Family In the Closet
Leona Gage, 1957 Miss USA, appeared to have the credentials to represent America. She was young, beautiful, charismatic and pragmatic. In fact, she told pageant officials she didn’t plan on entering a serious relationship until she was 26.
Unfortunately, she employed the don’t ask . . . don’t tell philosophy when submitting her contestant application. After she won the crown, someone snitched on the blushing beauty. She was in her second marriage, had two children and she was 18, not 21 as she had stated. She lost her reputation, crown and prizes.
Later she would state that she entered the contest to help supplement her family income, and that she had informed a pageant official that she was married. Supposedly, he recommended she keep the info to herself.
Leona attempted to propel her notoriety into an acting career and secured several small appearances including a guest slot on the Ed Sullivan show. Afterwards, she received hate mail. She held a variety of jobs after the scandal — including a few modeling jobs, a few small movie roles, and a stint as a Las Vegas Showgirl.
Gage overdosed on barbiturates In November 1965; she was 26 years old. She was discovered unconscious in a motel room and, later would spend three weeks at a state hospital.
Leona went on to marry five more times. She had five children; two preceded her in death. She died in Los Angeles in 2010 at the age of 71.
Lose the Weight or Else
Domonique Ramirez, Miss San Antonio 2011, has a bone to pick the the Miss Bexar County pageant officials. Supposedly, the 17-year-old had to hand over her crown after failing the zipper test; she had gained weight since winning the crown and now had to wear a whopping size 2 wardrope. OMG — think of the added costs in materials alone.
But seriously, according to pageant officials, the weight gain wasn’t the only problem. Ms. Ramirez arrived late for scheduled events and often arrived with boyfriend in tow. Ms. Ramirez put her boyfriend on ice and hired a personal trainer to accommodate officials, but apparently all for nought. The pageant maintains she violated her contract and they have moved on to the runner up. If I were her, I’d ditch the personal trainer for a good attorney.
From Crown to The Stage
Baby boomers may remember Lee Meriwether from her role in the Barnaby Jones television series. Lee wore multiple crowns on her way to fame — Miss San Francisco, Miss California and Miss America. Lee joined The Today Show and used part of her winnings improve her acting and musical skills. She starred in many films and series including a role as catwoman in the Batman movie and in movies with Andy Griffith and Rock Hudson. In addition, she enjoyed theatre roles in Aesop in Central Park and Ladies of Hanover Towers.
She met her husband, Marshall Borden, while they both were appearing in a play in San Antonio. They have two daughters.
Rima Fakih, 2010 Miss USA, is facing the lash due to her episode with a pole. In 2007, she won a strip tease contest sponsored by a radio station. It was a women’s only audience and she didn’t remove her clothes. However, when pictures surfaced, some questioned her suitability to wear the crown. Ms. Fakih is the first Arab American to wear the crown and said she only participated in the contest to help out a friend.
However, pageant officials had other public relations issues to circumvent. They were already up against the pole for allowing a racy contestant photo shoot, and then and releasing sexy photos of the contestants decked out in their undies and lots of black eyeliner. Critics said the pageant officials had besmirched the clean image of the beauty contest. Officials stood by the artistically defined photos. Guess times are a changin’.
From Shame to Fame
Numerous beauty pagent winners have found that while publicity can be a good thing, too much exposure can result in dire consequences. However, that overexposed picture can still lead to an award winning shot at fame.
Perhaps, one of the better known examples is Vanessa Williams. Vanessa was born in 1963 in New York and won a performing scholarship to Syracuse University. However, she was eager to explore the entertainment world and saw beauty pageants as a possible entry point. She won Miss New York and was crowned Miss America 1984 — the first African American.
However, nine months into her reign, she had to relinquish the title when nude photos were published. But, her scandal proved to be the stepping stone she had sought. She went on to record successful music albums and star in Broadway, television and movie productions. Most recently, she has starred in the television series Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. Today desperation doesn’t appear to be in her vocabulary.
Vanessa has been divorced twice and has four children. Her first marriage was to Ramon Hervey, III, a pr professional, who helped direct her career after the scandal. Her second marriage was to former Los Angeles basketball star, and Dancing With the Stars participant, Rick Fox.
Hey, It’s Only Art
When in France . . .
French beauty, Valerie Begue underwent a battle to keep her 2008 crown after risque photos surfaced. Some felt the photos had a disrepectful religious undertone. She said the photos were published without her permission and refused to step down. She and pageant officials compromised. She retained her crown; however, she was disbarred from participating in the Miss World or Miss Universe competition.
But, She Did It Also
Dayana Mendoza, Miss Universe 2008-09, also underwent scrutiny after racy photos were uncovered. She braved the fallout, and was supported by Miss Universe officials who deemed the photos held “artistic beauty.” In fact, to circumvent any problems, the officials released the photos to the media. She retained her crown.
Beauty and the . . .
Miss Black America contestant, Desiree Washington, gained notoriety not through her actions, but through the actions of heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson. Desiree was competing in the 1991 beauty pageant in Indianapolis, Indiana. Tyson, in town for the event, invited the 18 year old contestant out. The pair ended back in his hotel room where Tyson allegedly assaulted the young woman. Iron Man Mike was later convicted of the sexual assault and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Had to Give Up Crown
Christina Silva, thought she had hit the jackpot when she was crowned Miss California USA on November 25, but instead she only got the turkey. Days after winning the contest, she was replaced by the first runner up, Raquel Beezley. Miss Silva initiated a $500,000 lawsuit claiming she discriminated against due to her race (Ecuadorean and Mexican) and that the officials were uncomfortable because she communicated in Spanish with some vendors.
