Cornelius native Emily Wakeman finished as the first runner-up at the Miss Teen USA pageant in Las Vegas on Saturday, but an unexpected tidal wave of controversy surrounding the winner has left some wondering whether the right young woman is wearing the crown.
As 18-year-old Texan Karlie Hay celebrated, social media users began circulating tweets containing the N-word that were linked to an account bearing her name. The offending tweets were posted in 2013 and 2014 (and can be viewed by browsing to the end of the slideshow under the headline at the top of the page).
That Twitter account is now private and locked, but Hay issued an apology early Sunday morning on her public Miss Texas Teen Twitter account – although her statement didn’t specifically acknowledge the racial slurs.
“A few years ago, I used language that is inexcusable, and I sincerely apologize for my actions,” Hay wrote. “At the time, due to a number of personal struggles, I was in a place that is not representative of who I am now.
“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. I am honored to hold this title and I will use the Miss Teen USA platform to promote messages of confidence, inclusion and perseverance.”
Not surprisingly, this wasn’t enough to satisfy her critics.
It’s unknown how much consideration the Miss Universe Organization – which produces Miss Teen USA – gave to stripping Hay of her title, but at this point, it is standing behind its winner.
“The language Karlie Hay used is unacceptable at any age and in no way reflects the values of The Miss Universe Organization,” the organization said in a statement.
“As Karlie stated, she was in a different place in her life and made a serious mistake she regrets and for which she sincerely apologizes. Karlie learned many lessons through those personal struggles that reshaped her life and values. We as an organization are committed to supporting her continued growth.”
This was in contrast to another recent pageant controversy, involving Miss Florida USA’s crown being taken away after six days due to complaints that Genesis Davila had received help from professional hair and makeup artists (which is against the rules).
Some on Twitter pointed to this case as an example of an imbalanced system of punishment.
Others compared Hay’s poor judgment to that of Vanessa Williams, who famously gave up her Miss America title in 1984 after nude photos were published in Penthouse.
Meanwhile, that wasn’t the only controversy Miss Teen USA stirred over the weekend. The pageant also came under heavy criticism and ridicule due to the lack of diversity among its five finalists, all of whom were fair-skinned and blonde-haired.
(Click here to see head shots of all 51 contestants.)
The most widely circulated slam came from model Chrissy Teigen, who is half-Thai.
Although Teigen, 30, later laughed the whole thing off.
One of those fair-skinned and blonde-haired finalists was Emily Wakeman, a 19-year-old sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill who was named Miss North Carolina Teen USA last October. (She was not immediately available for comment on Monday.)
As Miss Teen USA pageant co-hosts Cody Johns and Olivia Jordan prepared to interview the five young women Saturday night, they actually cracked wise about the lack of diversity during the live broadcast.
“I think I’m rooting for the blonde,” Jordan said. “What do you think?”
“You know what?,” Johns replied. “I think she has a chance.”
A few minutes later, Wakeman – wearing a pink gown designed by Gregory Ellenberg of Greenville, S.C. – had her final chance to impress the judges.
Her on-stage question: “The average American teenager spends nine hours a day in front of a screen. Is the digital revolution a good or a bad thing for teenagers, and why?”
“I think there are definitely positive things about this influence,” said the 2015 graduate of SouthLake Christian Academy in Huntersville. “But overall, I think that it is so important that teenagers and kids are getting outside and exercising a lot. I know that for me that was a huge part of growing up.
“And that’s why, this year, I started a program called S.E.E. Fitness, where I’ve talked to hundreds of students now about the importance of going outside and living that balanced lifestyle, between going on social media some, but really hanging out with friends and being active. And if I can impact someone’s life and help them to live a healthy lifestyle, too, that’s what I’d like to do.”
The full broadcast from Saturday night’s competition is available here: