'Eight months of torture': The mothers of Miss USA and Miss Teen USA speak out after their daughters' resignations

'Eight months of torture': The mothers of Miss USA and Miss Teen USA speak out after their daughters' resignations
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When Noelia Voigt competed in her first pageant at 16, she started getting bullied at school. Her friends turned against her.

But it didn't discourage Noelia. She wrote a book about anti-bullying, which became a huge part of her platform for Miss USA. In September, she won the crown, becoming the first Venezuelan American to take the title.

Jackeline Voigt, Noelia's mother, told Business Insider she never imagined her daughter would be bullied again — this time by the very organization she had been chosen to represent.

BI spoke with Jackeline alongside Barbara Srivastava — the mother of Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava — the week after their daughters both resigned, the first time anyone has given up their crown in the pageant's 72-year history.

When she announced her resignation on May 6, Noelia cited her mental health. Two days later, UmaSofia said her "personal values" no longer aligned with the pageant.

Jackeline and Barbara said their daughters suffered through "emotional abuse, gaslighting, and a hostile environment" under Miss USA's current president and CEO, Laylah Rose, and aren't allowed to speak out due to their iron-clad NDAs.

"The woman who was supposed to be all about empowering and bringing women together and pushing them to speak for their causes and charities, she did quite the opposite," Barbara said.

Representatives for Rose and Miss USA did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. Still, Miss USA told ABC News, "We are committed to fostering a healthy, communicative, and supportive environment for all contestants, state titleholders, national titleholders, and staff."

A rocky start

Miss Utah Noelia Voight was crowned Miss USA in 2023.
Miss Utah Noelia Voigt was crowned Miss USA in 2023.Miss USA

Rose, a fashion designer, bought the Miss USA license after a turbulent year that included rigging allegations and a sexual harassment cover-up. During an interview in September, she told BI that she planned to make Miss USA "relevant to today" under her leadership.

"We're not just parading onstage, and we're not just wearing heels," she said. "We're actually out there supporting our platforms, making waves, and breaking glass ceilings in the philanthropy world that we want to be in."

After Noelia was crowned Miss USA, she told BI she supported the contestants who had previously spoken out against the organization "because they're speaking their truth." Still, she was also excited for the new era, believing Rose would foster "the perfect environment for women supporting women."

"That's what I'm really excited about, showing people there is a true definition of pageantry — and what happened in the past is not that," she added.

Laylah Rose
Laylah Rose was a fashion designer before taking over Miss USA. She's pictured here during her show at New York Fashion Week in 2019.Brian Ach/Getty Images for hiTechMODA

That hope didn't last long.

Jackeline said Rose started bullying her daughter from the beginning of her reign as Miss USA.

"It was really ugly, the way she would talk to Noelia," she said. "Noelia started feeling so confused and shocked and sad. We could not believe it."

Noelia detailed Rose's communication in her Miss USA resignation letter, obtained by Business Insider. In the eight-page letter, she wrote that Rose was "often cold and unnecessarily aggressive" and would "immediately open conversations with an accusatory tone."

Thom Brodeur, Noelia's pageant coach, told BI he saw Rose's texts and emails to the 24-year-old and described them as "very combative and argumentative," adding that it "was all hours of the night into the early morning."

Jackeline said Rose also completely dismissed her daughter's concern after Noelia said she was sexually harassed during an appearance at the 2023 Sarasota Christmas Parade, where she was left alone with a man in a car. The mother said she also received calls from several people who overheard Rose saying she "wished that Noelia would get hit in the face by a baseball" at an event where the pageant queen was supposed to throw out the first pitch.

"Noelia was shaking just to see a text or a call or an email from Laylah," Jackeline said. "Because it was so abusive, so aggressive, the communication."

Jackeline told BI that Rose would frequently threaten to take away Noelia's title, a tactic Barbara said the Miss USA president also used with her daughter UmaSofia, whom she would often address as "little girl" in her texts or email exchanges with the 17-year-old.

"This woman would get into lengthy, adversary conversations with a teenager," Barbara said. "It was very abusive, very diminishing, very gaslighting."

UmaSofia Srivastava with her parents.
UmaSofia Srivastava with her parents.Courtesy of Barbara Srivastava

Barbara said these conversations often surrounded her daughter's desire to post about her charity work on social media, which she said Rose argued didn't fit the Miss USA "aesthetic."

"She was always belittling her, always telling her, 'Well, if you're not capable of doing what I'm telling you, the first runner-up is always ready,'" she recalled. "Why is she threatening her over a simple post?"

After UmaSofia resigned, her first runner-up, Stephanie Skinner, declined the title.

"One thing I will never give up is my character, nor my integrity," Skinner told BI on Monday.

By December — two months into her daughter's reign as Miss Teen USA — Barbara had heard enough. She said Rose hadn't been allowed to talk directly to UmaSofia since.

"I took most of the brunt of it, but it definitely affected the whole family," Barbara said. "Because it's a pervasive torture, a pervasive wickedness in your life — you're dealing with a professional pathological liar."

Disaster at Miss Universe

One of the biggest moments during Miss USA's reign was the chance to compete at Miss Universe last November. The international stage has helped launch successful careers for the likes of Kenya Moore and Olivia Culpo.

The Miss USA organization has always supported each queen in preparing for the competition, providing the national costume and gowns and funding any included costs.

But Jackeline said that wasn't the case for Noelia, who received nothing from Rose or the organization. She estimates the family spent $20,000 to prepare for the competition, which she said they're still trying to pay back.

Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt at Miss Universe
Voigt made it to the top 20 at Miss Universe.Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Jackeline said no Miss USA team member went to El Salvador for Miss Universe to support Noelia, so she was left alone to help her daughter during the two-week competition. She said the stress became so much that she eventually had to be treated at a hospital — although she refused to stay longer than a day.

