Beauty pageants have been an American tradition since the 1920s. In fact, 2.5 million girls participate in more than 100,000 beauty pageants each year in the United States alone! Pageants are intended to empower young women and inspire confidence—and they do—sometimes.
Pageant contestants are expected to be poised, elegant, talented, well-spoken, and overall good role models. But despite these expectations, pageant contestants make headlines constantly, and often not for anything positive. From ridiculous and bigoted responses to winners starring in questionable films, beauty pageants have been tainted with scandal after scandal. Here are the most cringe-worthy moments in American beauty pageant history. You won’t believe how Miss Louisiana got caught dining and dashing.
The Non Answer
In 2013, when Miss Utah Marissa Powell was asked what her thoughts were on men still earning more than women in today’s society, her mind went blank. She muttered the word “education” a few times, but it never really made sense in the context. She was fully aware that she was flubbing her response, and took a few silent moments to think about what to say next, but found nothing substantial to add. Instead, she just continued to flash a pretty, giant smile. She claims she couldn’t actually hear the question.
Miss South Carolina’s Infamous Response
When asked why people in our country cannot locate America on a map, Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina in the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant, gave an answer that made the entire country cringe. She stumbled over her words, saying most people don’t own maps. Then she said that the education in the U.S. should help South Africa, “the Iraq” and Asian countries, so we can help our future. Huh? Even the host, Mario Lopez, couldn’t hide his reaction and looked as if he was desperately trying to hold back laughter. Despite this flub, Caitlin went on to have a successful modeling career, though she admitted that the backlash from the incident was so intense that she had contemplated suicide at one point.
Miss California’s Anti-Gay Response
In 2009 when Miss California Carrie Prejean was asked about her thoughts on gay marriage, her response caused quite a stir. She stated that she thought it was great that Americans could choose traditional marriage or “opposite” marriage, but that she was raised to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. What made the scenario even more awkward was that the question was asked by Perez Hilton, an openly-gay television personality. She never apologized for her statement. In fact, she happily agreed to be featured in an ad for the National Organization for Marriage, an organization against gay marriage. Donald Trump, who owned the Miss Universe Organization at the time, voiced his support for the scandalous beauty queen.
Creepy Trump Allegations
Surprise, surprise—there was a slew of controversies regarding Donald Trump’s behavior during his time as President of the Miss Universe Organization. He often entered Miss Teen USA changing rooms, where underage girls were getting undressed. He even bragged about entering pageant dressing rooms during a Howard Stern interview. Contestants were encouraged to fawn over Trump whenever they saw him. He called a Latina contestant, “Miss Housekeeping” and one who gained weight “Miss Piggy.” He was also accused of sexually assaulting various contestants. In 2015, NBC refused to air the Miss USA pageant following offensive remarks Trump made about immigrants during a campaign speech. Trump eventually was forced to sell the organization, which he owned for nearly two decades.
Miss USA’s Cocaine Addiction
Not long after being crowned Miss USA in 2006, Tara Conner started to make headlines with her wild behavior. Reports were circulating regarding Tara’s underage drinking and drug abuse. Scandalous sexy photos of her were uncovered, and she was caught kissing Miss Teen USA Katie Blair at a nightclub in New York. The drug allegations were confirmed when she tested positive for cocaine later that year. Instead of being stripped of her title, Tara was given a second chance, a decision backed by Trump, as long as she agreed to go into rehab. She agreed and has since become an advocate against drug addiction.
Miss Teen USA Is No Role Model
Photo by PAUL PORTER/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
2006 Miss Teen USA Katie Blair was the other pageant winner that Tara Conner was caught kissing. Blair was underage, yet was still out partying with Conner and seen drinking, dancing on tables, and lip-locking her fellow contestant. As part of her duty as Miss Teen USA, Blair was a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAAD). But after the Conner incident surfaced, MAAD dropped her as a spokeswoman, since a teen who was out drinking was obviously not fit to represent their organization. She was at least able to keep her title, and Connor took most of the heat. Blair was later very outspoken for her support of Trump, claiming he never behaved inappropriately with her. The next pageant contestant is a nuclear scientist but still doesn’t know what feminism is…
Miss D.C. Thinks Healthcare Is a Privilege
2017 Miss D.C. Kara McCullough initially had America cheering. A breath of fresh air amongst contestants, McCullough had a degree in chemistry and a job as a nuclear scientist. She even created a program called Science Exploration for Kids, which provides science and math tutoring to students in grades 6 through 11. But her support soon floundered when asked whether health care was a right or a privilege. She said she believed health care was a privilege for those who had jobs. Then, when asked whether she considered herself to be a feminist, her response revealed she had little understanding what “feminism” really means. Despite the backlash she received, she still took home the crown.
