Miss USA Contestants Said They Had No Mental-Health Support at Pageant

Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst’s suicide in January was met with grief in the pageant…

  • Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst’s suicide in January was met with grief in the pageant community.
  • Miss USA’s president, Crystle Stewart, later said that she’d prioritize contestants’ mental health.
  • But 2022 contestants told Insider they’d had little or no mental-health support during the pageant.

When the news of Cheslie Kryst’s death first broke on January 30, the tight-knit pageant community expressed shock and grief.

The Miss USA 2019 winner died by suicide at the age of 30. Her mom later said that Kryst, who was also a complex-litigation attorney and a host for Extra TV, had experienced depression for years.

Shortly after Kryst’s death, the Miss USA president, Crystle Stewart, told Insider that she planned to make mental health a priority for the pageant and its future contestants.

Months later, the Miss USA 2022 competition was held in Reno, Nevada. Although Stewart offered two mental-health workshops in the lead-up to the competition, several 2022 contestants told Insider they received no mental-health support from the organization during the pageant, even as they faced an onslaught of online abuse including criticism of their weight and their looks.

Promises of mental-health workshops

The Miss USA 2022 pageant was consumed by controversy from the moment the crown was placed on Miss Texas R’Bonney Gabriel’s head on October 3. In the hours and days after the competition, contestants began sharing Instagram posts claiming the competition had been rigged.

Among the posts was one from Miss Kansas, Elyse Noe, who wrote about the online abuse she had faced during the pageant.

“My heart breaks that we haven’t learned from the devastating loss of Cheslie,” Noe wrote in an Instagram post shared the day after the pageant. “Why do we continue to hurt and berate women for presenting their best, beautiful selves? Why can’t we celebrate and uplift women in pageantry?”

A post shared by elyse noe (@elyse_noe)

Noe told Insider she decided to write the post in response to the wave of hate she said she’d received from pageant fans since she won Miss Kansas and began preparing for Miss USA. The comments included criticism about her body and her face, with some writing that she looked “disgustingly sick” while others said she needed to lose 15 pounds.

“I couldn’t please anyone,” Noe said. “Pageants are subjective and I get that, but the blatant disrespect and hate was just vile.”

Noe said the comments reminded her of the online abuse she saw Kryst receive after winning Miss USA in 2019.

In a May episode of “Red Table Talk,” Kryst’s mother, Alice Simpkins, said her daughter was “blindsided” by the online criticism she received after taking the crown. Kryst had detailed some of the comments she received in an essay for Allure the previous year, writing that people had left “vomit emojis” on her Instagram page, had said her muscular build was “actually a ‘man body,'” and had said she “wasn’t pretty enough to be Miss USA.”

“I’ll never forget the disgusting comments that were made about her,” Noe told Insider. “We all saw it, and no one did anything about it. And still, nobody does anything about it, because it’s happening now and it’s just as bad.”

Cheslie Kryst onstage at the 2019 Miss Universe Pageant, spotlighted against a dark blue background.

Kryst onstage at the 2019 Miss Universe pageant on December 8, 2019, in Atlanta.

Para Griffin/Getty Images



Stewart told Insider in April that she’d been wanting to start a mental-health program at her pageant school, Miss Academy, which has locations in Houston and Los Angeles, for years. The Miss USA president said she was “absolutely devastated” by Kryst’s death and it gave her the “extra drive” to “speed up that process.”

“It has to be implemented this year just to make sure that we keep a tight grip especially on our titleholders when it comes to mental health,” she said.

Stewart told Los Angeles Magazine in May that her schools would offer in-person and virtual workshops on “managing stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention.” She said titleholders would also be given resources to connect with mental-health professionals.

But Noe, who was among the contestants who paid for private coaching at the Miss Academy Houston location before Miss USA, told Insider she was never told of available mental-health workshops or any kind of mental-health initiative at the school. Insider also found no mention of mental-health workshops on the Miss Academy website as of November and only one mention of a $30 one-hour online workshop — led by Elise Banks, a clinical psychotherapist who serves as director of the Miss Houston pageant — that was offered in May and advertised on the Miss Academy Instagram page.

A post shared by MISS Academy (@missacademy)

The contestants that Insider spoke with said they received only one in-person mental-health workshop in the lead-up to Miss USA. It occurred during a retreat in Cancún, Mexico, that Stewart held in June for the 2022 contestants. Miss Missouri, Mikala McGhee, told Insider the women were asked to write down how they were feeling, what their goals were “outside of pageantry,” and the steps they could take to accomplish those goals.

