After Miss USA Ended Its Age Limit, I Thought About Competing in My 40s. Why I Changed My Mind (Exclusive)

“What they're asking in this contract is for almost complete control”

<p>Dr. Lindsey Elmore</p> Lindsey Elmore

Dr. Lindsey Elmore

Lindsey Elmore

Lindsey Elmore is a speaker, wellness expert, podcast host and licensed pharmacist — and she was hoping to become the next Miss Alabama.

After the Miss USA organization relaxed its age requirement last year, the 41-year-old tells PEOPLE she realized she wanted another chance to compete after participating in pageants as a child and young woman, including in Miss America. 

In the wake of the surprise resignations of Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA 2023 Umasofia Srivastava earlier this month, Elmore is speaking out about what she calls her own troubling time with the organization, and why she realized she couldn’t risk her career for a title. 

Miss USA did not respond to a request for comment on Elmore’s experience, but officials said in a previous statement that “we are committed to fostering a healthy, communicative and supportive environment for all contestants, state titleholders, national titleholders and staff.”

Here is Elmore’s story, told to PEOPLE’s Anna Lazarus Caplan, in her own words. 

I always loved dress up, pageantry, all of it as a child. My mom did not really want me to be a pageant child in the TLC kind of sense of the word, but she always allowed me to be in my school pageant and she always allowed me to participate on some level. And I am very comfortable on stage, always have been, even as a very, very young child. 

I was just at ease on stage. I had no problem walking on stage, speaking on stage, performing. I loved theater and acting and just all of it. It was a great fit for me, who likes performing, likes dressing up and also likes hanging out with girls and women. I always loved just hanging out and getting to know girls and getting to know women as I got older. 

And so when I was in college, I competed in Miss Alabama [for Miss America]. There are two main pageant systems, there's the Miss America system and the Miss USA system. The Miss USA system at the time and even now is much more about modeling and performance, versus the Miss America system is really more about — how do we get through school? 

<p>Dr. Lindsey Elmore</p> Lindsey Elmore

Dr. Lindsey Elmore

Lindsey Elmore

I thought it was a great fit for me to earn scholarship money. There's a huge service component with the Miss America system.

I competed on behalf of my alma mater, the University of Alabama, Birmingham, in Miss Alabama. I enjoyed it, but it was just a lot of time in pageantry, as we saw with Noelia, the Miss USA who just stepped down, she had tried for seven years to achieve this title. 

That is very common within both pageant systems, for it to take three to five to as many years as you can compete to actually win the title.

Fast forward to the Miss America competition this year when Madison Marsh won, the first active military service member to ever win. And because I'm dating someone in the military, it really just kind of resonated with me. And I've always paid attention to Miss America, always. I've interviewed Camille Schrier, who is the only practicing pharmacist who served as Miss America, Grace Stanke, who's a nuclear engineer. They've all been on my podcast ,and I just love the way that the pageant systems can empower women.

When I saw that the Miss USA system had lifted their age restrictions [from 29, unlike Miss America], I was like, you know what? Yes. What if I could work and help to change that and bring awareness to issues that really matter to me as well as to the organization? 

Miss USA has an affiliation with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and I am affiliated with a company that is also affiliated with NAMI. So I was like, alright, that's a great tie-in. Also, I'm a licensed pharmacist, and because of some personal things that happened in my life, I got really down a rabbit hole of pharmacy law and drug price negotiations. Americans don't even know how badly that they are getting ripped off by the lack of governmental oversight and drug pricing.

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And so I was like, I think this could be an absolute win-win all the way around. I get to support what's important to Miss USA with the dedication to mental wellness, as well as get to hopefully create a national conversation about how we can do better in the practice of pharmacy and really help to truly support the health of Americans. So we sign up for an exploratory call [with pageant officials] and we go to the exploratory call, and it's basically what you would expect. 

We had a follow-up call the next day with one of my associates, because I always like to have somebody else listening with me just to make sure that I'm hearing all the things, and ran some really basic questions past them because as an “older woman” coming into this competition, I have an established brand, I have multiple established companies. I have affiliate commissions, sales commissions, things that I cannot give up. I have people who their livelihood relies on me being able to earn a living so that I can pay them.

So we ran some really basic questions past the director: Hey, will I maintain control of my social media? Will I have oversight of what I post? And when I post it, will I be able to still promote products that I've been promoting? Will I have the ability to choose which products I would like to promote on behalf of the state pageant as well as the national pageant? 

