Miss Colorado didn't want to enable the Miss USA organization's 'abusive power' so she's giving up her title in support

  • Miss Colorado Arianna Lemus has resigned her title, the third Miss USA resignation this week.

  • The pageant queen told BI she supported Miss USA Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava.

  • Over 40 Miss USA contestants shared a message of support demanding Voigt be released from an NDA.

Yet another Miss USA titleholder has resigned her title.

Miss Colorado Arianna Lemus announced on Friday that she was giving up her crown in support of Miss USA Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava, who both relinquished their titles this week.

Their announcements marked the first time a Miss USA or Miss Teen USA had given up their title in the pageant's 72-year history.

"I think so many women forget their power, and organizations like Miss USA remind women how powerful you can become," Lemus told Business Insider. "And that is my message today. I stand with my sisters, I stand by the injustice of her being silenced, so I resigned my title in solidarity so I can speak my truth and be a voice for the voiceless."

When Voigt — who was crowned Miss USA in September —announced on Monday that she was resigning, she said it was due to her mental health.

"I realize this may come as a large shock to many. Never compromise your physical and mental well-being," she wrote in the caption of her Instagram post.

However, pageant fans claimed Voigt's resignation statement contained a cipher, with the first letter from each sentence spelling out the phrase "I AM SILENCED." A source confirmed to BI that the secret message was intentional.

It was announced on Thursday that Miss Hawaii Savannah Gankiewicz will replace Voigt as Miss USA.

When Srivastava stepped down two days later, she wrote on Instagram that her "personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization."

'A voice for the voiceless'

While Voigt and Srivastava have not publicly discussed details of their Miss USA experiences, Claudia Michelle — the organization's former social media director — spoke out in their defense on May 3, the day she resigned from Miss USA.

"I don't believe in taking sides. I believe in telling the truth," Michelle wrote on Instagram. "I believe Noelia and Uma's mental health and happiness has taken a toll and I cannot remain silent about that."

Michelle told BI that the Miss USA organization spun stories about Voigt during her reign as Miss USA, refused to book the pageant queen for appearances, and had Voigt pay her own way to compete at Miss Universe — which cost her family tens of thousands of dollars. The Miss USA organization has historically paid for its titleholder to compete at Miss Universe.

"It's heartbreaking that she came to this decision, but as a former employee I understand why," Michelle added. "And I hope this sends a very loud and clear message that there's something very, very wrong with the current management."

Former Miss Montana Dani Walker, a popular YouTube pageant commentator, said in one of her videos that Miss USA president and CEO Laylah Rose hasn't been allowed to speak directly with Srivastava since March.

"She is only able to communicate with UmaSofia's parents through mediation," she added. "If that's not a red flag, I don't know what is."

Following Voigt's resignation, more than 40 Miss USA 2023 contestants — including Lemus — shared a joint Instagram statement demanding that she be released from the confidentiality and NDA clause of her contract "so that she is free to speak on her experience and time as Miss USA."

"We wanted to come together; we wanted to let Noelia know that she's not alone," Lemus said. "We wanted the world to know that the contract we all signed is not OK."

Miss Kansas Haley Berger told BI that all the 2023 contestants had to sign the same contract before competing at Miss USA in September.

"It was given to us with 24 hours notice, late in the night — 'sign this or you're not competing,'" Berger said. "Of course, all of us skimmed through it."

Representatives for the Miss USA organization and president/CEO Laylah Rose did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI on the specifics of Voigt and the contestants' contracts.

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

Multiple contestants told BI they had not received a response from the Miss USA organization following their joint statement supporting Voigt.

Lemus decided that speaking up just wasn't enough.

"To me, in my heart and soul, resigning was my truth," Lemus told BI. "My beliefs have been compromised, and I will not stand for the injustice in a system I have invested in and devoted myself to."

Taking a stand against Miss USA leadership

To walk away from a title — whether state or national — is unprecedented in the Miss USA organization.

"The Miss USA competition is something 51 women seek out every year," Berger explained. "It's this very prestigious title, and we only get one opportunity in our lifetime to compete for it."

Lemus said the decision was especially tough because she knows her resignation could affect the Miss Colorado pageant's business and sponsors as it prepares to crown a new state titleholder at the end of June. And while she fully supports her state director, Lemus felt she had to demand transparency from the national organization.

"It was so difficult, I didn't want to," she added. "But if I didn't, it would almost enable the abusive power that is happening with the current Miss USA management."

Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava and Miss USA Noelia Voigt
Both Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava and Miss USA Noelia Voigt resigned this week. Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Supermodels Unlimited

Lemus said it was "terrifying and sad" to watch all the controversy surrounding Miss USA — especially following such a tumultuous year. Her 2023 class was the first to compete for the title following the previous year's rigging allegations and a sexual harassment cover-up involving former Miss USA Vice President Max Sebrechts, who denied the allegations to BI at the time.

Sebrecht's wife Crystle Stewart stepped down as Miss USA president in August 2023, and Rose was announced as her successor.

"This new management comes in and tells all of us — the directors, all the girls — 'I'm your saving grace,'" Lemus recalled. "We were so excited considering the uncertainty that we all went into Miss USA last year. But things are worse. The contracts need to be changed immediately."

Miss South Dakota Amber Hulse told BI she likely would have also given up her title if she wasn't already crowning the new winner this weekend.

Miss Colorado Arianna Lemu
Lemus told BI she wanted to be a "voice for the voiceless."Courtesy of Arianna Lemus

"Arianna is really trying to make a stand so that women like us are never forced to sign contracts that are completely unfair to one party over another," Hulse said. "This is a very common practice in the pageant industry, and for these entities to have this much power over a 20-something girl…it's a tale as old as time, and it's finally being brought to light."

"If they were really not in the wrong, why can't they just let Noelia tell her story?" she added. "There's obviously something to hide."

Berger also shared her support for Lemus.

"I applaud Miss Colorado, it was very brave of her to do something like that," she said. "I do stand with Miss Colorado, and I look up to that reaction of hers."

Lemus credits her near-decade in the pageant community as the reason she feels confident enough to take a public stand for Voigt and Srivastava.

"If tomorrow there's a new contract for the 2024 titleholders and beyond, I'm glad that I sacrificed myself and my title," she said. "I don't want to believe that nothing will come of this, so I'm hopeful, and I hold onto my hope."

Representatives for Voight and Srivastava did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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