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The shocking resignations of two Miss USA pageants are just the tip of the iceberg, experts say

The shocking resignations of two Miss USA pageants are just the tip of the iceberg, experts say

(CNN) — During their year of service, Miss World queens are highly visible, appearing at events, championing important issues, and speaking at public events, all in an official capacity. But following the shock double resignations of Miss Teen USA 2023 Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA 2023 Uma Sofia Srivastava this week, just days apart, insiders paint a picture of the national champions, far from their usual duties, an organization in disarray. and key players who seem unable to articulate their experiences and interests.

The Miss USA organization, which hosts the two pageants, has come under intense criticism amid accusations of mismanagement, a hostile work environment and conditions that led, in particular, to Voigt’s resignation on the grounds that her role affected her mental health.

Srivastava, 16, who represented New Jersey in the Miss Teen USA pageant, posted a statement on Instagram in which she said her personal values ​​”no longer fully align” with those of the organization, and Voigt, 24, who represented Utah in the Miss Teen USA pageant, wrote a long caption. But it’s a vague post, referring to her mental health. However, an apparent hidden message soon spread: the first letter of the first 11 sentences was “I am silent” (Voigt would not later address this speculation).

“We respect and support Noelia’s decision to step down from her duties,” Miss USA said in a statement following the announcement. “The well-being of our heroes is a top priority and we understand her need to prioritize herself at this time,” they stated. The organization did not respond to CNN’s request for further comment.

In response, several current state champions who competed alongside Voigt for Miss USA, including Miss North Carolina USA 2023 Jordyn Ashley Mackey, Miss Wisconsin USA 2023 Alexis Lomans and Miss New York USA Rachel Di Stasio, sharing messages on social media in support of Di Voigt. She asks the organization to “release Noelia from the confidentiality clause in her contract forever, so she can talk about her experiences and her time as Miss USA.”

Noelia Voigt was crowned Miss USA in September 2023, but resigned earlier this week. Miss Teen USA Uma Sofia Srivastava joined her in quitting smoking, revolutionizing the pageant world and beyond. (Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock)

Dennis White, a public relations representative for Srivastava and Voigt (and Miss Oregon USA 1994), claimed that both winners were bound by “strict” confidentiality agreements in their contracts.

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So far, neither Voigt nor Srivastava have publicly revealed the reason that prompted them to resign. But in a resignation letter submitted to the Miss USA organization and obtained by CNN, Voigt addressed a number of concerns, from frustrating management problems to more serious allegations. He describes a “toxic work environment” that “speaks at best of mismanagement and, at worst, of bullying and harassment.” He accused the pageant’s CEO, Leila Rose, of “slandering” him in conversations inside and outside the organization, including calling Voigt “mentally ill.” Rose is an entrepreneur and CEO of VIP Pageantry Network, which acquired the brand in 2023.

Voigt says Rose’s communications with him were “unnecessarily cold and aggressive” and that he never had a formal meeting about his responsibilities. Despite not communicating her role, she was “continuously threatened with disciplinary action” and even the possibility of a pay cut, according to the document.

In her resignation, which was obtained by CNN, Voigt claims that Miss USA CEO Lily Rose is “actively working to build a culture of fear and control.” (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images)

Voigt wrote that the organization failed to arrange accommodations for his trips on several occasions, and failed to provide him with an apartment or a car for several months, as his awards indicated. She also claimed she did not have an “effective caregiver,” leading to a case in which Voigt says she was sexually harassed during a Christmas parade in Sarasota, Florida, while she was alone with an unknown person in a car.

Rose “actively builds a culture of fear and control, which is the antithesis of women’s empowerment, and is unsafe for future winners and employees,” according to Voigt’s letter.

Additionally, she wrote that she could not publicly express her concerns, due to her being “contractually silenced from being able to speak for herself.”

“Things are falling apart”

According to Rep. White, Voigt’s and Srivastava’s resignations were not coordinated.

“What I saw and saw was harassment, a toxic work environment and intimidation,” White said in a phone interview with CNN. “This does not help create a women’s organization that is supposed to uplift women and encourage them to use their voices,” she said. “It is the exact opposite.”

