Miss Teen USA’s Runner-Up Rejects the Crown After Winner Steps Down, Citing Bullying by the Organization’s CEO

By: Amanda Kusumowidagdo | Published: May 19, 2024

The Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants might be toxic enough to deter anyone from taking its title, even if it’s a legitimate “handover” of titles. 

After the Miss Teen USA winner stepped down, the runner-up refused the crown. Stephanie Skinner, formerly Miss Teen New York, wrote in her Instagram, “I believe this is the right decision to make.”

Rejecting the Runner-Up Duty

In many beauty pageants, the runner-up’s duty is to step up when the titleholder is unavailable or resigns. Miss Teen USA, UmaSofia Srivastava, has stepped down, and her crown should have rightfully gone to Skinner, but the runner-up doesn’t want it either.

Advertisement
Image of a blonde woman wearing a red dress standing alone on stage next to an image of a blonde woman embracing a black-haired woman

Source: thestephanieskinner/Instagram/Miss Teen USA/The New York Post

Talking to The New York Post, Skinner admitted, “I ultimately came to the decision to decline it. I didn’t feel like it was the right decision considering all the circumstances.”

Advertisement

The Circumstances of Miss USA Pageants

For those who are late to the news, let’s catch up. The 24-year-old Miss USA Noelia Voigt and the 17-year-old Srivastava both abdicated their titles within days of each other.

Advertisement
Two women with dark hair wearing sashes standing next to each other in front of a black wall

Source: Indepedent/X

Voigt cited mental health issues while Srivastava wrote that her “personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.”

Rumors of Bullying and Toxic Environments

There were also rumors of bullying and toxicity in the working environments for these beauty pageant winners, revealed by Miss USA Organization social media manager Claudia Michelle. Michelle, not having signed an NDA like the pageant winners have done, was able to speak more freely about the situation. 

Advertisement
The Miss Teen USA soft pink logo with the tagline Pageantry Reimagined

Source: Miss USA Organization/Wikimedia Commons

“I feel the way current management speaks about their titleholders is unprofessional and inappropriate; I disavow workplace toxicity and bullying of any kind,” Michelle wrote on Instagram. She added: “I believe Noelia and Uma’s mental health and happiness has taken a toll and I cannot remain silent about that.”

Scandals Deterring Skinner

The 19-year-old Skinner from New Hartford, New York, who is also a junior of economics major at the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, felt unable to accept the Miss Teen USA title thanks to these scandals.

Advertisement
A dark skinned hand tied at the little fingers with a light skinned hand

Source: Womanizer Toys/Unsplash

She chose instead to stand “in solidarity and standing up for female empowerment. My integrity and my character will always come before crowns.” Skinner has received praise for her stance, from fans and from (who might be) Voigt and Srivastava, who wrote in the comments of her Instagram post. 

A Difficult Pill to Swallow

Despite the ease with which she delivered her rejection of the title, Skinner truly didn’t come to that decision easily. 

Close-up of a tiara on a pillow

Source: Jordyn St. John/Unsplash

She has relied on scholarships for her entire academic career and has worked so hard for the title since she was 12 years old. “I missed birthdays, proms, and personal high school events training for this. It’s like a sport,” she said. “You dedicate your entire life to this goal.”

Advertisement

Not Just Glitz and Glam

Skinner was certainly brave for standing up for what she believes in. But her background and activism seem to have influenced her actions.

Three make-up brushes on top of powder containers

Source: Rosa Rafael/Unsplash

“Pageants have their stigma about being just about the glitz and the glam, but for me it’s about the advocacy. I grew up in a single parent household. I’m a survivor of family domestic violence and that’s why I created my own organization.” 

Advertisement

Hands of Hope

Skinner told The Post about Hands of Hope, the national organization she founded in 2019 that empowers 20,000 teens with a self-acceptance message. 

A blonde woman wearing a tiara standing in front of a monitor with a group of children

Source: Hands of Hope/Stephanie Skinner Website

In her website, the Hands of Hope’s mission is to educate on “the importance of being aware of all forms of abuse from bullying to domestic violence while providing realistic tools to prevent and address the aggression epidemic facing our country.”

Advertisement

In Contrast With Miss USA Runner-Up

The decision made by Skinner directly contrasts the Miss USA runner-up Savannah Gankiewicz’s decision. The 28-year-old former Miss Hawaii decided to take Voigt’s crown as Miss USA … and received backlash over it.

A dark haired woman wearing a pink dress and a sash with the words Hawaii written across

Source: MailOnline/X

Gankiewicz wrote on Instagram, “Please know that my decision to accept the Miss USA crown was not one that was made lightly. I stand with Noelia and admire her strength to step down and prioritize her mental health.”

Advertisement

Disappointment From Fans

Fans were disappointed by Gankiewicz’s takeover of the crown, saying that she’ll see “exactly why Noelie stepped down in a matter of days.” Another wrote, “Sisterhood is officially dead, we gotta do better as a collective.”

A group of diverse people holding their phones with serious expressions

Source: Freepik

But her mother, Yvienne Peterson, came to her defense. “I have raised a warrior and your hateful comments she can endure.” She also seemingly dismissed Voigt’s troubles by saying “If that was the worst … maybe they have forgotten what their primary role was and that was to be a role model for women.”

Advertisement

Miss USA CEO Named as Bully

Both Michelle and a source close to the situation seemed to imply the Miss USA Pageant CEO, Laylah Rose, was one of the bullies who made Voigt’s life difficult and disrespected Srivastava’s family.

A woman with brown hair wearing a white shirt posing in front of a white background

Source: PIUpdate/X

The source told The Post, “Noelia wakes up every day on pins and needles because of harassing emails [from pageant organizers]: ‘Don’t do this,’ ‘Don’t do that,’ ‘Take that post down,’ ‘Unlike that post.’ ‘You can’t speak to anybody, remember your NDA you can’t go here unless we confirm.’ It’s micromanaged to the 10th degree and harassing.”

Advertisement

Future Work for a Beauty Queen

While the embattled pageants must face evaluation from The CW, the network broadcasting them, over their relationship, Skinner continues to support Voigt and Srivastava. “Although I do not know exactly what Noelia and Uma went through to lead them to resign, I am sending them immense love and support.”

A blonde woman standing in various settings in New York City

Source: thestephenieskinner/Instagram

And Skinner will continue to keep busy, as she has a work commitment in her near future. She wrote on Instagram, “My word is my everything. I gave my commitment to a global research career opportunity in Thailand that will require me to live abroad for the summer.”

Advertisement