Miss USA Nia Sanchez is part Mexican, Miss Universe Paulina Vega is Colombian, and in a nod to Latins’ fascination with beauty pageants, the upcoming Miss USA contest — airing live July 12 on NBC — was slated to feature Latin performer J Balvin.
But on Wednesday (June 24), Balvin pulled out of the show, citing his discomfort following comments about Mexicans and Latins from Donald Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization in a joint venture with NBCUniversal.
“It was going to be my first performance on national [mainstream] television,” Balvin told Billboard exclusively from his home in Medellín, Colombia. In fact, he says, repertoire had already been discussed.
“But we’re talking about our roots, our culture, our values,” he added. “This isn’t about being punitive, but about showing leadership through social responsibility. His comments weren’t just about Mexicans, but about all Latins in general.”
The comments that ruffled Balvin’s feathers were made just a few minutes into Trump’s speech announcing his presidential bid on June 16.
“When do we beat Mexico at the border?” asked Trump. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” he continued. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
“It’s coming from more than Mexico,” Trump added. “It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably — probably — from the Middle East.”
Balvin didn’t immediately hear the speech, since he was in Colombia at the time, where he lives. He also didn’t associate Trump with Miss USA until a friend pointed out the connection.
When he listened to the speech, he was shocked.
“Mexico is a Latin powerhouse,” he said. “And Mexicans, they’re known as hard workers. Here in the U.S., not everybody wants to do those kinds of jobs. I’ve lived. I know what it feels like and what they go through and how families suffer. A comment like that is powerful.”
At that point, he says, he made a decision to pull out of the show — this, despite the fact that political commentary is something he typically shies away from.
“I think music is to have fun. It’s for people to have a good time with. I’m no savior and I’m no Robin Hood,” Balvin said. “But in this case, I feel totally comfortable and responsible with my decision.”
At press time, the organization had not replied to requests for comment.
As for Balvin, he’ll still get his mainstream TV opportunity: On July 25, he’ll join Stevie Wonder, Avril Lavigne, Cody Simpson and Nicole Scherzinger, among others, in headlining the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. The event will air on ESPN.