This year’s Miss USA pageant has already been embroiled in controversy. Original broadcasters NBC and Univision both canceled plans to air the contest and cut all business ties with Miss Universe Organization co-owner Donald Trump following his controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants in his June 16 presidential campaign announcement. Cable network Reelz picked up the pageant on July 2, and will broadcast it live from Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sunday night, but the pageant also lost all of its original co-hosts (Thomas Roberts, Cheryl Burke, Jeannie Mai, Roselyn Sanchez and Cristian de la Fuente).
This year’s Trump controversy is far from the first scandal faced by the pageant and its winners. 2006 Miss USA winner Tara Conner and 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado both made headlines after the pageant, with Conner nearly losing her crown following reports of hard partying and Machado gaining 42 pounds in less than a year, leading organizers to threaten to revoke her title if she didn’t slim down. And during the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants, contestants Carrie Prejean and Lauren Caitlin Upton delivered memorably controversial answers to questions during the interview segment.
Ahead of Sunday night’s pageant, take a look back at some of the best-known controversies faced by the Miss USA, Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA pageants and their winners, presented in chronological order.
1957 Miss USA winner Leona Gage’s secret marriage: One day after Leona Gage won the 1957 Miss USA pageant, officials stripped her of the title after they learned that she was married (a violation of contest rules) with two children and was 18 years old, not 21 as she had claimed. “I’m glad it’s over with now,” Gage said at the time. “I knew the Miss Universe rules forbade a married girl from entering the contest, but I thought I had a chance. I took it and lost.” Runner-up Miss Utah took her place. Gage appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show just days later, where she explained that she had entered the contest because she needed the money. Gage, who died of heart failure in 2010, went on to pursue an acting career and ultimately had six failed marriages and lost custody of her five children.
1996’s Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado’s weight scandal: After winning the 1996 Miss Universe pageant, 5-foot-9 Venezuelan beauty Alicia Machado quickly put on 42 pounds, going from 118 to 160 in less than a year. Pageant officials found the weight gain unacceptable and threatened to take away her crown if she didn’t slim down, with Trump calling in a fitness expert to help Machado lose the weight through a rigorous diet and exercise program, all of which was documented by photographers and camera crews. Trump also reportedly called Machado an “eating machine.” Recently, Machado has been vocal about her dislike for Trump, calling him “a detestable being” in June in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma. She also, last week, announced that she would be writing a book about his “abuse of power” and “racism.”
2006 Miss USA winner Tara Conner’s partying and second chance: After former Miss Kentucky Tara Conner was crowned Miss USA, she moved to New York and quickly made headlines for her hard partying, including allegations of drug and alcohol abuse. Amid rumors that Conner would be stripped of her crown, Trump called a press conference in which he gave the tearful Miss USA, who agreed to go to rehab, a second chance. Many people, including Conner and Trump himself, expected the Apprentice star to utter his famous “You’re fired” catchphrase. “But after speaking to her I saw not only a beautiful woman, but a beautiful heart. She really, really tried,” Trump told the media at the press conference, adding of Conner. “She left a small town in Kentucky and got caught up in the whirlwind we know is New York.” The incident also contributed to Trump’s feud with Rosie O’Donnell, who criticized him for failing to dismiss Conner, calling him a “snake-oil salesman.” Trump shot back, calling O’Donnell “fat” and a “real loser.”
2007 Miss Teen USA third runner-up Lauren Caitlin Upton’s garbled geography answer: Upton made a memorable gaffe when asked by guest judge Aimee Teegarden during the 2007 pageant why one-fifth of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a map. “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps,” she said in an incomprehensible response that included references to “the Iraq” and “Asian countries.” Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA, finished the pageant as third runner-up, and the below video of her answer went viral.
2009 Miss USA finalist Carrie Prejean’s gay-marriage answer: Two years after the Upton incident, another moment from a Miss Universe Organization pageant made headlines. Asked by judge Perez Hilton whether same-sex marriage should be legalized, Miss California USA Carrie Prejean said she believed “marriage should be between a man and a woman.” Hilton ranted about her answer online as Prejean claimed her response cost her the crown. Topless photos of Prejean surfaced online shortly thereafter, and not long after that her Miss California USA crown was revoked, with the organization citing breach-of-contract issues.
The 2013 Miss Universe Pageant being held in Russia despite its anti-gay laws: When the decision was made to hold the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow despite the country’s recently passed anti-gay laws, openly gay 2012 co-host Andy Cohen said he was boycotting the telecast, citing the discriminatory nature of the laws and concern for his own safety. There were additional calls for a boycott of the pageant or for it to relocate from Russia but it proceeded without incident. Still, openly gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts did co-host the pageant.
2015 Miss Universe pageant contestants from Lebanon and Israel posting a selfie together: Ahead of the 2015 Miss Universe pageant in January, Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, and Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, sparked controversy after they posed together for a selfie. Lebanon’s government forbids its citizens from making contact with Israelis, with the two countries still technically at war.