Pretty Ugly: The Biggest Beauty Pageant Controversies
It's not all roses and tiaras for these lovely ladies: look back at some of the major missteps these Misses have made
Pushpika De Silva, a pageant queen who won the title of "Mrs. Sri Lanka" in April 2021, said she was injured after her crown was forcefully removed from her head onstage by a former winner.
The incident was captured on a televised broadcast of the ceremony, which showed De Silva being named the winner of Mrs. Sri Lanka before her crown was taken by Caroline Jurie, who won the pageant in 2019 and is currently the reigning Mrs. World.
In a video of the crowning ceremony published by the Colombo Gazette, Jurie cited a pageant rule that prevents women who have been divorced from winning the title.
"There is a rule that you have to be married and not divorced, so I am taking my first steps in saying that the crown goes to the first runner-up," Jurie told the audience.
De Silva later said she is not divorced, and that she'd be taking legal action against Jurie. Days later, Jurie gave up her own crown, and was also arrested for the incident, though released on bail. In a video post, she said she "will always stand for what I believe is right," and that she was only pushing for a "fair stage."
In December 2019, the former Miss Kentucky admitted to sending nude photos of herself to a 15-year-old — and faces up to two years in prison for her crime.
“Since I am the adult, and he was just a teenager, it is my fault, and I accept full blame for the situation,” Carpenter-Bearse, then 29, said in court on Dec. 17 while pleading guilty to a charge of possessing material depicting minors in sexually explicit conduct, WOWK-TV reported. “So that’s how I’m guilty of this crime. I messed up big-time.”
In July 2020, she was sentenced to two years in prison.
Carpenter-Bearse was crowned Miss Kentucky in 2014. After her reign, she began working as a teacher in West Virginia. According to a 2018 press release issued by the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, Carpenter-Bearse was charged last year with distributing obscene materials to a minor.
According to a criminal complaint first obtained by the Associated Press, the student’s parents informed authorities that they had found lewd pictures on the boy’s phone. The pictures, which were allegedly sent via Snapchat, had been saved to the phone’s camera roll.
Sarah Rose Summers
Miss USA 2018 issued an apology ahead of the December Miss Universe competition after she caught heat for an Instagram video in which she appeared to mock the English language skills of some of her fellow competitors.
“@MissUniverse is an opportunity for women from around the world to learn about each other’s cultures, life experiences, and views. We all come from different backgrounds and can grow alongside one another,” Summers wrote alongside a photo of herself and her fellow contestants embracing one another.
“In a moment where I intended to admire the courage of a few of my sisters, I said something that I now realize can be perceived as not respectful, and I apologize,” Summers continued. “My life, friendships, and career revolve around me being a compassionate and empathetic woman. I would never intend to hurt another. I am grateful for opportunities to speak with Nat, Miss Cambodia, and H’Hen, Miss Vietnam, directly about this experience. These are the moments that matter most to me.”
Summers was still allowed to continue in the Miss Universe pageant, though did not win.
The Miss Massachusetts Competition
A beauty pageant contestant gave up her Miss Plymouth County crown and title after a skit in the June 30, 2018, Miss Massachusetts competition mocked the #MeToo movement.
Maude Gorman, who has been outspoken about being gang raped when she was 13, shared a post on Instagram announcing her resignation.
A video shared by the Observer shows the off-color comedy skit in which a woman asks a person dressed up as God why the Miss America was eliminating the swimsuit competition.
“We may have very well seen the last ever swimsuit competition on stage. It’s very upsetting” the woman says. “And I’m trying to understand, God, why it happened.”
“Me too, Amy,” he replies, holding up a #MeToo sign and drawing laughs from the audience. The Miss Massachusetts Board of Directors later apologized for the joke on Facebook.
Miss America CEO Sam Haskell
In December 2017, the head of the organization resigned after the Huffington Post ran a story exposing several inappropriate emails written by the Miss America CEO, including some that discussed the sex lives and body types of past contestants. Board chair Lynn Weidner also resigned, as did board member Tammy Haddad, who was party to some of the emails. Following the email exposure, 49 past Miss America winners signed a petition calling for Haskell's resignation, with several speaking out on bullying they'd faced during their time with the pageant.
