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Fallout continues from the Miss USA resignations as a runner-up declines the crown

Noelia Voigt (L) and UmaSofia Srivastava (R) attend a charity event in New York City on May 8, the week that they stepped down as Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.
Rob Kim
/
Getty Images for Smile Train
Noelia Voigt (L) and UmaSofia Srivastava (R) attend a charity event in New York City on May 8, the week that they stepped down as Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.

Updated May 14, 2024 at 12:14 PM ET

Days after a pair of resignations rocked the pageant world, organizers have found a successor for Miss USA but appear to be struggling to do the same for Miss Teen USA.

Miss USA Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava, who were both crowned in 2023, announced their early departures two days apart last week.

Srivastava said her "personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization," while Voigt cited mental health reasons in a statement whose first letters of every sentence spelled "I AM SILENCED."

A longer resignation letter from Voigt, obtained by the New York Times and NBC News, accuses the Miss USA Organization of "a toxic work environment ... that, at best, is poor management and, at worst, is bullying and harassment."

Social media director Claudia Michelle also resigned right before the two, disavowing "workplace toxicity and bullying" in a public statement of her own, in which she noted she was not bound by an non-disclosure agreement.

Miss Colorado Arianna Lemus resigned in solidarity on Friday, writing that Voigt and Srivastava's "voices have been stifled by the constraints of a contract that undermines their rights and dignity," and calling for urgent reform within Miss USA.

The slew of departures and criticisms have refocused a spotlight on the organization, raising questions about its treatment of its two biggest titleholders and practices in general.

The organization wished Voigt and Srivastava well in public Instagram posts, but has not responded to NPR's requests for comment even as the fallout from their resignations has continued.

In the latest twist, the runner-up from last year's Miss Teen USA competition says she has turned down the offer to succeed Srivastava.

Miss New York Teen USA Stephanie Skinner, a student at UPenn, wrote on Instagram this week that she had already committed to living in Thailand this summer for a "global research career opportunity."

The 19-year-old acknowledged that declining the national title was a tough decision, especially since she'd been working towards it since the age of 12. But she also said she believes it is the right move, alluding to the circumstances that led to it.

"Although I do not know exactly what Noelia and Uma went through to led [sic] them to resign, I am sending them immense love and support," she wrote. "What I do know is that my core values are integrity, honor, kindness, and most importantly I will always stand for female empowerment. I believe we all deserve the power to use our voices."

Skinner, whose tenure ends in late June, doubled down in an interview with People on Tuesday: "I believe one thing I will never give up is my character."

The new Miss USA will be crowned on Wednesday

Meanwhile, organizers are preparing to inaugurate the new Miss USA 2023, Miss Hawaii Savannah Gankiewicz.

They announced on Friday that Gankiewicz, last year's runner-up, will be crowned in a ceremony in her home state on Wednesday.

"Her dedication to empowering women through self-love and confidence is inspiring, and we look forward to her impactful reign as Miss USA," Laylah Rose, Miss USA Organization CEO and president, said in a statement.

Gankiewicz — who is of Filipina, Polish and Vietnamese descent — is a model, entrepreneur and program director for What Makes You Feel Beautiful, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and girls based in Maui, where she was born and raised.

In an Instagram post responding to the news, Gankiewicz said she hopes to use her short time as Miss USA to "bring attention and focus onto the rebuilding of Lahaina on my island of Maui," which was devastated by a series of wildfires last August.

She said her decision to accept the crown was not made lightly.

"I stand with Noelia and admire her strength to step down and prioritize her mental health," she wrote. "Noelia, it was the honor of a lifetime to share the stage with you during your crowning moment and I wish you all the best in your next chapter."

Questions remain about the August pageant

Many Miss USA 2023 state titleholders, including the now-former Miss Colorado, have expressed public support for Voigt by sharing an Instagram statementthat asks the organization to release her from the confidentiality clause of her contract "so that she is free to speak on her experiences and time as Miss USA."

The statement, which says it has the support of the majority of members of the 2023 class, also asks for "full transparency for contestants in the class of 2024 and beyond."

Gankiewicz — who did not share that statement on her Instagram page — addressed her "fellow Miss USA sisters" in a separate statement, writing, "I believe it's crucial for us to stand united for the future of the organization and the incoming class of 2024 and beyond."

States have already begun crowning their respective 2024 titleholders, a process that is slated to continue through early July.

The winners from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., will compete at the Miss USA pageant in Los Angeles from July 27 through August 4. The Miss Teen USA pageant will be held on August 1.

The Miss USA competition is slated to be broadcast live on the CW Network, which announced in late April that it had entered into an "exclusive multi-year broadcast partnership" with both the adult and teen versions of the pageant for the next three years.

It also said the 2023 Miss USA broadcast was the network's #1 new special of the year, with more than 1.1 million total viewers to see Voigt win the crown.

But the future of the partnership, touted by executives just weeks ago, is suddenly unclear.

"In light of the events of last week, The CW Network is evaluating its relationship with both pageants," the network told NPR in a statement on Tuesday.

Miss USA did nod to the controversy in its statement announcing Gankiewicz last week, as backlash within and beyond the organization continued to grow.

It said "it's important to remember that every individual connected to such high-profile events is navigating their own personal journey."

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.