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How the Miss USA Pageant Ended Up Such a Hot Mess

The Instagram comments from the official account of the reigning Miss USA, bearing Noelia Voigt’s profile picture, started showing up in February and March, six months after she won the beauty’s pageant’s crown.

There was a certain pattern to them: They praised the Miss USA organization’s president, Laylah Rose.

“Thank you, @laylahrose, for making all this happen,” one read. “She has been going over and beyond! Love our president!” read another.

The comments struck staffers of the Miss USA organization as odd because Voigt and Rose were known to have a strained relationship. And their suspicions were not off-base: Voigt did not write or post the glowing messages about Rose.

Text messages reviewed by The Daily Beast show that Voigt confronted Rose about the comments and asked that her name not be used for such endorsements. Rose blamed the social media team, but the comments were quietly edited to include the attribution “—staff.”

The spat was one symptom of a far deeper problem that erupted in a startling fashion last week. Voigt resigned her position as Miss USA last Monday, citing her mental health, a move quickly followed by the resignation of Miss Teen USA. The double whammy made headlines around the world, but it wasn’t shocking to insiders, who told The Daily Beast that the organization has been racked by internal turmoil that started with the arrival of Laylah Rose.

Rose was brought on to turn around the struggling franchise and promised to turn it into a vehicle for women’s empowerment. But ten former employees, current state directors, and current title holders told The Daily Beast she plunged it into chaos. These insiders say Rose postponed state contests, churned through four different leadership teams, bullied and threatened the title holders, and failed to adequately staff the organization.

Now, some of them are calling on Rose to resign.

“This is the first time I’ve ever supported cancel culture,” said Jennifer Lloyd, who has worked in production for the pageant in the past. “I want to be that woman who’s always going to champion women… but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone just really destroy a brand and just sink it.”

Rose did not respond to requests for comment sent to her via text and LinkedIn, and Miss USA also did not respond to calls and a detailed email seeking comment.

Rose previously told NBC that “the well-being of all individuals associated with Miss USA is my top priority.”

“All along, my personal goal as the head of this organization has been to inspire women to always create new dreams, have the courage to explore it all, and continue to preserve integrity along the way,” she said. “I hold myself to these same high standards and I take these allegations seriously.”

Laylah Rose walks the runway with a model during New York Fashion Week in 2019.

Laylah Rose walks the runway with a model during New York Fashion Week in 2019.

Brian Ach/Getty

A former model who worked a series of odd jobs before launching her own fashion label and styling herself as a pageant expert, Rose purchased Miss USA from the Miss Universe Organization in 2023, following a string of scandals that included allegations of rigging and sexual harassment by a former vice president. The former president, Crystle Stewart, was placed under investigation and chose to resign in 2022, leaving a gaping hole in the leadership that Rose—whose legal last name is Loiczly—jumped up to fill.

The problems started soon after Rose took the reins in August, just weeks before the 2023 Miss USA pageant. State directors—the independent franchisees who run the qualifying competitions in each state, many of whom have done it for decades—learned of her appointment through a press release, a state director who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation told The Daily Beast. They were invited to a Zoom meeting with the new president, who danced around their questions about the rapidly approaching national pageant and claimed she could not talk about the details, this state director said.

“It was a shit storm from the minute it took off,” she said.

The first pageant production team was hired just six to eight weeks before the air date, according to three people who worked on the event. The team worked around the clock and even helped secure a deal to air the pageant on the CW—the first time it would be on network television since 2019. But Rose replaced that team three weeks before the pageant was set to air, then fired the replacement shortly thereafter, these people said.

State directors also received little information during the event about where their contestants should be and when, the state director said. Rose—who had promised to hold regular town meetings leading up to the event—did not meet with the state directors again until days after they arrived at the pageant in Reno, sending them an invitation email with two hours notice.

“There is no other company that would communicate to you like that if they really considered you a valuable part of that company,” the director said. “And that’s when we kind of realized what it was that we were getting.”

Many of the state pageants, where competitors for the next year’s Miss USA pageant are selected, start shortly after the Miss USA competition concludes. But at that first meeting in August, Rose informed all the state directors that they were not to hold their pageants until she gave them the go-ahead. As the months passed with no word from her, state directors were forced to cancel their pageants, losing venues, vendors, contracts, deposits—and in some cases, even contestants, who switched to other competitions. In January, the state director told The Daily Beast, parent company Miss Universe stepped in to green-light the state competitions so winners could be crowned in time for the next pageant cycle.

Meanwhile, tensions between Rose and her newly crowned Miss USA were already bubbling. In late November, Voigt traveled to represent the United States at Miss Universe in El Salvador. According to her coach, Thom Brodeur, she was given no official chaperone or any wardrobe assistance, as is customary for all Miss USA winners.

