Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | 2:55 p.m.
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Business mogul Donald Trump is angrier in real life than he’s ever been on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and it’s because he’s facing one of the biggest beauty pageant controversies since the Miss USA Pageant began. Just hours after 2012 Miss Rhode Island USA Olivia Culpo was crowned here at Planet Hollywood on Sunday night, 2012 Miss Pennsylvania USA Sheena Monnin resigned in a shocking and blistering attack against him.
Sheena, who didn’t make the Top 16 during Sunday’s telecast from the Theater for the Performing Arts, blasted the winner-selection process as “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent and in many ways trashy.” She then took to Facebook and claimed that a fellow contestant saw a list revealing the Top Five Miss USA finalists before the show took place. Despite previous controversies with other Miss USA contestants, this is the first time that an accusation of “vote rigging” has been made.
The Donald instantly fired back Tuesday night and then this morning hired lawyers to sue Sheena: “The Miss Universe Organization can confirm the resignation of the Pennsylvania title holder after she did not place in the Top 16 at the Miss USA Pageant. In an email to state pageant organizers, she cited the Miss Universe Organization’s policy regarding transgendered contestants, implemented two months ago, as the reason for her resignation.
“Today, she has changed her story by publicly making false accusations claiming that the pageant was fixed. However, the contestant she privately sourced as her reference has vehemently refuted her most recent claim. We are disappointed that she would attempt to steal the spotlight from Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island on her well-deserved Miss USA win.”
Just before Olivia was crowned, she aced a question about transgender contestants in beauty contests. The judges voted her the winner with her answer: “I do think that would be fair, but I could understand how people could be apprehensive to take that road. ... I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.”
Pageant President Paula Shugart told me: “It was the first time we’d used Twitter to have viewers ask questions of the finalists. The subject of transgenders overwhelmingly prompted the largest number of questions, and we wanted to be topical with it. Olivia answered well, but it just reinforced her overall position all evening long.”
In the email transcript said to be from Sheena provided by The Donald’s office, the 27-year-old wrote that she refused to be “part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural born males to compete in it. This goes against every moral fiber of my being. I believe in integrity, high moral character and fair play, none of which are part of this system any longer.”
On her Facebook page, she alleged that when she discovered that the finalists were predetermined, she “decided at that moment to distance myself from an organization who did not allow fair play and whose morals did not match my own.” She urged her fellow contestants who saw a list of the Final Five to back her as eyewitnesses: “Then perhaps action can be taken. As for me, I will not encourage anyone to compete in a system that in my opinion and from what I witnessed is dishonest. In my heart, I believe in honesty, fair play, a fair opportunity and high moral integrity, none of which in my opinion are part of this pageant system any longer.
“I walk a road I never dreamed I’d need to walk, as I take a stand I never dreamed I’d need to take. After 10 years of competing in a pageant system I once believed in, I now completely and irrevocably separate myself in every way and every level from the Miss Universe Organization. I remove my support completely and have returned the title of Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012.”
Having covered the Miss USA and Miss America pageants close up and on the inside in the five years now they have called Las Vegas home, I can categorically confirm there is no list. The judges in the preliminary contests shrink the size down from 50-plus to the 15-plus semifinalists. A different panel of celebrity judges then takes on the task of cutting to 10, then five who have to face the final questions.
I was a judge of a Miss Universe Pageant in Mexico, and again I can tell you there was absolutely no instructions or suggestions from organizers to vote for any candidate. It’s completely the judge’s choice.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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