Miss Universe has suspended the organizers of Miss USA amid claims its ‘woke’ bosses crowned a winner unfairly this month.
Miss Missouri, Mikala McGhee, 28, of St Louis, exclusively told DailyMail.com on Wednesday the Miss Brand has been stood down following allegations R’Bonney Gabriel, 28, of Houston, was the ‘predetermined winner.’
Although the suspension has not been announced publicly, McGhee said she and the other contestants were informed of the decision via email, which was obtained by DailyMail.com.
The message, sent to contestants by Miss Universe CEO Amy Emmerich earlier this month, stated: ‘After thorough deliberation, Miss Universe Organization has decided to suspend Miss Brand immediately…
‘We are appreciative of the cooperation we’ve seen from Miss USA Director Crystle Stewart as we work through this process.’
Stewart is the director of the Miss Brand, but it is unclear if she has suspended at this time. The internal probe by Miss Universe is being led by Holland & Knight. Stewart could not be reached for comment on Wednesday night.
‘There has been no formal statement that has really come out about that, but we have been relayed that information that they have been suspended, so we have not had any direct communication with Crystle Stewart,’ McGhee told DailyMail.com.
The 2022 competition has been drowning in scandal following the controversial crowning on October 3, where contestants walked off stage and left many pageant fans and beauty queens discussing whether Gabriel’s win was fabricated.
Contestants have accused Miss USA of giving Gabriel preferential treatment and preselecting her to win because she’s a ‘woke winner’ as the first Filipina American to be crowned.
Gabriel has denied all the allegations against her, saying there was ‘no unfair advantage’ and she ‘would never enter any pageant or any competition that I would know I would win.’
In addition to the ongoing scandal, Stewart’s husband is embroiled in a sexual misconduct case – brought by the Class of 2021 – which saw contestants accuse him of sexually harassing ‘young models’ and sending a video of his penis to a former contestant in 2018.
Class of 2022 contestants have told DailyMail.com they had no idea prior to the competition Max Sebrechts stepped down from the board in January after contestants accused him of being a predator.
Miss Brand has been suspended after contestants accused Miss USA organizers of rigging the competition for a ‘woke winner’ to be crowned. The 2022 competition has been drowning in scandal following the bizarre crowning on October 3 where contestants walked off the stage, leaving many pageant fans and beauty queens alike taking to social media to discuss whether or not Gabriel’s win was fabricated (pictured: Crystle Stewart, president of Miss USA)
In addition to the ongoing scandal, Stewart’s husband’s sexual misconduct case – brought forth by the Class of 2021 – was exclusively revealed by DailyMail.com, where contestants accused him of sexually harassing ‘young models’ and sending a video of his penis to a former contestant in 2018 (pictured: Stewart and Max Sebrects in 2019)
R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned on October 3 (pictured) and Miss Missouri, Mikala McGhee, said she was preselected to win and giving favoritism throughout the competition and believes she may have won because she is a ‘woke’ contestant as the first Filipina to win. In addition, the Filipino community has a huge pageant fanbase, which McGhee thinks could help viewership
R’Bonney Gabriel – a fashion designer who previously won Miss Texas – said the competition ‘was not rigged, because I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I would know I would win. I have a lot of integrity’
McGhee told DailyMail.com she thought Gabriel was the preselected winner to engage the Filipina community, who has a large pageant fanbase and would help bump up viewership.
‘I think that [Miss USA] are in a state where they are trying to revamp and re-glamorize pageantry here in the United States, because we’ve been seeing a constant drop off in enrollment for pageants, and not just in the Miss USA system.’
She said the Filipino community has always been known to ‘love’ the glitz and glam of the pageantry world and could help revitalize it.
McGhee also believes that Gabriel connection to Houston helped her, as it has with other Texan competitors in the past.
Much of the Miss USA, Miss Academy, and Miss Brand is run out of Houston and contestants are accusing the organizations of favoring Texan beauty queens.
‘Not to say that Gabriel couldn’t have gone out here and won this on her own, but I think that she was a Houstonian – everyone, again, from the Miss Brand… and most from Miss USA Organization, including Crystle herself, are from Houston. They’re Houston natives.
‘[Gabriel] worked within the Miss Academy closely in her preparation, which would not only be promotion for Miss USA, the organization, but Miss Academy, the brand, because it’s a Miss USA winner who works closely with that organization.’
She said Gabriel’s win could help ‘promote both, on top of getting that fanbase back.’ Miss Montana, Heather Lee O’Keefe, 25, of Bozeman, also exclusively told DailyMail.com earlier this month that there was an ‘inherent bias’ for Texan competitors.
Stewart – who won the pageant in 2008 and took over in 2020 – is from Houston and also owns Miss Academy – a pageant training course – which is based there. The owner of Miss Brand, which owns the pageant, is also based in Texas.
‘I think this is a big issue that a lot of us are trying to bring light to is the fact [Stewart] owns so much of the organization. She owns the main organization, Miss USA, and she also owns the main sponsor of the organization which is a big issue we all have with it,’ O’Keefe told DailyMail.com.
‘Miss Academy sponsored Miss Texas much more than they sponsored the rest of us contestants.’
Miss Academy classes can cost contestants up to $14,000 and many – including McGhee and O’Keefe – said Gabriel received free training after winning Miss Texas. The other girls were offered free online classes, but were highly encouraged to do in-person training.
McGhee, 28, of St. Louis, (pictured) revealed to DailyMail.com that Miss Brand had been suspended. McGhee told DailyMail.com that she thought Gabriel was the preselected winner to engage the Filipina community, who has a large pageant fan base and would help bump up viewership
In an internal email, obtained by DailyMail.com, Miss Universe announced Miss Brand had been suspended
In the Miss USA contract, it says judges’ decisions are not binding and may be overruled or rejected’ by the organization
Emmerich, the CEO of Miss Universe, also told contestants a third-party, Holland & Knight, would be conducting the investigation, which contestants have been given weekly updates on
Miss Montana, Heather Lee O’Keefe, (pictured) was the first to come forward and say the competition was rigged. She also said the pageant’s mental health program was a ‘disgrace’ to 2019 winner Cheslie Kryst, who killed herself in January 2022
‘[Contestants] felt the need to do that because of the fact that it was a national sponsor, and we felt pressured that if we wanted to do well at Miss USA, we had to work with Miss Academy and pay that money out of our own pocket to do so.’
O’Keefe and McGhee told DailyMail.com that they did not attend any in-person sessions and spent zero dollars on training from Miss Academy, who also offered online and a la carte classes.
‘And I didn’t place,’ O’Keefe said. McGhee said: ‘I was not one of those girls [who attended], not because I didn’t want to, but simply because I cannot afford to.’
However, in an interview with E! News’ The Rundown, Gabriel insisted she wasn’t favored because she was from Texas.
‘It has to be [from] some state, it just so happens to be mine,’ she told The Rundown. ‘It’s just a coincidence that I am from Texas and lot of the organization team is as well.’
Despite that, McGhee and O’Keefe insisted they heard rumors about Gabriel’s win prior to showing up to Reno for pageant week.
”[I heard] they were saying that there was a sabotage list, or that R’Bonney has already been preselected to win,’ McGhee told DailyMail.com. ‘It was really just amongst contestants where I was hearing the gossip again coming in.
‘I was completely ignoring it, because I was like this is a competition. I get it, you know. Stress can be high, you know, it becomes a little bit of like the intimidation factor. Are you trying to throw people off their game? You know I was really looking at it kind of from a sports world perspective.
‘But again, when you get there, and you start seeing some of the behavior that was displayed at Miss USA week, you know it made me take a step back, and really kind of reconsider. Well, what really was going on was, were these rumors true? And if so, why are we wasting our time?’
O’Keefe said she felt like they were used a ‘puppets’ to put on a show for Gabriel.
‘I feel like, and a lot of other contestants feel like, they had already predetermined the winner. We were just there as puppets to put on this show for them to make it seem like there was a pageant,’ she continued. ‘That’s how we feel. That’s our own opinion.’
Gabriel has denied all accusations against her and insisted she won the competition fairly
The spa ad riled up contestants, who claimed she broke contract. Gabriel insisted she flew herself out
Gabriel was seen in a sponsored video from NIZUC spas less than 24 hours after her crowning, appearing to have enjoyed her prize, but the beauty queen said she was just a brand ambassador for the company
MIA Beaute, which opened a spa at NIZUC resorts in Mexico, was a sponsor of Miss Texas and Gabriel said a lot of people work as brand ambassadors for national sponsors prior to Miss USA. However, O’Keefe insisted to DailyMail.com that that was a violation of the handbook
When asked why she specifically thought Miss Texas was allegedly selected as the winner prior to the competition, she said she ‘didn’t know’ the reason, but that favoritism may have played a large role.
