The Life List

Five beauty pageants that turned ugly

Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Ms Pushpika de Silva had just been crowned Mrs Sri Lanka World in Colombo, Sri Lanka, when Ms Caroline Jurie, the 2020 Mrs World winner, took the stage and announced that “there is a rule you have to be married and not divorced”.PHOTO: REUTERS
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Former Miss Teen USA 2016 Karlie Hay.PHOTO: KARLIE HAY/FACEBOOK
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Former Miss Teen USA 2016 Karlie Hay.PHOTO: KARLIE HAY/FACEBOOK
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Vanessa Williams.PHOTO: VANESSAWILLIAMSOFFICIAL/INSTAGRAM
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Vanessa Williams when she was crowned Miss America 1984 in September 1983.PHOTO: VANESSAWILLIAMSOFFICIAL/INSTAGRAM
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Ris Low.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Ris Low.PHOTO: ST FILE
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.PHOTO: IAMSTEVEHARVEYTV/INSTAGRAM
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey (above) slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (left) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.
Veteran comedian-host Steve Harvey slipped up twice when hosting the Miss Universe pageants, including mistakenly indicating Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon (above) as the winner of Best National Costume in 2019.PHOTO: SHWETA_SEKHON/INSTAGRAM

From Miss Teen USA to Miss Universe, from Miss World Singapore to Mrs World Sri Lanka, beauty pageants are not just about glamour and glittering sequined costumes.

Heavy is the head that wears the diamante crown, which sometimes gets snatched away. Other times, scandals rock the pageant stage.

Here are five memorable beauty queen controversies.

1 CROWNING GORY

The latest controversy on the beauty pageant circuit took place earlier this month, when last year's winner of Mrs World, a beauty pageant for married women, was forced to give up her crown after she snatched one off the head of the 2021 winner of Mrs Sri Lanka World.

The reason for the audacious move? She claimed that the winner was divorced, which is a violation of the contest rules.

Ms Pushpika de Silva, 31, had just been crowned Mrs Sri Lanka World in Colombo, Sri Lanka, when Ms Caroline Jurie, 28, the 2020 Mrs World winner, took the stage and announced that "there is a rule you have to be married and not divorced".

She added: "So I'm taking my first step saying that the crown goes to the first runner-up."

Ms de Silva subsequently lodged a police report against Ms Jurie and Sri Lankan model Chula Padmendra, who was on stage at the time, alleging that she had sustained injuries to her skull. Ms Jurie and Ms Padmendra were arrested, then released on bail.

Ms Jurie, who is Sri Lankan, remained defiant even after relinquishing her crown and posted a video on Instagram that stated she "only wanted a fair stage".

Meanwhile, Ms de Silva, a former Miss Sri Lanka World 2011, clarified that she was separated from her husband, not divorced.


2 TEEN TWEETS

Former Miss Teen USA 2016 Karlie Hay drew fire almost immediately after she was crowned in August 2016 at the age of 18.

Tweets she had posted in 2013 and 2014, in which she had repeatedly used racial slurs and the N-word, came to light, sparking outrage.

Even though social media at that time had yet to coin the phrase "cancel culture", there were many calls for the Texan to step down.

Another former beauty queen, Miss Teen USA 2010 Kamie Crawford, called her out for not cleaning up her Twitter account prior to becoming a public figure.

The pageant organisers condemned Ms Hay's "unacceptable" language, but stood by her despite the social media firestorm.

Ms Hay, who is now 23, issued a statement shortly after the tweets resurfaced: "A few years ago, I used language that is inexcusable and I sincerely apologise for my actions. Through hard work, education, maturity and thanks in large part to the sisterhood that I have come to know through pageants, I am proud to say that I am today a better person."


3 COMEBACK QUEEN

One of the greatest comeback stories in entertainment history, singer-actress Vanessa Williams (far right), 58, started her career by becoming the first African-American woman to win the title when she was crowned Miss America 1984 (right) in September 1983.

But just a few weeks before the end of her reign, a scandal broke when Penthouse magazine revealed it had bought raunchy nude photographs of her and intended to publish them.

These photos were never meant to see the light of day, as they had been taken two years earlier, when she was working as a photographer's assistant, and the photographer had assured her that the photos were merely silhouettes, in which she was unidentifiable.

Williams, then a musical theatre major who had joined the pageant for the prize money of US$25,000 and to launch a career in entertainment, was forced to relinquish her crown.

Despite the unwanted exposure, the former beauty queen rose from the ashes to a long, award-winning career that spans music, television, film and theatre. Best known for her Grammy-nominated hit ballad, Save The Best For Last, she did indeed have the last laugh in September 2015, when she served as head judge for the very same pageant which had shamed her.

Former Miss America chief executive Sam Haskell also publicly apologised to her.


4 BOOMZ TIME

Miss World Singapore Ris Low may have been stripped of her title in 2009, but her legacy lives on with her catchphrase "boomz".

In a viral video, the then 19-year-old had used the nonsensical word, which has since entered the Singapore lexicon. There was also a racehorse named Boomz, in the wake of her being dethroned due to a previous conviction of credit card fraud.

Other words which she was mocked for mispronouncing included "bigini" (bikini) and "leopard preens" (leopard prints).

Despite the bad publicity, she was named one of the 25 most influential people or groups in Asia in 2009 by American network CNN's affiliate website CNNGo.

Playing on her sex kitten image, she went on to become a condom ambassador and later took on a role in a made-in-Singapore slasher flick, Justice Devil, which never made it to the big screen.


5 HOST OF EMBARRASSMENTS

Veteran American comedian-host Steve Harvey slipped up not once, but twice, in his role as host of the Miss Universe pageant, with his gaffes broadcast to millions across the globe each time.

In December 2015, he declared with great fanfare that Miss Colombia was the new Miss Universe when the winner was actually Miss Philippines.

In a scene that has since spawned a million memes, the crown was removed from shell-shocked Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez's head and transferred onto that of Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.

The 64-year-old first-time host of the pageant went on to add salt to the wound when he apologised on Twitter to "Miss Philippians" and "Miss Columbia".

Showing grace despite the setback, Ms Gutierrez later wrote on Instagram: "Your destiny is written for you. And my destiny was this. I was able to bring happiness to my country after becoming Miss Universe for only a couple of minutes."

Four years later, at the Miss Universe 2019 show, Harvey appeared to have made another boo-boo when revealing the winner for Best National Costume.

He announced Miss Philippines as the winner while gesturing to Miss Malaysia, who was standing next to him.

Notably, Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon had worn a costume which was extravagant even by pageant standards. The lavish outfit with headgear weighed more than half her body weight and included tables laden with local food.

Despite her eye-catching costume, she did not take home the prize.

Miss Philippines Gazini Ganados, with her silver eagle-inspired dress and two birds perched on her shoulders, was indeed the winner, but the producers wanted Miss Malaysia to be on stage so she could give more details about her costume.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 25, 2021, with the headline 'Five beauty pageants that turned ugly '. Subscribe