Harlem-Cruz Ihaia was crowned Miss Universe New Zealand 2017 at Skycity Theatre before an international audience in 51 countries, including a national television audience watching live on Bravo TV in New Zealand and a stream right here at Lucire.
The 19-year-old bilingual kohanga reo teacher from Napier won both the Entrepreneurial Challenge, where she raised more for Variety—the Children’s Charity than any previous entrant, as well as top honours before a judging panel comprised of actress Teuila Blakely (Filthy Rich), music legend Frankie Stevens, make-up guru and cosmetics’ brand owner Samala Robinson, former Miss Universe New Zealand director and current director of the Talent Tree Evana Patterson, boutique PR agency boss Anna Jobsz, and motivational speaker Areena Deshpande.
Mark Leishman and Holly Pollock (The Café) MCed the Grand Final, which returned to free-to-air television for the first time in New Zealand in a generation.
Members of Ms Ihaia’s whānau performed a haka for her after her crowning in honour of her win.
Speaking with Ms Ihaia after her win, she said she was overwhelmed, saying her victory was unexpected.
She had entered to break stereotypes of both Māori and of beauty pageants. Her motto is, ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.’
Brooke Houia of Auckland was runner-up, and Shekinah delos Santos, also of Auckland, took the second runner-up position.
Dr Sarah Hensby-Bennett and Holly Waghorn took fourth and fifth positions respectively.
Performances from the soulful Lavina Williams, new talent Razé, and illusionist André Vegas kept the evening’s entertainment fun and lively as the Top 20 became the Top 10.
This year’s finalists have helped Miss Universe New Zealand raise over $140,000 for Variety—the Children’s Charity, with many of the finalists sponsoring deserving Kiwi kids.
International couturier Sidney Eculla flew in from the Philippines to create a collection for the finalists, while the students at Sewtec had the finalists model Pacific Fusion designs, showcasing emerging talent.