Twenty New Zealand women will battle for the Miss Universe New Zealand crown tonight in a competition that was as much about benevolence as beauty.

From police recruits to lifeguards, health advocates to youth workers, the finalists for the annual beauty show prove to be a generous and giving.

The 246 girls who entered a year ago were whittled down on elimination days to 75 and then 20 for tonight's final at Sky City in Auckland.

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The pageant still features the traditional opening number and evening-wear parade but no swimsuits.

Organisers Jack Yan and Nigel Godfrey canned the swimsuit-and-heels parade when they took over the competition in 2013, labelling it outdated.

Instead finalists were taken to a luxury beach resort in the Philippines to shoot a swimwear calendar and were given a choice of one- or two-piece.

"We don't do a swimwear parade on stage because it just doesn't fit with the ethos of where we are as New Zealanders," Yan said.

Because Miss Universe in the United States requires each licensee to have a swimwear segment, footage of the beach shoot is shown on screen.

"But there is none of this outdated idea of wearing swimsuits and heels on stage."

Yan said the pageant was also now a true competition with footage from eliminations making up a large part of the show, and the event is being livestreamed on several websites, including nzherald.co.nz and YouTube.

"People are not interested in the pageants of the 80s. Now you see the eliminations and it is intense, as intense as watching Idol or X Factor."

Musicians Stan Walker, Frankie Stevens and Ali Harper entertained at the event, which raised more than $100,000 for Variety Children's Charity.

The winner was to be decided 50 per cent by public vote and 50 percent by a judging panel, which included Evana Patterson, Areena Deshpande, Anna Jobsz and Samala Robinson.