A post shared by Miss USA (@missusa)

“Group sessions are fine and all, but I can assure you not everyone wants to share their struggles, pain, and burdens with girls they are competing against,” McGhee said.

“I never really felt like it was a safe environment to actually talk about what I was going through,” Noe told Insider in a separate interview.

Aside from the workshop in Cancún, the Miss USA organization offered contestants an optional group Zoom call before the competition that was geared toward mental health. Contestants told Insider that they were never given resources from the organization to connect with mental-health professionals in the lead-up to the pageant and that no mental-health resources were provided during the week of the competition.

A source close to the Miss USA organization told Insider that Stewart organized both the Cancún and Zoom workshops before the pageant. They said the week of competition — which included yoga and a class that taught contestants how to work with different personalities — was about developing relationships and team-building.

‘I felt like a prisoner all week’

Contestants expected the competition at Miss USA to be stressful, but many said they were shocked that the organization rarely allowed them to go outside during the weeklong pageant. The women also said they couldn’t leave their rooms at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada, without a chaperone.

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“I felt like a prisoner all week,” Miss Montana, Heather Lee O’Keefe, told Insider. “We were treated like children. We saw sunlight for maybe five minutes. We were stuck in a casino. There are no windows. You don’t know what time of day it is. I felt totally disconnected from reality and the real world.”

“I understand the security protocols, especially with many people in the casino who are perhaps under the influence,” Miss New Hampshire, Camila Sacco, told Insider in a separate interview. “But there could’ve been a greater effort to listen to our pleas, and say, ‘OK these girls want to get outside for some fresh air, even if it’s 15 minutes.'”

“There were days I didn’t step outside at all,” Sacco added. “At one point, I joked with another contestant, ‘I will never commit a crime that will put me in jail, because I need to see the sunlight!’ and they joked back, ‘Well, even in jail you get to go outside.'”

Sacco said that no therapists were on hand during the week of the competition and that the women were told to speak with their assigned chaperones if they had any issues.

The contestants said they were also disheartened that the organization barely mentioned Kryst or her impact on the pageant community during the competition week, despite announcing that they had picked Reno — where she was crowned Miss USA in 2019 — in honor of her memory. During the live telecast on October 3, there was a brief tribute by the host Christian Murphy and a moment of silence for Kryst, however.

Miss USA Cheslie Kryst tribute

A picture of Kryst was shown during the live telecast of Miss USA 2022.

Anneta Konstantinides/Insider



“There was no real talk of Cheslie or what she’d gone through. There was no real celebration of her life or her legacy,” Noe told Insider. “To be at the place where Cheslie won her crown, and given everything that has transpired in the last year, it was really disappointing for me.”

“Because it was in Reno, I had the assumption there would be a beautiful, grand memorial focused on her legacy,” Sacco said. “In my opinion, it was a bit of a wasted opportunity.”

Miss USA has been consumed with controversy

In the weeks since the pageant, the Miss USA organization has descended into chaos. It emerged that Stewart’s husband, Max Sebrechts, who briefly served as vice president of the organization, had been accused of sexual harassment by contestants from the 2021 pageant.

Crystle Stewart and Max Sebrechts

Crystle Stewart and Max Sebrechts at the 2019 Miss Universe pageant.

Paras Griffin/Getty Images



In a statement sent to Insider, a representative for Miss Universe said that the organization was made aware of the allegations against Sebrechts in late December 2021 and that he was removed as an employee from the Miss USA organization the following month.

A source close to Stewart told Insider that she and Sebrechts had since separated. Sebrechts denied the sexual-harassment allegations in a statement to Insider.

Contestants have also claimed that the 2022 pageant was rigged or heavily favored for Gabriel, who took this year’s crown. Following their allegations, the Miss Universe Organization suspended Stewart indefinitely on October 8. An investigation remains ongoing, and a representative for Stewart said she’s complying.

A post shared by Miss USA (@missusa)

Miss Illinois, Angel Reyes, told Insider that after the suspension the Miss Universe organization offered contestants virtual one-on-one therapy services through LifeWorks. She said it was the most helpful service the contestants had been given by the organization.

By speaking out, the contestants hope they can help change how Miss USA and the pageant community treat the women who compete for the crown every year, they said.

“I want to see the Miss USA organization accept the fact that not everything is perfect and great all the time and it’s OK to struggle with your mental health,” Noe said. “And I want to see them provide the proper resources for contestants going through this — especially during pageant week.”

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