He added that both winners requested support from the Miss Universe administration, which owns the Miss USA organization, to no avail.

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He explained, “The two young women always tried to solve any problem quietly behind the scenes.” “The fact that the Miss Universe Organization has not even responded to Noelia’s resignation at this point is just a walk away. It’s no wonder things are falling apart. Because no one knows what to do.”

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

Voigt and Srivastava were photographed with Miss USA pageant owner Lily Rose (second from right) during a New York Fashion Week event in February. (Chance Yeh/Getty Images)

Voigt’s pageant coach, Thom Brodeur, who has worked with Miss USA contestants since 1991 and began working with Voigt when she was preparing for Miss Utah, insisted on an inauspicious new territory for the organization under Rose’s leadership. “No woman has ever resigned from the title of Miss USA or Miss Teen USA, and lost them within 48 hours,” he said.

Even before Voigt and Srivastava resigned, there was turmoil in the organization, according to Claudia Englehart, the former social media director for Miss USA White and Brodeur, who also resigned in recent days. Engelhart claimed on Instagram that she worked without pay for two months after she was hired, that she witnessed a “deterioration” in Voigt’s mental health, and that she witnessed a “lack of respect” toward Srivastava and her family members.

According to Engelhardt, they were not the only members of the Miss USA organization to leave. When he took over in January, he was part of a small team of five employees. Now, he says, after several layoffs and resignations, the team is entrusted to Rose and another employee. Several sources said trading volume was steady.

“This is not a state competition. This is not a local competition. You need a full team,” Englehart said in a phone call with CNN.

Voigt and Srivastava posed for photos with Krystle Stewart, who previously ran Miss USA, at a party in New York following her double resignation. (Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Englehart said she thought she was applying for a freelance position, and was surprised to learn she had been hired as an employee. However, he claimed that he did not receive any employee contract, training or mentoring. She said there was no one else to help her manage the national brand’s day-to-day social media needs, and she often encountered what she described as Rose’s authoritarian approach to her social accounts.

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“She blocked the Instagram accounts of people she had personal disagreements with. She censored comments and left comments for the Miss USA page as if she were Noelia,” Englehart said.

White also claimed that Rose pretended to be the winners of the contest on her official accounts. Weeks before Voigt resigned, she announced in a now-deleted Instagram post from her personal account that she “no longer has access” to her Miss USA pages.

Difficult road ahead

Englehart said she witnessed first-hand the impact the role had on Voigt, whom she considers a friend and former colleague. “(I saw) how stressed she felt when the landlord was constantly bombarding her with emails,” she recalled. “She constantly lived in a state of anxiety.”

But despite the daily pressures, Voigt claimed he made only a few public appearances. She said in her letter that except for a few press interviews in Los Angeles after her win and subsequent interviews in Utah, the state she represented in the Miss USA pageant, she “has not been seen outside of Sarasota, Florida.” , the place where he lived. He wrote that this was due to a “misunderstanding” which he found “puzzling”.

“Miss USA, who should have been appointed and was busy with endless opportunities, was sitting around doing nothing, not because she didn’t want to, but because of mismanagement,” Englehart said.

Savannah Jankiewicz, who was Miss Hawaii and was first runner-up during the Miss USA 2023 pageant, will take over as Miss USA following Voigt’s resignation. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

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

“We are proud to crown Savannah as 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 confidence is inspiring, and we look forward to her impactful reign as Miss USA.”

“I fully support and respect Noelia’s decision to resign and stand in solidarity with mental health awareness,” Jankiewicz said. “To my fellow Miss USA, I believe it is important for us to stay united for the future of the organization and the next class of 2024 and beyond.”

Although many publicly supported the two pageant winners who resigned, including Shanna Moakler, who oversaw Voigt’s win in her role as state director of the Miss Utah USA pageant, and Cindy Provost and Debbie Miller, who oversaw Srivastava’s win as state directors. At the Miss New Jersey Teen USA pageant, Englehart and White hope others will come forward to reveal more about what they view as a stifling culture, as well as potential legal ramifications, that keeps the champions quiet.

“They need someone else to speak for them,” White said.

CNN’s Christy Choi, Leah Dolan and Alex Reiss contributed to this report.