It was "mission accomplished" for Benson Wilson as he took out the 2016 Lexus Song Quest.

All four singers - Wilson, a baritone, tenor Filipe Manu, soprano Madison Nonoa and bass-baritone Tavis Gravatt - who made it through to the final held recently at the Auckland Town Hall, had been heard previously in Hawke's Bay while competing in the annual Aria Competition held as part of the Easter Festival of the Napier Performing Arts.

Wilson took the top prize after being placed second in 2014.

He began his singing career when a pupil at Havelock North High School where he studied with singing teacher Elizabeth Curtis who guided him to win the 2011 Hawke's Bay Young Musician of the Year. Then in 2015 he won the Aria Competition in Napier.


Speaking on Radio NZ Concert, head judge Yvonne Kenny said Benson stood out for his "assured" performance and "beautiful, honey-like" singing. "He's on a fantastic pathway," she said, "with his plans to study at London's prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama now boosted by his prize of $20,000 cash and $30,000 for study and travel".

The 2016 result continues the competition's proud Pasifika heritage, with Wilson the third Samoan winner in a row - joining Amitai Pati (2012) and Isabella Moore (2014) as winners.

Runner-up Filipe Manu entertained a riveted audience with his theatrical rendition of Donizetti's Ah! Mes amis earning him $8,000 cash and a $10,000 study scholarship supported by the Dame Malvina Foundation. Third place-getter Madison Nonoa continued the Donizetti theme with a beautiful performance of Chacun le sait, before collecting $3500 cash and the $15,000 Kiri Te Kanawa scholarship prize for the competition's most-promising performer. Fourth place-getter Tavis Gravatt also put on a great show, taking away $3500 cash for his singing of the Prologue from I Pagliacci by Leoncavallo.