Because also being an established brand for many, many years, I have my reputation on the line to where if they were to come to me and say, you absolutely must promote this thing that you have been opposed to for 10 years, I'm not going to sacrifice how hard I've worked to build my reputation in order to just have a title. 

Related: UmaSofia Srivastava Says Resigning Miss Teen USA Title 'Was Not My First Choice' (Exclusive)

[Even still, I was] so excited and I'm so dedicated. I don't go halfway into anything. And so it was not only the gowns, the photography, the swimsuit, the shoes — I mean practicing hair and makeup trials, getting all the photography taken care of, signing up for additional gym memberships, going to the tanning bed, sacrificing my skin on behalf of everything, hiring interview coaches, hiring stage performance and just really pouring my whole heart and soul into this pursuit because I decided I'm going to do this once. 

If I win, great. If I don't, I'm just going to see what doors it opens for me. 

After filing the paperwork [to be Miss Birmingham and compete for Miss Alabama], I get back from a vacation and I get a message that says, “Hey, we're missing these two things and can you please fill them out?” 

One of the things was the contestant contract [which was also shared with PEOPLE].

<p>Dr. Lindsey Elmore</p> Lindsey Elmore

Dr. Lindsey Elmore

Lindsey Elmore

So I read that contract one time and I was like, “Okay, guys, we've got major problems.” Because just basic stuff, there were multiple times where it was like, “Hey, this sentence directly contradicts itself.” For example, the contract would say something along the lines of, “It is in our sole discretion to decide who competes on the national stage.” But I thought the judges selected who would compete. Then in the same paragraph it says [something like] “our only obligation to you as a winner is to let you compete on the national stage.” 

That made me take a step back. If their only obligation to me is to let me compete, but then they can veto and not let me compete, they're not obligated to give me a crown, a sash, any kind of financial support for the national level. There were no compensatory terms for me. And so I read through the contract, which is 24 pages long, I read through it very quickly, sent them a couple of just logistical, “Hey, you're asking me to attest to this? It doesn't exist in the contract. I'm confused about this and that” — and got nothing in return, except “we didn't write this contract, it was written by our national team.”

I fully understand that the Miss USA system wants to protect their brand. They want a certain type of woman to represent them. I fully understand that. However, what they're asking in this contract is for almost complete control. And so I got my associate involved because I knew that they knew a lot about how to protect a brand and how to protect a trademark, an organization, and that person balked. Then we passed it along to a couple of other people — and the more we read it, the worse, worse and worse it got.

Noelia resigned with her statement that spells out “I am silent.” She was denied access to the Miss USA Instagram account, despite being the face of the organization. And what she alleged is that it was a toxic environment, a controlling environment and that she was exposed daily to emails insisting on almost dictatorial control over social media.

That scared the daylights out of me, because I make a living on social media. Then when UmaSofia resigned, I just thought something is very, very wrong here.

Related: Olivia Culpo, Miss Universe 2012, Reacts to Sudden Miss USA Resignations: 'I Feel for Everybody' (Exclusive)

At that point I just said [to myself], I don't want to participate in a competition that I've worked so hard for, was so excited about, really thought that it was a step forward for the organization to be lifting age restrictions. I thought it reflected so well on the value of women because women become so devalued as we get older. 

I was so excited — and I will say the state directorship was good to me. They were kind to me. I just think that they have worked with this organization for an extended period of time. And so I eventually just said, okay, I think it's best for me just to resign [in May as Miss Birmingham]. And I did resign and I am very grateful for the state organization. They have agreed to refund me every bit of money that is in their power to refund. 

My hope is that by sharing my story, the young girls, women and their parents who have to sign on behalf of these teens really dig into “what am I actually signing?” And I think they have to take a look at, okay, you are now lifting an age limit and you are taking someone like me who has established companies and established brands, established careers and saying, “We need you to take an entire year off of your life, surrender your existing contracts,” which just as well as have significant limitations on my ability to do business. 

I really hope that this shakes the organization to understand we are not in a time and place anymore where anyone has the rights to take away social media, someone's voice, someone's ability to pursue their hopes and goals and dreams. And you certainly do not have the right to deny a grown woman the right to work. Certainly not with a contract that has no compensation terms in it. 

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