Is That A Vaccine?
While competing for Miss America 2013, during a pre-pageant interview for ABC, Miss California, Leah Cecil, was asked what she thought about legalizing euthanasia. The contestant admitted her lack of knowledge on the subject. She could have just gracefully admitted her ignorance and people would have appreciated her honesty, but instead of leaving it there, she then asked whether or not it was a vaccine. One of the people asking the questions then responded, “Uh, no, it’s actually assisted suicide.” You better believe the internet then had a field day with that one.
Miss America’s Detachable Tooth
2008 Miss America winner Kirsten Haglund revealed a shocking “talent” while making an appearance on the show Don’t Forget the Lyrics. She demonstrated her ability to pop one of her teeth right out. Host Wayne Brady was left speechless, which was a lot to say for the usually chatty, quick-witted comedian. He responded by saying he was “a little unnerved.” And so was the rest of America. That wasn’t a trick most would expect the crowned Miss America to do. The second time she did it, we got a closer look, and Brady looked visibly grossed out. She then stated that once she fulfilled her duties as Miss America she would focus on getting that fixed. Perhaps she should’ve fixed it before the competition.
Vanessa Williams Is Stripped Of Her Crown
Vanessa Williams went on to become a successful actress and singer, but she initially achieved fame when she became the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America in 1983. This amazing achievement was soon tainted when Penthouse published nude photos taken of the beauty queen a year prior, some of which featured Williams with another woman performing sexual acts on her. Williams had never given permission to the magazine to publish those photos. She was humiliated and forced to resign her title. In 2015, The Miss America pageant offered a formal apology to Williams.
Slip And Fall
During the competition for Miss Universe 2007 in Mexico City, Miss USA winner Rachel Smith took an embarrassing tumble during the evening gown competition. As she was walking down the stage, she tripped and landed on her butt, but quickly got up and maintained her composure. However, the Mexican crowd was not so forgiving and began to boo the contestant. The booing continued when she was announced in the top five. Coincidentally, the following year’s Miss USA Crystle Stewart also tripped and fell on her butt during the Miss Universe evening gown competition.
Down And Dirty On Myspace
Katie Rees was crowned Miss Nevada USA in 2007. Not long after, allegations were made that Rees was exhibiting lewd behavior in a Florida nightclub while away at college. Photographs of her kissing other girls, posing with them in sexual positions, and flashing body parts were found on Myspace and released to the public. This scandal came right after the Tara Connor scandal, but Rees wouldn’t be as lucky as Conner. She was stripped of her crown by the Miss Universe Organization, a decision approved by Donald Trump. In 2008 Rees found herself in hot water again when was arrested for assaulting a police officer after a traffic stop in the middle of the night. Find out why Miss Florida was accused of cheating next.
Miss Florida Is Accused Of Cheating
Just six days after winning her crown, Miss Florida 2017 Genesis Davila was stripped of her title for violating pageant rules. Contestants aren’t allowed to use professional hair stylists and makeup artists during the competition because it provides them with “an unfair competitive advantage.” When 40 contestants filed complaints against Davila for using a pro hair and makeup team, the organization made the decision to dethrone the beauty queen. Davila filed a lawsuit against the pageant for $15 million, claiming she was initially lured to a meeting to discuss her citizenship when the cheating allegations were revealed. She also stated she was told to say she that was resigning because of a family illness. She claimed the cheating allegations were false and that she was dethroned because of prejudice against Puerto Ricans.
Miss Teen USA’s Racial Slurs
Just minutes after winning her title as Miss Teen USA 2016, a scandal surfaced regarding winner Karlie Hay’s use of the N-word on her Twitter account from a few years prior. The racial slurs were used in posts written to her friends, and included “I know I’ a comedian, my n—-“, and “don’t threaten me, I wrap your house n—-“. Kay immediately released a statement saying, “I admit that I have used language publicly in the past which I am not proud of and that there is no excuse for.” She blamed her poorly chosen words on “personal struggles” and vowed that she had grown up a lot since posting those tweets. Her apology was accepted by the organization, and she was able to keep her crown.
The Original Miss USA Scandal
Miss USA faced scandals even back in 1957 when Leona Gage won the title. Just a few days after her win, Gage lost her crown when pageant officials uncovered her many secrets. Not only had she lied about her age, telling officials she was 18 when she was really 21, but she had also been married twice, although her first marriage was annulled because she was only 14 at the time. Contestants were not, and are still not allowed to have ever been married. She also had two children, which is strictly against pageant rules and was extremely taboo in the 1950s. She lost her title, prize money, trips and studio contracts. She later went on to develop a drug problem and attempted suicide a number of times.
Rima Fakih won the title of Miss USA in 2010 and was the first Muslim to ever win. While many Muslims celebrated her victory, there were others that felt quite the opposite. Many believed she wasn’t properly representing their religion because of her choice to appear on stage in a bikini. It was soon revealed that Fakih won a radio show pole dancing contest called “Stripper 101″ held at a gentlemen’s club. Photos of the contest were leaked, which showed Fakih performing on a stripper’s pole wearing only a bra that was stuffed with dollar bills. She was not stripped of her crown, however, and went on to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant.
In 2008 Lindsey Evans was crowned Miss Louisiana Teen USA. A little less than a year later Evans, along with three of her friends, decided to skip out on a $46.07 bill at the Posados Café in Bossier City, Louisiana. Evans made a big mistake and forgot to take her purse. When police uncovered it, they found her drivers license, along with a bag of marijuana. All four were booked on charges of theft and possession of marijuana. They tried to blame the restaurant for their decision not to pay, claiming the service was ridiculously slow. Evans was stripped of her title just ten days shy of its completion. Regardless, she’s had a successful modeling career, even appearing in a video for Robyn Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”
Too Old To Win
Amanda Longacre was crowned Miss Delaware in 2014 but lost her crown midway through her reign when pageant officials found out she was too old to hold the title. She had signed a contract that stated she would not turn 25 before Dec. 31, 2014, as competitors and winners are only allowed to be 17-24 years of age. Yet Longacre’s turned 25 that October. Miss America officials blamed the mistake on state pageant officials, claiming they missed the age discrepancy in the paperwork Longacre submitted. Longacre didn’t take the humiliation lying down, filing a $3 million lawsuit against state pageant officials and the Miss America organization. She didn’t win.
Miss Teen Delaware’s Sex Tape Scandal
Miss Teen Delaware 2013 Melissa King was forced to resign when a tape surfaced of her on a porn website a few months after her 18th birthday. Initially, King said that the girl in the video was “absolutely not her.” Then a video surfaced of King reading a release on camera for the alleged video, in which she clearly stated her name. She later admitted to starring in the video, and that she was paid $1,500 for the pornographic shoot. The site that ran the shoot then revealed to TMZ that King had expressed interest in doing more shoots, but they were not interested. After this admission, the porn website YouPorn offered the disgraced pageant winner $25,000 to be their spokeswoman.
Lack Of Diversity
The Miss USA organization received a ton of heat during their 2016 Miss Teen USA pageant when actress and social media maven Chrissy Tiegan took to Twitter and started bashing the competition’s lack of diverse contestants. She showed a photo of the top five contestants, all of which were blonde-haired and blue-eyed, with the caption, “Wow how can we choose from such a diverse bunch.” She quickly received tons of reactions from her 2.24 million followers. The comment blew up across the internet and similar tweets followed, such as, “I thought it was the same girl in 5 different poses,” and “pretty sure they’re quintuplets.” Coincidentally, that was the same year Karlie Hay was crowned and later bashed for her racist tweets.