The Miss USA 1994 and current KTLA anchor made headlines instead of reading them, when she was arrested for taking a fellow passenger's $200 headphones at LAX in November 2016. Parker allegedly removed the earbuds from the TSA passenger screening area; the item's owner identified her and she was removed from her flight, Variety reported. KTLA later released a statement on the matter, saying the passenger forgot the headphones and Parker took them with the intent to return them. "When she was unable to locate the owner, Lu boarded her flight. We believe this is a misunderstanding, Lu is cooperating fully with the authorities and we are confident she will be able to clear this all up."
Shortly after Hay, from Texas, was crowned Miss Teen USA 2016 in Las Vegas, tweets containing a racial slur surfaced from an account belonging to the 18-year-old. The Miss Universe Organization, which owns the pageant, condemned the tweets but said Hay would keep her crown and the organization would support "her continued growth." Hay echoed those same sentiments in an Instagram post, writing: "Through hard work, education and thanks in large part to the sisterhood that I have come to know through pageants, I am proud to say that I am today a better person."
Despite winning the Miss Florida USA 2017 title on July 16, the pageant queen was stripped of her crown days later, after violating pageant rules by getting her hair and makeup professionally done during the competition – a claim Dévila denies. "I still feel like I'm Miss Florida USA because I was crowned Miss Florida USA that night," she says, adding that she has hired a team of lawyers to fight the decision. "Even though all these false accusations and allegations and rumors have been wandering all over social media, I know that I have proof to show the world that none of this is true."
After shaving her head and faking leukemia – all the while bilking sympathetic and sometimes dying donors out of thousands of dollars – a Pennsylvania beauty queen was sentenced to state prison for multiple charges of theft. "She actually stole that time and money from giving people who were actually suffering from cancer, some of who lived near her and have since passed," says Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller. "I only hope this singular incident by a selfish person will not dampen [the community's] endless capacity for helping those in need."
Ariadna Gutiérrez & Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach
Sometimes, the biggest pageant scandals are actually the fault of the show's hosts. Case in point: the 2015 Miss Universe competition, which sent the Internet into a frenzy after host Steve Harvey mistakenly announced Miss Colombia, Gutiérrez, as the winner, despite the fact that it was Pia Wurtzbach – a.k.a. Miss Philippines – who actually won the crown. Despite the mix-up, both women took it in stride, with Wurtzbach laughing off the flub as "a very non-traditional crowning moment." Gutiérrez, meanwhile, said, "Everything happens for a reason," as she left the stage.
The former Miss Nevada was arrested in 2015 and charged with possessing and selling meth. Still, Rees is no stranger to scandal: In 2007 she was stripped of her title after sexually explicit images of her appeared online, and in 2009 she was questioned by officials in Sydney, Australia, under suspicion of being in possession of cocaine. She later stated on an Australian TV show, "I don't do drugs."
Miss Zimbabwe 2015 was stripped of her title in June 2015 after she admitted to posing for nude photos. The Miss Zimbabwe Trust said in a statement that all contestants are required to swear in an agreement that they've never posed naked, nor will they should they win the competition. Kachote's dethronement was the second consecutive one of its kind – the previous year's winner, Thabiso Phiri, also lost her title after her own nude pics surfaced.
Saly Greige & Doron Matalon
Lebanese Miss Universe 2015 contestant Saly Greige and Miss Israel Doron Matalon were at the center of an international firestorm after a photo of the contestants (with Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia) ended up on social media on Jan. 18. A refresher: Lebanon and Israel have been at war since 2006, and Lebanese citizens can be imprisoned for coming in contact with Israelis. Amid talks that her title be revoked, Greige defended herself on Instagram, writing that she'd been "cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel," adding that Matalon jumped into a picture without asking first.
Though the 2009 Miss Teen Oregon-World champ kept a low profile following her win, in November 2014 her name was in the news – and not for good reasons. France was arrested with two other individuals on methamphetamine charges after she was found in a Salem, Oregon, hotel room that contained a few grams of heroin, cocaine and meth, plus a record of drug sales, according to KTLA. Her co-defendants face more serious charges, including child neglect, after their home, where a 4- and 7-year-old also lived, was found to contain numerous drugs and "chaotic conditions."
