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Miss Universe pageant in trouble as owner files for bankruptcy

Way of life

The last time organizers held a Miss Universe pageant in El Salvador, in 1975, rioting students staged protests that ended in massacre and plunged the country into a brutal civil war.

When the beauty pageant returns to the Central American country for its 72nd annual edition on Saturday, it’s the future of the pageant itself that could be in jeopardy – after the Thai conglomerate that owns the show announced that he had filed for bankruptcy.

And it’s not the only scandal swirling around Miss Universe, which this year will have two trans contestants.

The title will be presented by reigning beauty queen R’Bonney Gabriel, who was previously Miss USA and Miss Texas USA.

Last year, accusations of rigging hit the Miss USA pageant, which is owned by the Miss Universe organization, as some contestants suggested the pageant might have been rigged in Gabriel’s favor.

“Most of the Miss USA contestants are very confident that there was favoritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it,” Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe said in an October 2022 TikTok video.

Jakrajutatip called the Miss Universe Organization “my first priority in life.” Its JKN Global group owns the brand.
AFP via Getty Images

Miss New York Heather Nunez wrote on Instagram: “We were humiliated, thinking we had a fair chance to be in something. »

The Miss Universe Organization and Gabriel have denied any allegations of rigging.

Meanwhile, residents of San Salvador are protesting the national government for reportedly spending $12 million in public funds to host the event in a country where extreme poverty levels are rising.

Reigning Miss Universe and former Miss USA, R’Bonney Gabriel met with the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele. Some Salvadorans protested the government spending $12 million in public funds to host the competition on Saturday.

The protests are reminiscent of the July 1975 demonstration by a group of poor students who lambasted the military government at the time, led by strongman Arturo Armando Molina, for spending $1 million on the competition. Less than two weeks after Miss Finland, Anne Marie Pohtamo, was crowned Miss Universe, the country’s armed forces occupied a local university and massacred more than 100 students.

To top it all off, the group behind Miss Universe now appears to be bankrupt.

JKN Global Group, owned by transgender activist and entrepreneur Anne Jakrajutatip, purchased the 2022 Miss Universe pageant for $20 million from talent agency WME-IMG, Donald Trump’s successor. The former US president sold the brand in 2015, at the start of his first presidential campaign, after his comments calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug traffickers led to the loss of pageant sponsors and some participants.

Miss USA Noelia Voigt competed in the Miss Universe Preliminary Swimsuit Competition earlier this week.

Jakrajutatip founded JKN Global Group in 2013 as a video and content distribution company. It has since grown into a multinational conglomerate worth nearly $260 million, with two television channels and products ranging from cosmetics to energy drinks.

But it is going through difficult economic times. Over the past year, JKN’s stock price has fallen more than 80%, according to reports.

The company missed payment on a $12 million loan due on September 1, according to a letter from executives sent to the chairman of the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Anne Jakrajutatip (third from left) poses with beauty queens at the Miss Universe pageant in New Orleans last year.
AFP via Getty Images

Additionally, many longtime Miss Universe supporters around the world are balking at new rules that require them to bid for the right to hold pageants in their own countries to select contestants for the global competition. Earlier this year, Unicorp in Vietnam severed ties with the Miss Universe organization. Companies from Ghana, Belize and Seychelles, among others, have followed suit.

Despite the most recent challenge to this troubled event, “Our universe must go on,” Jakrajutatip said in an Instagram post earlier this week.

“Miss Universe Organization, which is just one of our many business lines, is completely clean and will continue to operate as planned,” Jakrajutatip said. “Anyway…I have always placed the Miss Universe Organization as my first priority in life. No matter how joyful or painful it will be.

Miss Portugal, Marina Machete, is one of two trans women competing in Saturday’s Miss Universe pageant.

Jakrajutatip makes history by allowing married women – from Guatemala, Colombia and Switzerland – to compete.

Portuguese Marina Machete and Dutch Rikkie Kolle, both transgender, are also among this year’s 85 candidates. In 2018, Angela Maria Ponce Camacho, Miss Spain, became the first trans woman to compete and ended up winning the Miss Universe title.

“Angela cried when it was all over, telling the crowd that she didn’t need to win – she just wanted the world to know that a trans woman could do it,” Jakrajutatip told Cosmopolitan last month . “I cried too.”

Rickie Valerie Kolle, Miss Netherlands, is also a trans woman competing in this year’s Miss Universe pageant.
Instagram / @missnederland

For Jakrajutatip, 44, Ponce Camacho’s participation was a personal victory. Growing up in a conservative Thai family in Bangkok, she said, she watched the competition on television every year with her mother and sister.

“I knew from the age of 5 that I was born in the wrong body,” she told the magazine.

“At home, my family insisted that I suppress any trace of femininity I felt inside,” she said. “I was so ashamed, I was afraid to be myself.”

In addition to opening the competition to trans women like herself, Jakrajutatip also welcomes married women, divorced women and even mothers – all new to traditional competitions.
Getty Images

In addition to opening the competition to women aged 18 to 28 and allowing married, divorced and pregnant women to compete, the millionaire entrepreneur said she was also including mothers among the contestants. Michelle Cohn, mother of two children, will participate in the event, as will Colombian Camila Avella, who has one child.

Organizers plan to give candidates more airtime so they can speak “as people instead of just focusing on their appearance,” Jakrajutatip said.

Additionally, she added, “there will no longer be male leaders watching over delegates in the locker rooms.” The leadership team is made up of women, as are this year’s judges and hosts, she said.

Donald Trump, here with former Miss Universe Ximena Navarette, once owner of Miss Universe, boasted to Howard Stern: “I go backstage before a show and everyone gets dressed up…”
Getty Images

“I wanted to create something that would be run by women for women – not something that men could observe,” she said.

Trump, who also owned the pageants affiliated with Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, bragged to Howard Stern about surprising young women in their dressing rooms when he controlled the pageants in 2006.

“I’ll tell you the funny thing is, I go backstage before a show and everyone’s getting dressed,” Trump said. “There are no men anywhere, and I’m allowed in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and so I’m inspecting it… You know, they’re there, without clothes. “Is everyone okay?” And you see these amazing women, and so I kind of get away with things like that.

Salvadoran dictator Arturo Armando Molina poses with Miss Finland, Anne Marie Pohtamo, who was crowned Miss Universe in 1975 while a student riot was taking place outside the venue.
This is Salvador TVE/Facebook

Jakrajutatip set out to revolutionize Miss Universe when she purchased the franchise last year.

“Why was an organization that claimed to be about women’s empowerment owned exclusively by men?,” she told Cosmopolitan.

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