Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Miss Universe NZ judges pushed to pick blondes (+photos)

Priyani Puketapu. Photo / Getty Images
Priyani Puketapu. Photo / Getty Images

The organiser of Miss Universe New Zealand asked the judges to crown a blonde in order to please a sponsor.

Three judges have said they fell out with director Val Lott last year after they ignored pressure not to choose eventual winner Priyani Puketapu.

"She did more than drop hints. She actually did say, 'Jack Ren of China Town likes blondes, and I'd love to see a blonde win'," said a judge, who asked not to be identified.

"She had pushed for it pretty much right through the week [before the pageant]. We pretty much heard that every day."

Ms Lott would not comment yesterday. But the Herald has seen emails between her and another judge in which she says a sponsor had indicated they wanted a blonde to win.

Since 2006 all but two winners have been blonde.

In one email, Ms Lott said she knew Ms Puketapu would do well but she was insulted that the judges failed to consider her comments on who should win.

"It was clear to us that she [Ms Lott's preferred candidate] was the outstanding consistent person with the [total] package," Ms Lott wrote. "She should have been at least in the top 5.

"You all knew I had a contract for a blonde to also represent China Town."

China Town is a collection of nearly 160 Asian businesses in Manukau.

Mr Ren, the chief executive, said while he did have a favourite contestant, who was blonde, it was nonsense to suggest he pushed for her to win.

"I did get a little bit disappointed, because everybody has their own people that they like.

"But my wife, she liked the winner [Ms Puketapu]. She said the winner was good ... There's definitely not any agreement between us and Val."

Ms Lott has been at the centre of controversy surrounding the crowning of this year's winner, Avianca Bohm.

The South African-born 22-year-old will compete in December's Miss Universe pageant only if her citizenship application is fast-tracked.

Ms Lott blamed the judges for the situation, saying the head judge and Ms Bohm herself knew she could take part but was ineligible to win.

However, head judge Jack Yan said he was never told about Ms Bohm's citizenship issues.

Supporters of runner-up Talia Bennett, Miss North Harbour, have called for the crown to be passed to her.

- NZ Herald

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