Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Bay girls vie for pageant votes

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Two Bay women are set to shine on the national and hopefully the international stage but they need the public's vote as they vie for the chance to be crowned Miss Universe New Zealand.

Larissa Allen, 25, a marketing, social media and events consultant at Tauranga firm Metro Marketing and 19-year-old University of Waikato student Emma Nielsen are among the 20 finalists in the 2016 Miss Universe New Zealand competition.

More than 250 young women entered the competition, which has been whittled down to just 20 finalists after 40 hopefuls competed in a "Stilleto Camp" in Auckland last month.

Also vying for top honours are nine Aucklanders, two from Christchurch, three from Wellington and one competitor each from Whangarei, Invercargill, Timaru and Blenheim.

It is Miss Allen's second shot at taking out the Miss Universe New Zealand title.

"After last year's disappointment of not making it past the semifinals, I picked my pride up and decided I would go for it again. I'm pleasantly surprised that this year I've made it through to the final. It's very, exciting," she said.

Miss Allen was also a finalist in last year's indulge Bay Model competition.

Public voting began on June 17 via the iVote system, which works through Facebook and iTicket and represents 50 per cent of the final vote.

The 20 finalists must also take part in an "Entrepreneurial Challenge" by organising a charitable event to raise funds for Variety: The Children's Charity. To date, Miss Universe New Zealand contestants had raised $85,000 for Kiwi kids.

Doing charitable works was not new for Miss Allen. Her father Dan Allen-Gordon is the Bay of Plenty manager of the Foundation for Youth Development, which works to support at-risk youth. Miss Allen said she was keen to use the competition to help raise Variety's profile and grab the chance to "speak for those who don't have a voice".

Ms Nielsen, who lives in Hamilton but is originally from Tauranga, could not be contacted yesterday. But in a Facebook post she wrote that she was honoured to be part of Miss Universe NZ, and hoped the public would support her on "this amazing journey" .

"I applied for Miss Universe NZ just for fun and games with my friends when all of a sudden I received a call from Miss Universe NZ saying I have been picked to be in the top 40.

"I was overjoyed ... To my surprise my name was called out as one of the top 20 finalists... I will be advertising on the day of the show, September 3rd that I am a proud Samoan and a very proud BOP girl."

Next month the 20 finalists head away on a Miss Universe New Zealand finalists retreat.

The grand final will be held at SkyCity Theatre on September 3, and the winner will represent New Zealand at the Miss Universe pageant in Budapest.

Miss Universe New Zealand 2016

* Public voting carries on through to grand final.

* Voting is made via iVote - run through iTicket.

* Visit www.nextmissnz.com/competition

- Bay of Plenty Times

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