(THE INSIDER) – Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel crowned Miss North Carolina, Morgan Romano, the new Miss USA this weekend after Gabriel faced rigging allegations at the stateside competition.
According to Pageant Circle, the ceremony took place at Auburn University during the preliminary competition of Miss Alabama Teen USA and Miss Alabama USA 2023.
Because Gabriel was crowned Miss Universe, first runner-up Romano took her place as Miss USA. Romano, a chemical engineer and graduate of the University of South Carolina, wrote on Instagram Saturday that her heart was “full of gratitude.”
“I’m all yours, USA,” she continued.
Romano told her alma mater on Thursday that working in a male-dominated industry and competing in pageants is “almost a Hannah Montana double life.”
“You never know who you’re going to meet and the connections you’ll make because pageants have such a diverse group of people involved,” she said. “You can gain so many things that you never expected from competing in Miss USA or even state competitions. Even if you never win, so many girls have gone on to use those connections for their careers.”
Insider’s Anneta Konstantinides previously reported that after Gabriel won Miss USA in October 2022, many contestants walked off the stage instead of rushing to congratulate her. Some then claimed the Miss USA organization had either rigged the competition or heavily favored the winner from Texas, pointing to conflicts of interest between Gabriel and Miss USA sponsors.
“A lot of the girls felt like it was the organization’s plan from the beginning for R’Bonney to win, no matter who else was competing,” Miss Missouri, Mikala McGhee, told Insider.
Representatives for the Miss USA organization did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
After winning the Miss Universe title on January 14, Gabriel told Insider that the allegations were a “huge distraction.”
“The hardest part was I felt like I didn’t have a voice at times as Miss USA. I wanted to stand up for myself and say, ‘Hey, this is false. This is very frustrating,'” she said. “But I wanted to compose myself and carry this with grace because I was in the public eye. I wanted to show people how you can push back from adversity and be resilient.”
Gabriel faced more rigging allegations after winning the international competition, with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro saying at a military meeting this month that the crown was “stolen” from first runner-up Amanda Dudamel.
The Miss Universe Organization chief executive Amy Emmerich defended Gabriel in a statement to the Los Angeles Times on January 18, noting that she was “a strong and dedicated contestant” and “the rightful Miss Universe.”