‘The only thing I know was that there was clear and convincing favoritism toward her in the competition and leading up to the competition. She received more resources than we did. That is the root of the issue.’
McGhee backed up O’Keefe’s claims, saying Gabriel received hair and makeup teams and that many of the judging panels were skewed toward her personality.
‘We were all told that we could not select who did our hair and makeup whenever we arrived to get it done for pre-lims and for finals. but they had someone set aside for R’Bonney when it came to hair changes during competition,’ McGhee, who is new to pageantry, told DailyMail.com.
She also said the former Miss Texas had ‘many hair changes’ throughout competition, a luxury other contestants were not awarded.
‘Especially on finals night, she’s doing several hair changes throughout the night. To me, I just don’t really see that working unless that’s something that’s pre-planned and something that’s been discussed prior to competition.’
McGhee also said Gabriel was constantly surrounded by her ‘personal connections’ within Miss Brand and that her ‘Texas sponsors’ were on the costume competition judging panel.
‘Even the judges selected for finals [were] kind of in a way catered towards who R’Bonney was as a person,’ McGhee told DailyMail.com. ‘You had a lot of fashion designers, you had, I believe, two, maybe even three Asian Americans, or of Asian descent judges on the panel.’
In addition, McGhee highlighted that their Miss USA contract explicitly states that the judges’ final opinion can be overruled by pageant organizers.
The contract, obtained by DailyMail.com, officially states that judges’ rulings ‘are not binding and may be overruled or rejected.’
‘That’s who they wanted their girl to be, and if that’s the case, just say it,’ McGhee told DailyMail.com. In addition, the NIZUC Resort and Spa ad, that dropped less than 24 hours after Gabriel’s crowning, set many contestants off.
A photo of Crystle Stewart (pictured in black) doing Gabriel’s hair went viral, sparking concerns that she got preferential treatment. However, Gabriel insisted the photo was taken the day after she won when she was getting her Miss USA official headshots
One of the most defining moments of the 2022 Miss USA contest was when the other beauty queens left the stage after the crowning
As the credits rolled, the runner-ups can be seen leaving the stage (pictured), which is an unusual sight. Normally, the runners-up stand with a forced smile and clap as the credits roll – but there were no such pleasantries at the end of this year’s pageant. Gabriel said the producers told them to leave the stage due to a time constraint
Gabriel insisted she went there to enjoy MIA Beaute’s new spa and was representing them as it was a Miss Texas sponsor. However, O’Keefe and McGhee are adamant that she broke contract.
NIZUC, a national sponsor, posted the ad, not MIA Beaute, which is causing contestants to claim she worked with a national sponsor prior to winning, therefore, breaking contract.
Contestants who are contacted to be ambassadors by national sponsors are supposed to report it to the national board, O’Keefe told DailyMail.com.
In addition, it’s not just the promotional video that got contestants riled up, but that one of the judges at the Miss USA competition also allegedly posted a photo of Miss Texas on his Instagram story, which swirled the rumor mill even more.
‘Ever since Miss Texas was crowned a couple months ago, she has been shown favoritism by the Miss USA organization through their businesses that are also all owned by the same woman,’ O’Keefe said on social media.
One of the biggest moments of the 2022 competition was the crowning moment. Not only did contestants walk out immediately after Gabriel was crowned the winner, but backstage stories did not match up.
Normally, the runners-up stand with a forced smile and clap as the credits roll – but there were no such pleasantries at the end of this year’s pageant.
‘We all just acted, in the moment, what we thought was right,’ O’Keefe said during the live broadcast earlier this month. ‘We are a class of Division I athletes, Harvard alumni, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and people who fought for their citizenship to this country.
‘We are the farthest thing from sore losers.’ She told DailyMail.com that the moment was ‘all of our worst nightmare’ and it was ‘disheartening to know that we didn’t even have a chance to lose, let alone win.’
However, Gabriel was insistent that they didn’t leave the stage over her win.
‘I did not think so,’ she told The Rundown. ‘Something I heard from production was that our time was cut short, so the girls couldn’t come out to the stage because there wasn’t time and they didn’t want the girls to go into that bubble and maybe fall. But when I went back to the girls, they all hugged me.’
She also said she ‘got along with all the girls she encountered’ and she ‘wasn’t aware’ of any rumor that her win was rigged.