"The doctor wanted to keep me, and I said no," Jackeline recalled. "I said, 'I have to be in the lobby of the hotel holding the flag when my daughter walks by because all the other countries have their directors and a social-media team — and Noelia has no one.'"

Jackeline said some pageant directors from other countries felt so bad that they even offered to help.

"They were shocked," Voigt said. "They could not believe it."

A new case of anxiety

Noelia Voigt
Jackeline said her daughter has suffered long-lasting health effects from Miss USA. Hector Vivas/Getty Images

In her Miss USA resignation letter, Noelia detailed the "detrimental mental and emotional toll" of her time at Miss USA and how it "greatly impacted" her physical health.

"I am now diagnosed with anxiety and have to take two medications daily to manage the symptoms due to consistently being on edge, worrying about what Laylah will pop up with and choose to harass me about daily," Noelia wrote. "I am experiencing heart palpitations, full body shakes, loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, loss of sleep, loss of hair, and more."

She added: "It is devastating and unacceptable that my mind and body have been so horrifically affected by the treatment I have received at the hands of current Miss USA leadership."

By January, Jackeline said the family knew they had to ask for help. So, when Rose hired two new assistant national directors — the fourth new team in just as many months under her leadership — Noelia spoke up.

In her resignation letter, Noelia said Rose weaponized "my mental health struggles brought on by my experience as Miss USA" and called her "'mentally ill' in a derogatory way."

Claudia Michelle — who worked as Miss USA's social media director for four months until she resigned on May 3 — told BI that the new Miss USA team was also being told false stories about Noelia.

"She was spinning a tale that Noelia was hard to work with, that she was turning down appearances because she felt like it," Michelle said. "Things started to click once I saw the emails. I was like, 'Wow, wait a minute. This was not the truth the president was spinning here.' It was very much the opposite."

A call for help, then a call for action

The mothers told BI they reached out to Miss Universe, Miss USA's parent company, for help and had meetings with the vice president that Rose attended. Representatives for Miss Universe did not respond to a request for comment.

"We thought after the meetings that things would get better," Jackeline said. "She got worse."

Jackeline said Rose began "punishing" Noelia and UmaSofia by removing their access to the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA social media pages, where she began "posting and impersonating" them.

In group texts viewed by BI, Noelia flagged to the organization two such comments to the Miss USA team where someone else posted as her on the Miss USA Instagram page.

"Thank you @laylahrose, for making all of this happen," one comment read.

"She has been going over and beyond! Love our president!" said another.

Noelia and UmaSofia's reigns as Miss USA and Miss Teen USA would have officially ended in August, but their mothers said it became too much.

"Noelia lost so much weight. She couldn't eat. She would shake constantly," Jackeline told BI. "Her doctor was very concerned. She was trying to push through, but we are so proud of her for saying, 'Enough is enough.'"

"She said, 'Mom, I have to do this because I cannot let her keep hurting me or hurting other girls,'" Jackeline said.

Noelia Voigt
Voigt is the first woman to relinquish her Miss USA title in the pageant's 72-year history. Courtesy of Jackeline Voigt

Many of the Miss USA 2023 contestants who competed alongside Noelia in September are following her lead. More than 40 contestants posted a shared Instagram statement demanding that she be released from the NDA clause of her contract "so that she is free to speak on her experience and time as Miss USA." Miss Colorado Arianna Lemus also resigned in a show of support to Noelia and UmaSofia.

Jackeline and Barbara told BI they want the world to understand that the Miss USA organization directly caused their daughters' struggles.

"Our daughters were happy and excited to have the job of their lives when they won those crowns," Barbara said. "And to expect this is the payment on their self-esteem and their confidence, being bullied by a 46-year-old woman who just wants to be in the limelight herself — this is unacceptable."

What Barbara described as "eight months of torture and abuse" has come to an end. But Jackeline said there have been long-lasting effects on Noelia, who continues to struggle with anxiety.

"This is going to take time," she said. "Even for us, it's hard to wake up and face this nightmare every day."

'We don't want anyone to go through what we're going through'

The mothers said they hope their daughters will eventually be released from their NDAs. In the meantime, they're warning future Miss USA contestants not to compete at this year's pageant, which is scheduled for August 4.

"Laylah has to step down from this business; she's not the right person," Jackeline said. "She's supposed to empower the girls, and she's hurting them."

"We don't want them to do this to the next girls, so right now is not the right time to compete," she added. "As a mother, I don't recommend to anyone to participate right now."

Barbara Srivastava and Jackeline Voigt
Barbara Srivastava and Jackeline Voigt spoke to Business Insider following their daughters' Miss USA resignations.Courtesy of Barbara Srivastava and Jackeline Voigt

Jackeline and Barbara are also hoping the CW will take action. The network — which signed a three-year deal in April to air both the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA competitions — said on Monday that it's now "evaluating its relationship with both pageants," according to USA Today. Representatives for the CW Network did not respond to a request for comment from BI.

Brodeur, the pageant coach, told BI that eight of his clients have already decided not to compete this year. He hopes the Miss USA organization is paying attention.

"My argument is unsilence the girls and unsilence yourselves," he said. "If we're really going to fix pageantry, we have to fix this issue of transparency."

As she worked to make her way to the Miss USA stage, Noelia placed first runner-up three times in state pageants. She told BI previously that it added more "fuel to the fire" in her "journey of perseverance."

Now, Jackeline is on a similar journey for her daughter.

"They believe this is going to go away, and people are going to forget about it," she said. "But we're going to keep fighting. We are not going to stop."

Read the original article on Business Insider