Monday, May 27, 2024

New Miss USA crowned amid ongoing turmoil at pageant | CNN

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CNN
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Amid a dramatic two weeks of resignations and allegations made against the Miss USA organization, Miss Hawaii USA Savannah Gankiewicz — who had originally placed as the first runner-up at the 2023 Miss USA pageant — has stepped up to be crowned Miss USA.

“While this decision was not made lightly, I firmly believe that this opportunity was meant for me and I am ready to make a positive impact with this organization that I hold dear to my heart,” said the 28-year-old, who was crowned by the governor of Hawaii Josh Green at a ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Wednesday.

“I am dedicated to taking action and making a difference. With my background as a certified mental health first aid responder and training in anti-bullying suicide prevention. I understand, the importance of prioritizing your well-being and advocating for those in need. I believe that the true change starts from within and I am determined to lead by example and empower the class of 2024 and beyond,” she said addressing a crowd in a hotel in Waikiki, a small aquarium in the background.

Gankiewicz has taken over the title from Noelia Voigt, who suddenly gave up her crown earlier this month. Voigt cited mental health as her reason for stepping down, but her resignation letter to the Miss Universe organization, obtained by CNN, accused CEO Laylah Rose, of “actively building a culture of fear and control.”

Among her claims, she wrote that Miss USA management often failed to provide her with travel accommodations or an “effective handler,” the latter leading to an instance where Voigt says she was sexually harassed during a Christmas parade event in Sarasota, Florida, while alone with an unnamed person in a car.

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

Two days after Voigt’s resignation, Miss Teen USA 2023 UmaSofia Srivastava relinquished her title as well, writing on Instagram that her values “no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

In her first official appearance since the controversy, Rose did not address any of the allegations. She welcomed Gankiewicz to the Miss USA family telling her to “embrace this moment of influence and let your words carry the power of positive change,” and thanked her corporate partners and sponsors for their “unwavering support.”

Rose said that this year’s Miss Teen USA and Miss USA pageants would take place in Los Angeles and would broadcast on the CW network.

The CW announced a multi-year agreement to air the two pageants in April, but in light of recent allegations, USA Today reported Monday that the network was “evaluating” its relationship with the Miss USA organization.

The CW did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Tumult and turnover

Currently, the Miss Teen USA role remains unfilled. The first runner-up from 2023, New York’s Stephanie Skinner, has declined to be crowned in a public statement on Instagram.

On Tuesday, Voigt and Srivastava’s mothers spoke out on “Good Morning America,” saying their daughters remained under strict non-disclosure agreements in their contracts and could not talk about their experiences.

“The job of their dreams turned out to be a nightmare,” Barbara Srivastava said. “The girls decided to step down and give (up) their dream of a lifetime — a crown, a national title. Why would two girls decide to give that up?”

During their reigning year, she added, their daughters were “ill-treated, abused, bullied and cornered,” she added.

Miss USA and Miss Universe Organization, have not returned CNN’s multiple requests for comment.

Though many current Miss USA state titleholders expressed their public support on Instagram following Voigt’s resignation, this week, the reigning Miss Colorado USA, Arianna Lemus, gave up her title completely.

“My values were compromised. Silencing women is not the definition of pageantry,” she told CNN Wednesday. “As a collective, the 2023 (Miss USA) class came together in solidarity with Noelia, but that wasn’t enough for me… and that’s why I resigned.”

Gankiewicz will only hold the Miss USA title for a few months this summer, until a new contestant from the 2024 class of state titleholders takes the national crown in August at the next Miss USA pageant.

On Instagram, she had acknowledged the limitations of her role, saying, “With the little time I have as Miss USA, it is my intention to bring attention and focus onto the rebuilding of Lahaina on my island of Maui. I also look forward to helping the 2024 delegates transition into a new era of Miss USA and supporting them on their own journeys towards the crown.”

Lemus, meanwhile, called on urgent action to protect 2024 titleholders and beyond from restrictive contracts. Voigt’s mother, Jackeline Voigt, said on “Good Morning America” that contestants should reconsider competing at all.

“Look at what happened to Noelia and UmaSofia,” she said. “Right now, it’s not the right time to participate.”

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