Despite Miss USA losing all of its scheduled musical performers and another judge on Wednesday, contestants are refusing to let the controversy ruin their pageant experience.
In fact, they spent the night rock climbing at BREC’s Extreme Sports Park.
“We’re gonna present the same pageant as we would if we were on TV,” said Miss New Mexico Alexis Duprey. “It’s a little bit of a letdown, I’m not gonna lie, but we’re dealing with the cards that we’re dealt with.”
On a day when Miss Universe owner and presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Miss USA organization were dealt several blows, the Miss USA contestants talked up Baton Rouge and said the pageant experience — even if it does not air on NBC — is worth the years they spent competing for their state crowns to get them here. Rather than commenting on Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants bringing drugs, crime and rapists into the United States, the contestants said they want to remain focused on the pageant.
“I haven’t really taken a stand because I feel like everybody is entitled to their own opinion, including him,” Duprey said.
The contestants said they receive a daily briefing of the news surrounding the pageant but the message remains the same: The show will go on.
“It affects people outside more than it affects us,” said Miss Massachusetts Polikseni Manxhari. She and Miss Michigan Rashontae Wawrzyniak both said they are enjoying the little things about their Baton Rouge experience, such as “Share a Coke” cans that L’Auberge Casino and Hotel personalized for them despite their rare names.
The contestants’ cheery attitudes were in contrast to the news that continued to break throughout the day Wednesday about the Miss USA pageant losing supporters.
Rapper Flo Rida, singer Natalie LaRose and country artist Craig Wayne Boyd canceled their performances for the pageant July 12 at the Baton Rouge River Center, according to reports from The Associated Press. Former NFL player Emmitt Smith announced Wednesday he will no longer be a judge for the pageant “in light of Mr. Trump’s statements and the subsequent decisions made by NBC.”
Miss USA’s website now merely says “coming soon” under the pageant’s performers page.
Only one host is left standing, as well.
Jeannie Mai told People magazine on Wednesday she will continue her co-hosting duties. Mai is one of the hosts of daytime talk show “The Real” and is known as a fashion expert and makeup artist. In the past, she has taken viewers behind the scenes of Miss USA and offered fun facts about the contestants while the pageant is airing.
“While I absolutely do not condone Mr. Trump’s statements, after careful deliberation I have decided to continue my role as co-host of the upcoming Miss USA Pageant,” Mai said in a statement.“I can’t abandon these women when they need our support now more than ever.”
Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe organization, said in an interview released with Entertainment Weekly on Wednesday that the pageant will live stream online “at a minimum.” She said the organization is shopping for other possible avenues to air the pageant and likened it to the year a writers’ strike was happening during the Golden Globe awards show.
In light of the string of hosts, performers, sponsors and others who have dropped out of the pageant, Shugart said, many people with ties to Miss USA have offered to fill in.
“And on the judge front, the nice thing is that we’ve had contestants and former title holders come out of the woodwork who are rallying around the organization because we’ve really changed their lives and they know what the contestants are going through,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “So I have a feeling it’s going to be a good celebration. A lot of our formers will be involved.”
Where the Miss USA pageant airs could affect how much money the city of Baton Rouge and the state pay the organization. While the city of Baton Rouge’s contract was not tied to the pageant being broadcast, Visit Baton Rouge’s $200,000 contract with Miss USA mentions NBC by name several times.
Visit Baton Rouge’s contract with Miss USA stipulates that Visit Baton Rouge would pay $75,000 by Wednesday, July 1.
“As of now, we have not paid the additional $75,000 as of yet,” Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo said late Wednesday afternoon. Arrigo would not say if his office plans to pay the $75,000.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has already said his office might not pay Miss USA $65,000 in incentive packages if the pageant broadcast does not reach an audience similar to what NBC would have provided.
Mayor-President Kip Holden did not respond to interview requests for the third day Wednesday. He has not said what the city-parish plans to do about its $280,000 in incentive payments, although a Metro Council member has urged that any payments be stopped.
Trump has had trouble hanging on to allies in light of his remarks about Mexican immigrants during a campaign speech last week. Since then, NBC and Spanish-language network Univision announced they will no longer air the Miss USA pageant that is less than two weeks away.
Macy’s also announced Wednesday it is cutting ties with Trump. Although Macy’s is not involved in the Miss USA pageant, the store had been carrying a Donald Trump menswear line, according to The Associated Press.
Trump has mostly stood by his statements. He announced Wednesday he filed a $500 million lawsuit against Univision, and he has also threatened to sue NBC.
“If NBC is so weak and so foolish to not understand the serious illegal immigration problem in the United States, coupled with the horrendous and unfair trade deals we are making with Mexico, then their contract violating closure of Miss Universe/Miss USA will be determined in court,” he wrote earlier this week in a statement on his Instagram page.
The Miss USA pageant has now lost a string of performers, hosts, judges, sponsors and other supporters. On Tuesday, hosts Cheryl Burke — known for her long stint on “Dancing with the Stars” — and MSNBC Live host Thomas Roberts pulled out of co-hosting the pageant.
Jonathan Scott, an HGTV star who was supposed to judge the pageant, announced on Instagram on Monday he was stepping down as a judge “as I cannot support the views of the powers that be.” Former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, who represented Puerto Rico in the competition, also announced last week that she would no longer judge the competition.
Chilean actor Cristian de la Fuente and Puerto Rican singer and actress Roselyn Sanchez said last week they would no longer co-host the Miss USA simulcast in Spanish. In a video posted to his Facebook page, de la Fuente called it a shame Miss USA “is now in the hands of a clown.”
Colombian singer J Balvin also announced last week he was pulling out of his scheduled performance.
In addition to the sponsors, judges and co-hosts who are dropping from the Miss USA pageant, former Miss Universe Lupita Jones, who represented Mexico, said Tuesday her country will not participate in Miss Universe this year.
Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.