In a resignation letter obtained by The Daily Beast and first reported by NBC, Voigt said her mother flew to El Salvador at her own expense to act as chaperone, and that her family took out personal loans that they are still repaying to equip her for competition. The stress of traveling and preparing for the competition was so great that her mother wound up in an El Salvadoran hospital, Voigt wrote.

When Voigt attempted to communicate with leadership about these issues and others, former employees and her coach said, she was met with silence or outright aggression from Rose. Brodeur said he witnessed Voigt receiving “heavy-handed, aggressive, and threatening communications” from Rose when she reached out for guidance—something that was often necessary, he added, because she did not receive her official Miss USA handbook until five months into the job. He added that Rose was “very clear about the hierarchy,” often putting Voigt in her place and telling her, “I’m the president, you are not.”

Former Miss USA social media director Claudia Engelhardt, who resigned last week, said she witnessed Rose threaten to withhold Voigt’s salary if she pushed back on her directives. Often, Engelhardt added, these were small matters of personal preference, such as whether Voigt tagged someone in an Instagram post or not. In her resignation letter, Voigt said Rose threatened to discipline her for posting to her personal Instagram on days she had requested off from the $100,000-a-year job.

Engelhardt said she often found herself thinking, “Doesn’t the executive officer have bigger things to worry about rather than harassing or bullying the title holder?”

A former Miss USA employee told The Daily Beast that Voigt reached out to the Miss Universe organization about her concerns in February and did not get a response until one of the national co-directors called the parent company.

Business operations at Miss USA were also taking a turn for the worse. At the time Engelhardt joined in January 2024, there were two national co-directors—the third iteration of Rose’s leadership team in less than six months—but no one specifically charged with running social media or with coordinating events. Rose tried to wear all of those hats at once, Engelhardt said, resulting in slow communications and missed opportunities for events and sponsorships.

“How do you buy an organization and not have the funds to staff it?” Engelhardt asked, adding that she had “seen state pageants run better.”

The state director said she also sent pressing emails without response, only to be chastised by Rose when she eventually CC’d the higher-ups at Miss Universe. When she read in Voigt’s resignation letter that Rose had been aggressive and difficult to reach, she said, “I [wasn’t] surprised, because we’ve been feeling the same way.”

“We’re trying to be the positive face of the brand and the brand just continues to disrespect us by ignoring us,” she said.

In late April, Rose fired her two national co-directors—including the one who had elevated Voigt’s concerns to the Miss Universe organization months earlier. Voigt announced her resignation a week later.

“Sadly, I have made the very tough decision to resign from the title of Miss USA 2023,” she wrote on Instagram. “I am grateful for the love and support of the fans, old and new, my family, my friends, my coaches, former state and local directors, and my darling beloved Miss Teen USA, UmaSofia.”

Two days later, UmaSofia Srivastava resigned her position, saying on Instagram that her “personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

Miss Teen USA 2023 UmaSofia Srivastava and Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt

Miss Teen USA 2023 UmaSofia Srivastava and Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt—before their resignations.

Craig Barritt/Getty

The news sent an Instagram chat for current state title holders into overdrive, according to Miss Idaho Hannah Menzer. The group of 50 women started brainstorming how to support Voigt and Srivastava and landed on a joint statement the vast majority of them posted to Instagram, expressing their support for her decision and asking for Voigt to be released from any confidentiality clause in her contract.

“We want to let Noelia share her story herself,” Menzer told The Daily Beast. “We want her to share what happened because we believe there’s more to the story. And Miss USA is a women’s empowerment organization and it doesn’t appear that that’s what’s going on with its leadership, so we want answers.”

The group is still deciding what to do now that the 24-hour deadline they set for releasing Voigt from her NDA has passed. Menzer said she still does not know the full story of what happened, but after reading Voigt’s resignation letter in full, she is leaning toward calling for Rose’s resignation.

“I believe there should be a change in leadership and I certainly am not the only person within the pageant world who believes so,” she said. “Our letter was intended to not just put pressure on Miss USA, but [on] the Miss Universe organization to take action.”

At least one other state title holder—Miss Colorado—has given up her crown in solidarity with Voigt and Srivastava. Miss Teen USA runner-up Stephanie Skinner declined to replace Srivastava this week, telling People magazine that “although this title was a dream of mine, I believe one thing I will never give up is my character.”

The state director who spoke to The Daily Beast said she, too, would step down after this year’s pageant if Rose is allowed to stick around.

“It is obvious to all of us that she is highly unprepared to run this business,” the director said. “And she will attempt to run it into the ground to prove us all wrong.”

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