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Miss USA and Miss Teen USA resign days apart, casting a spotlight on the organization

Miss Teen USA, UmaSofia Srivastava, left, and Miss USA, Noelia Voigt pictured at a New York Fashion Week event in February. They both announced their resignations this week.
Craig Barritt
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Getty Images for Supermodels Unlimited
Miss Teen USA, UmaSofia Srivastava, left, and Miss USA, Noelia Voigt pictured at a New York Fashion Week event in February. They both announced their resignations this week.

The 2023 Miss USA and Miss Teen USA relinquished their crowns within days of each other this week, leaving their parent organization without its two biggest titleholders — and under mounting scrutiny.

Their departures are the latest in a string of recent controversies at the Miss USA and Miss Universe organizations and have prompted a slew of state titleholders to publicly pressure the pageant for more transparency.

Miss USA Noelia Voigt announced her resignation in an Instagram post on Monday, citing "the importance of making decisions that feel best for you and your mental health."

The 24-year-old became the first Venezuelan-American woman to win Miss USA in September 2023, representing Utah. In her resignation statement, she expressed her gratitude for the connections and platform from over seven years of competing in pageants and urged others to "never compromise your physical and mental well-being."

"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.

Eagle-eyed followers noted in the comments section that the first letters of the first 11 sentences of her statement spell out "I AM SILENCED" (the remaining three spell "HIP").

Concerns and criticisms compounded in the days that followed, especially after Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava, 17, announced her resignation in a similarly-formatted Instagram post on Wednesday.

Srivastava, of New Jersey, was also crowned in September 2023 — and said her resignation comes after "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 wrote. "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."

She didn't elaborate, but added to the intrigue by opening her statement with this quote attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth."

Srivastava said she looks forward to finishing 11th grade and applying to college, as well as continuing her collaborations with education- and literacy-focused nonprofits and promoting her multilingual children's book about acceptance, calling that work "my TRUE purpose."

Voigt was among the many people to leave positive comments on her post, writing in part, "So proud of you my angel."

The organization has not responded to NPR's requests for comment.

But the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA Instagram accounts each acknowledged their titleholders' departures, in near-identical posts, thanking them for their service and wishing them the best.

"The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority, and we understand her need to prioritize herself at this time," wrote the Miss USA account of Voigt. "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 2024 edition of the Miss USA pageant is scheduled to take place in early August.

A Miss USA employee had resigned days earlier, slamming "workplace toxicity"

Voigt and Srivastava aren't the only recent departures from Miss USA.

Former social media director Claudia Michelle first announced her resignation over the weekend, in an Instagram post that accused the organization of mistreating all three of them.

"Being offered your dream job and seeing that it was anything but is so disheartening," wrote Michelle.

Michelle said she felt compelled to speak out because "this is a women's empowerment organization," noting she had not signed an NDA.

She said she wasn't allowed to bring anyone else onto her social media team of one — something "absolutely necessary" for a "brand of this caliber" — and that she worked without financial compensation for her first two months on the job.

She went on to say that she witnessed "a decline in [Voigt's] mental health since we first met" and "the disrespect toward [Srivastava] and her family," opining that the teen titleholder didn't get enough attention on social media.

"I've first hand seen Noelia and Uma be unable to share about their personal advocacies on social media and be threatened by [Miss Universe Organization] 'social media rules and guidelines' that I still have yet to see," Michelle wrote. "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 told USA Today in a statement that it is "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."

After a rocky few years, titleholders are calling for "full transparency" from the organization

The Miss USA Organization has had a turbulent few years, as Business Insider reported.

In early 2022, Cheslie Kryst, the 2019 Miss USA winner, died by suicide. Later that fall, days after R'Bonney Gabriel was crowned Miss USA, other contestants publicly accused organizers of rigging the competition in her favor.

The Miss Universe Organization responded by suspending Miss USA President Crystle Stewart and launching a third-party investigation into the allegations.

Around that time, news emerged that Stewart's husband, Max Sebrechts, had stepped down from his role as Miss USA vice president earlier that year after multiple 2021 pageant contestants accused him of sexual harassment.

In January 2023, Gabriel won the Miss Universe title, becoming the first American to do so in a decade and relinquishing her Miss USA crown to runner-up Morgan Romero of North Carolina.

In August, the Miss Universe Organization said the investigation had found the allegations of rigging to be false, but was parting ways with Stewart nonetheless. Current Miss USA President and CEO Laylah Rose was announced as her replacement that same day.

Critiques of Miss USA resurfaced since the titleholders' resignations this week.

Several 2023 state titleholders have shared a joint statement on social media, saying the majority of the Miss USA class of 2023 supports Voigt's decision to resign and asking the Miss USA Organization to 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 statement, which began circulating on Wednesday, requests a response within 24 hours.

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

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.