Vanessa Williams became the first African-American Miss America in 1983, but was forced to resign the title when nude photos from her past appeared in Penthouse magazine. In 2015, she received a formal apology for her treatment from the Miss America organization and made her triumphant return to the pageant after 32 years.
Miss Teen USA 2016, Karlie Hay, came under fire when social media users uncovered old tweets repeatedly using “the N-word” from what appeared to be her personal Twitter account. Shortly thereafter, the account went private and she apologized, blaming her past use of the slurs on “many personal struggles.”
In 2015, Steve Harvey mistakenly announced Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, as the winner of that year’s Miss Universe pageant. A full minute of celebration ensued before Harvey apologetically returned and crowned the actual winner, Miss Philippines, Pia Wurtzbach.
Carrie Prejean made headlines during the 2009 Miss USA pageant when she responded to a question from judge Perez Hilton saying she opposed marriage equality because “that’s how I was raised.” She was later stripped of her Miss California USA title when nude photos of her surfaced online.
In 2008, Miss Hispanic America Laura Zuniga was arrested on charges of racketeering, drug trafficking, guns and money laundering with her boyfriend and six others, one of whom was revealed to have ties to a Mexican drug cartel.
The Miss Universe pageant was forced to reverse its ban on transgender contestants when it came under heavy fire for threatening to disqualify Canadian contestant Jenna Talackova.
Brandi Lee Weaver-Gates, Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International, was arrested in 2015 after police discovered that she had falsely led the public to believe she suffered from leukemia and participated in multiple fundraisers to pay for treatment.
South Carolina’s Miss Teen USA contestant Caitlin Upton went viral in 2007 after flubbing a question about why one in five Americans were unable to identify Iraq on a map. “I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as,” she said.