O’Keefe also said Gabriel was ‘on her own’ backstage and that no one celebrated her win.
McGhee insisted she wanted to congratulate Gabriel, but was unable to, because they were not allowed to walk down to the portion of the stage the winner was at.
Stewart’s husband Max Sebrechts reportedly sent a naked photo of his himself to a contestant in 2016
The Class of 2021 was informed he would be stepping down. The Class of 2022 said they were not informed, despite the organization telling them they were
She also said that they were told to go ‘clean out’ the dressing rooms immediately after leaving the stage and that Gabriel had been whisked away for photos.
‘She had to stay out there and take pictures, and when broadcasting ended we were all directed to go off the stage and start cleaning out the dressing rooms.
McGhee said they didn’t see Gabriel until the afterparty, but even then, had limited contact with her as the winner was obligated to stay near the sponsors and take photos.
Although many contestants have said they have nothing against the winner, McGhee and O’Keefe say they just want the ‘truth’ and to see if the ‘red flags’ are actually true.
‘I think all of us just want to know the truth. I think that we just want to speak up and get it all figured out for the girls who come after us, and who want a fair shot of the crown, and who want to continue in pageantry,’ the former Division I basketball player told DailyMail.com.
‘Again, I am in no way trying to belittle R’Bonney or Crystle. They have done nothing wrong to me personally, and I still have admiration and empathy towards them both. I hate that we all have to go through this, and I am hoping it will all be settled soon.’
In addition, the scandal comes as beauty queens come forward about their battle with mental health battles after 2019 winner Cheslie Kryst, 30, killed herself in 2022 after losing her battle with high-functioning depression.
Miss USA was the first beauty pageant to come forward and make changes and implement a mental health initiative.
Many Class of 2021 contestants accused Stewart’s husband of sexual misconduct, which DailyMail.com exclusively revealed
Stewart announced the program in March – just two months after Kryst’s passing – that the organization will focus on helping beauty queens deal with the anxiety and depression that comes with becoming overnight stars and dealing with grueling pageantry, she said.
‘I put in place workshops,’ Stewart told TMZ at the time. ‘Mental health workshops, mindset prep, how do you prepare for the pageant, not just physically, but mentally how do you prepare for the pageant? So there will be mental health workshops through my Crystle Stewart Foundation.’
The Miss USA competition did provide a yoga session and other mental health keynote speakers during pageant week, but contestants were not impressed.
‘I think it’s a disgrace to Cheslie. The fact that they only gave her just a few minutes of a shoutout on TV. I don’t think that did Cheslie justice at all,’ O’Keefe told DailyMail.com. ‘In my opinion, they’ve done a very poor job addressing the mental health issue.
‘And I think it’s even a greater injustice that we are not receiving any kind of mental health support. Now that we aren’t competing anymore, because a lot of us are coming forward.
‘Someone just text in the group chat as we’re on this call. I get more depressed by the day, so we are all really going through it right now. We are all facing bullying online, facing hate comments. Some of us are even getting death threats online, and we don’t feel supported by the Miss Brand. We really don’t feel supported at all, and even the resources that they did give to us.’
McGhee also expressed that she ‘expected more’ from the program, especially concerning ‘individualized’ treatment.
Both girls confirmed they were offered a ‘group session’ at the NIZUC resort getaway, but didn’t feel like it was effective.
‘Not everybody was really able to talk again. You’re around your competition. So do you really want them to know your struggles, your burden, your concerns? Probably not. A lot of us did speak up and talk during that time. But still, whenever I think about mental health, I feel that’s a very personal and intimate thing,’ McGhee said.
‘It’s not a blank slate. It’s not a one shoe fits all. And I was kind of expecting a program that was more so tailored to each individual contestant, and what their needs were, whether they needed it or not.’
‘I think we they try to make it seem like we’re all given a therapist, that’s not true,’ O’Keefe said.
McGhee also said she believed the organization had an ‘obligation’ to protect contestants.
‘If you have someone who has literally set aside their entire life to work for you, to promote your business, to promote your brand, to draw awareness to this system, you do have an obligation to make sure that those people are protected and cared for. You do. We want to talk about a sisterhood, we want to talk about a family…Well, family takes care of one another.
‘They do have an obligation to us, to Cheslie. They have an obligation to anyone else that comes after us, and they have an obligation to anyone who has come before us. They do.’