Pageant choreographer quoted as saying Trump picks finalists

Donald Trump is at the center of a brewing controversy over the Miss Universe finalists.
An interview with a choreographer for the Miss Universe pageant spurred controversy Wednesday over alleged claims that Donald Trump personally selects some of the finalists.

The Q&A with Michael Schwandt, which appeared on, quotes him as saying that “it’s just kind of common knowledge that [Trump] picks six of the top 15 single-handedly.” “And, his reason for doing so, as he told me and he’s told the girls before, is that he left it all up to preliminary judging in the past, and some of the most beautiful women, in his opinion, were not in the top 15, and he was kind of upset about that,” the story quotes Schwandt as saying. “And he decided that he would pick a certain number and let the judges pick a certain number.” Via e-mail, Schwandt said that he “was speaking in hypothetical jest” when he said Trump picks some of the finalists and said the mogul has never spoken to either him, or any of his team, about the selection process. “The story posted on that site contains many misquotes and [is] highly inaccurate,” Schwandt wrote. “I would like to disassociate myself from it completely and anything negative in regards to Miss Universe or even suggesting that Donald Trump ‘rigs’ his event. I’m perplexed as to why would run a story such as this when they are aware that it is inaccurate.” Daniel Mauser, publisher of Guanabee, said his site stands by the story, which resulted after Schwandt was contacted about his role choreographing both the pageant and a much talked-about performance by reality-star-turned-singer Heidi Montag.

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“Whatever you see quoted in the article is verbatim what he said,” Mauser said. “So I can understand why he would want to retract those words, but unfortunately that was what was said.” A statement from Miss Universe Organization President Paula M. Shugart, released Wednesday, said that “to suggest the pageant is somehow orchestrated or ‘rigged’ is utterly false and misleading.” However, the statement also observed that Trump does play a role in selecting the finalists. “In the 2009 Miss Universe competition, a preliminary panel of judges selected nine of the Top 15 and members of the Miss Universe Organization, including owner Donald J. Trump, selected the remaining six,” the statement began. The statement went on to say that “a separate panel of judges, introduced live at the Finals telecast, is solely responsible for the selection of the Top 10, Top 5 and the ultimate winner of the pageant.” “This system has been in place since 2005 and has always been fully disclosed to the contestants, their directors, the judges and the viewing audience,” the statement said. “The procedure is overseen by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young and NBC Program Standards and Compliance. To in any way call into question the integrity of the judging process or suggest the pageant is somehow orchestrated or ‘rigged’ is utterly false and misleading.” Mauser describes Guanabee as an “entertainment Web site for the Hispanic community that covers the interests and portrayals of acculturated Hispanics in this country.” The Miss Universe pageant is very popular in the Hispanic community, Mauser said, and the story took a different turn after the alleged comments were published. Schwandt, who has choreographed the pageant for the past few years, said in an e-mail to CNN that although Trump does meet with the contestants before the televised pageant, as far as he knows, it is just a gesture on Trump’s part in his role as producer of the pageant. “I know the Miss Universe Organization goes to great lengths to establish a preliminary and final panel of judges as well as different factors on which contestants are judged,” Schwandt wrote. “However, I’m the last person to be quoted as saying anything in regard to the judging or selecting process, I’m the choreographer, I deal with that.”