Some say that age is just a number. But that wasn't true for Longacre, who won the Miss Delaware 2014 title, only to lose it two weeks later when pageant officials decided she would be too old to compete in the upcoming Miss America Pageant (she was told she had to be 24 by the time of the competition, and she turns 25 one month after it ends). Though her scholarship money was returned, Longacre filed a lawsuit on July 15 seeking to be reinstated as Miss Delaware and to be allowed to compete in the Miss America pageant.
Sanchez represented Nevada in the Miss USA pageant – but the question of whether she even lives there came up immediately after she won the Miss USA title in 2014. Skeptics claimed the model and occasional Disneyland princess faked her residency in Nevada to avoid the stiff California competition after it was discovered that she'd competed in the Miss California USA pageant and lost three times. Either way, she beat out Miss California when it counted – and kept her crown.
Another recount in Florida? Five days after the college student was crowned the 2014 Miss Florida, officials announced there was a scoring error and she was actually the first runner-up – Victoria Cowen would be the one moving on to compete in Miss America. "Initially, it was completely devastating," Fechtel told PEOPLE. But after the initial shock, the University of Florida junior is maintaining a positive outlook and focusing on her mission to empower young leaders. "I've been 'de-crowned,'" she said, "but I still see immense opportunity. I can channel my energy to my platform whether or not I'm Miss Florida."
Machado was crowned Miss Universe 1996, and shortly after was thrust back into the headlines, this time with concerns about her increasing weight. Pageant officials threatened to replace her unless she trimmed down, which she did – but not before Miss Universe owner Donald Trump referred to her as "an eating machine" live on Howard Stern's radio show. She became a hot topic in the 2016 presidential election when Hillary Clinton brought up the Donald Trump quotes in the pair's first debate. Machado became an American citizen in 2016, and campaigned heavily for Clinton.
It was the scandal that started them all. Before she was a multi-talented singer and actress, New York's Williams was stripped of her 1983 Miss America crown after Penthouse released nude photos of the beauty queen taken during her days as a photographer's assistant. "I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me," Williams told PEOPLE at the time. She gave up her title just months after her historic win as the first black Miss America, but went on to receive other accolades – including multiple Grammy and Emmy nominations. Thirty-two years after her resignation, Williams returned to the pageant as a judge and received a public apology from the organization's CEO.
Miss USA 2006 had a little too much fun celebrating her title. Reports surfaced of drug and alcohol abuse and the beauty queen tested positive for cocaine about eight months into her reign. Donald Trump called a televised press conference, but instead of stripping Conner of her title, he gave her a second chance – and Conner agreed to go to rehab. She now serves as a public advocacy consultant for Caron Treatment Centers.
Miss California Prejean caused quite a stir when she weighed in on the hot-button topic of whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized. Asked by Miss USA 2009 judge Perez Hilton, who's openly gay, Prejean responded that she believed "marriage should be between a man and a woman." The controversy continued when topless photos of the blonde beauty emerged on the Internet. Prejean was, at first, allowed to keep her title, but ultimately lost it for violating her contract and her "unwillingness to make appearances on behalf" of the Miss USA organization.
Poor Upton. Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007 made a major gaffe when asked by guest judge Aimee Teegarden why she thought one-fifth of Americans can't find the United States on a map. Her fumbled answer called out "the Iraq" and "Asian counties" and their need for the support of the American educational system. The unfortunate answer became YouTube gold – but hey, at least she finished as third runner-up.
After hitting the nightclubs a little too hard, the 2011 Miss USA earned a rep as a party girl, almost missing a CNN interview after a late night on the town, and getting slinky on a stripper pole (which the organization later determined was part of a pole-dancing class). Lebanese-born Fakih, who represented Michigan in the pageant, was the first Muslim to wear the crown, and had already drawn criticism for her racy antics. When stories began to escalate, pageant officials sent her back to her home state to mull over the pressures of the title, but ultimately Fakih finished her reign – and defended her actions. "Miss USA is just a real woman, a real human being who is an adult and has her own opinion and can make her own decisions," she said.
Unfortunately for Evans, Louisiana has not yet legalized marijuana, so when the Miss Teen Louisiana skipped out on a $46 tab at a restaurant in 2008 and left behind a purse with her driver's license and, allegedly, some pot, she was stripped of her title. Sadly, the mishap undermined a year's worth of hard work. "She's done a good job this year," admitted Paula M. Miles, president of the pageant's production company.