Go Blond or Go Bye Bye
Fifteen year old, New Zealand beauty, Olivia O’Neil, was overjoyed when she snagged the 2010 Miss Teen Wanganui pageant. Later, she updated her profile with a new picture. “Foul!” cried the officials. Olivia had altered her award winning look, by dyeing her blond locks, dark brown.
But, this feisty contestant stuck to her guns and refused to return to her former blond look. Officials stripped the crown and stated “The expectation in holding the crown (was) that she maintain the image she had when she won it.” Guess blonds do have more fun.
Hey . . . A Girl’s Gotta Keep the Look
Miss USA 1992, Shannon Marketic, allegedly took those free product offers literally. Police say she was arrested in Denton, Texas after supposedly lifting $90 of Olay Professional beauty products. She said the products were obscured by personal items and she had no intent to steal. She was released on $500 bond.
But I Was Only Being Honest
Miss California USA 2009, Carrie Prejean, apparently doesn’t support same sex marriages and did not hesitate to express her views during the question and answer portion of the Miss USA contest. She stated that in her country, she believed marriage should be only between a man and woman. A firestorm ensued with pro- and con-advocates duking it out in the media.
But then someone threw a monkey wrench into the melee. You guessed it . . . more racy photos. Donald Trump supported her and it was announced she would keep her crown. However, later she would release the tiara after officials accused her of missing too many scheduled events. Miss California gave up her crown, blaming her detractors for digging up the semi-nude photos and denying she had missed the events. Carrie added more hot sauce to the gumbo by walking off an interview on the Larry King Show.
But not to worry, her notoriety has gotten her several gigs, including supposedly, a spot in the next Survivor reality show. And, she has written a book, Still Standing, outlining her side. Although, her November 2010 announcement that she and her husband are expecting a child, may waylay the Survivor show plans.
But These Went A Bit too Far
Mr. Trump wasn’t as impressed with the photos that surfaced on Canada.com after Katie Rees, 22, was crowned Miss Nevada 2007. The pictures showed Rees engaged in some . . . let’s call it . . . enthusiastic partying. Trump, the party pooper, characterized the photos as “disgusting.”
Rees later explained the photos were taken when she was 19 and were not representative of her. “Regardless, such a brief and distant lapse in judgment does not warrant my loss of the title I worked so hard to achieve,” she said in a statement. Pageant officials begged to differ. Ms. Rees lost her crown and was relieved of her duties.
Need Some ID?
Shaletta Porterfield, Miss Wisconsin USA, returned her crown in May 2011. Allegedly, when she was employed by a marketing organization, she provided phony signatures on three business contracts. The companies involved objected to purchasing advertisements they hadn’t agreed to buy. Ms. Porterfield, 26, was charged with identify theft and has pleaded not guilty. Maybe, it’s just a case of mistaken identity.
Sad End to A Promising Life
Mexican Beauty, Maria Susana Flores Gamez, became part of the tragic statistics in the Mexican war against crime. Ms. Gamez, 20, was crowned 2012 Woman of Sinaloa in February 2012. In late November, she was killed in a gun battle between law enforcement and a criminal gang. The exchange occurred in Mocorita, Mexico. Her role in the battle is still unknown.
There are numerous pageants designed to showcase beauty, provide Ambassorship, garner sponsors and highlight talent. Undoubtedly, many contestants consider these events as one path to stardom and in some cases have been tripped up by the perils of youth and indiscretion. Conversely, some may exploit their 15 minutes of fame to ignite a smoldering entertainment career.
For some, such as Lee Meriwether and Vanessa Williams, this career journey has proved fruitful. And, certainly, the rules, implied and explicit, have evolved to align with society’s everchanging viewpoint of what constitutes a contestant– well qualified– to wear the Miss or Mrs. America, World or USA crown.
New Miss America is Crowned
Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, was crowned Miss America 2011 during the Las Vegas Nevada pageant on January 15, 2011. At 17, Miss Scanlan is the youngest winner according to pageant rules. Miss America plans to use the $50,000 scholarship money to fuel her quest to become an attorney and trade the beauty circuit for the political arena. Hopefully, this young, intelligent beauty will escape the scandal-prone past of some of her predecessors.
Also of note, a star may well have been born from the 2011 pageant, Miss Arkansas, Alyse Eady, has developed quite a fan base and proved she knows her way around a dummy or two. She wowed the audience with a superb yodeling ventriloquist act.
Miss USA 2012
Alivia Culpo, 20, was crowned USA 2012 on June 3 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Planet Hollywood was host for the Miss USA pagent. Ms. Culpo is a Boston University student and cellist who tactfully fielded a question on transgender beauty contestants. Alvia Culpo represented the state of Rhode Island.
But where would the competition be without a scandal. Miss Pennyslvania, Sheena Monnin, 27, has turned in her crown. Ms. Monnin claims another contestant told her there was a list of the top five contestants before the pagent even started. In her resignation, Ms. Monnin, termed the Miss USA organization “fraudalent and lacking in morals.”
Donald Trump says Monnin has a case of buyer’s remorse. He says the organization has questioned the contestant who supposedly saw the preformed list and that she absolutely denies any knowledge of such a list. He says Ms. Monnin should expect a lawsuit due to her slanderous statements.
Capanella is Newest USA
Redhaired beauty, Miss California, Alyssa Campanella, was crowned 2011 Miss USA, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 2011 pageant was held at Planet Hollywood Casino on Sunday, June 19, 2011.
Miss Universe 2011 Crowned
Leila Lopes, 25, was crowned Miss Universe on September 12, 2011. The beauty who represented Angola, highlighted her work with social issues and desire to help fight HIV worldwide. The pagent was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil as the 60th anniversary of the beauty and talent contest.