, would take over the national title and responsibilities. She will be officially crowned on May 15.

“We are proud to crown Savannah Miss USA 2023, a true representation of vision, intelligence and compassion,” Rose said in a statement. “Her dedication to empowering women through self-love and self-confidence is inspiring, and we look forward to her landmark reign as Miss USA.”

“I fully support and respect Noelia’s decision to step down, and I stand in solidarity with mental health awareness,” Gankiewicz added. “To my fellow Miss USA sisters, I believe it is crucial for us to remain united for the future of the organization and the new class of 2024 and beyond.”

Although many have offered public support for the two resigning pageant winners, including Shanna Moakler, who oversaw Voigt’s victory in her role as state director of the Miss Utah USA pageant, and Cindy Provost and Debbie Miller, who oversaw Srivastava’s victory in their role. as state directors of the Miss New Jersey Teen USA pageant – Engelhardt and White both hope others will step forward to reveal more about what they see as a stifling culture, as well as the potential legal ramifications , which keep the title holders silent.

“They need someone else to speak on their behalf,” White said.

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