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Samantha Powell best expresses the Miss New Zealand brand 

Miss New Zealand 2008 contestants
Above: Samantha Powell (Miss New Zealand 2008), Rebecca Connor (Miss Wellington), Rhonda Grant (second runner-up) and Kylie Anderson (sponsored by C. R. Johnson Ltd., and second runner-up to Miss New Zealand 2006).

I suppose judging was technically work. My last trip to was a full-on one, with clients during the day and, on most nights, spending time with the contestants. Saturday and Sunday were almost spent entirely with the 12 young ladies vying for the title, with the latter attending rehearsals. I do not envy pageant organizer Val Lott in coordinating every aspect of the event.
   Some of the reports are at the Lucire blog, but what I didn’t discuss here this year—which I did in 2007—were the principles behind selecting , Miss Horowhenua, as the winner.
   It was a case of repeating the ideas I had last time around, with finding someone who could represent the New Zealand successfully. won in 2007 partly because of her cosmopolitanism. When it came to ‘the Laural Barrett ’, she had that, and her musical talent, as her differentiating factors.
   What about a year where we had not only girls who were well travelled (e.g. Pamela Day, for instance, was in Oyster Bay, New York right after 9-11; Michelle Kleinsmith found herself emigrating from Africa) but a bunch who was career-minded (Rhonda Grant is a nutritionist, and two contestants are pursuing legal studies)? If Laural was in this group she would have had a harder fight.
   Specifically, however, Sam was not only a fresh-faced Kiwi girl-next-door born in , but she showed leadership skills from her work at the Auckland Savings Bank. I believe that helped her tremendously even on her first night of judging, coupled with fluent answers. (I had to bite my tongue a little when I raised a question about bank charges being immoral.) Throughout she had an infectious X-factor: on the final night, I think few could argue that during the Lucie Boshier fashion parade segment, she raised the mood of the audience the minute she came out on stage.
   There is a less clear ‘Samantha Powell brand’: Laural’s had already been partially set pre-pageant last year through her musical work. However, Samantha Powell fits in to what we want Miss New Zealand to express this year at Miss Universe in Vietnam: an infectious, positive mood on top of a firm grasp of fair dinkum Kiwi values.
   It’s like picking an actor to be : you don’t know what it is going in to the casting process, but you know once the decision is made. It is not post-rationalization, but during the hours you are there, you begin to see what qualities each contestant presents, and just which ones will hold firm and be strong to a grander audience.
   Now I know just how hard each year is—and for the two judges who have been there for longer than me (Yvonne Brownlie and May Davis), I take my hat off to them for consistency when it comes to standards, and flexibility when it comes to considering what the whole group of contestants offers. It additionally confirms that returning contestants have no inside edge.
   Sam has had largely positive so far—we have not had Australian-owned newspapers do a tabloid hatchet job—and that is a relief for Val and for Sam herself. I’ll be interested to see how she does in Vietnam and whether that X-factor will wow the judges there. I believe she is steadfast enough to remain “being Sam” and keeping it real.
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Shame though for her she was not prepared for the "Haka" blunder and keeping in with Protocal regarding women not being able to do this an poke their tounge. Val should have prepared her better for the does and donts of our national heritage. Good luck to her but I think the media have hurt her chances.  
Thank you for your comment, Anonymous, and for being civil on this matter (I’ve seen some nastier comments sent to the pageant!). I hope you don’t mind my addressing your points by putting a few of them into context—which means a lengthier reply. It’s certainly not a point-by-point rebuttal.
   Val (or anyone involved with the pageant back here) did not know Sam’s plan to do a haka, but we stand by the fact that it was done without spite. I disagree that the responsibility should be put on Val Lott because it is expected that all contestants have a general knowledge about protocol; it is, as one person in the Herald article said, more a case of the nation needing to do more to teach people.
   As you say, it is our national heritage which we all shape. It’s no worse than Kiwi athletes failing to dip the flag when the parade passes a Royal at the Commonwealth Games: major faux pas to some, acceptable evolution of custom to others.
   Anonymous, Samantha’s haka and pukana were very well received at Miss Universe and by the international press, and remember, if this was such a big deal, why did no one mention it when the photographs of her doing this were released in June (and were widely published by the Fairfax Press)?
   That suggests to me there was no blunder because Māori groups would have cried foul then, three or four weeks before the Herald article tried to make something of it—poorly. (Many cultural groups, Māori or otherwise, are vigilant when it comes to these things.) The judges decided their top 15 two days before the article came out, so the media had zero negative effect.
   I’ve heard from no Māori media negatively and it only seems the pākehā media (and overly politically correct whites) are really upset.
   My theory is that Māori culture moves with the times and no one of that race would sacrifice their mana by dissing Sam two days before the international competition. The Māori people I know have too much dignity to do that.
   I’d go so far as to say the Herald article was anti-Māori with the pun in the headline.
   There’s more on this issue here though I think I’ve addressed a lot of this above.  
As a previous entrant into your pageant,(quite a few years ago!)and still a keen follower, I think I need to express my concern over Earth and World becoming more dominant in New Zealand.

My view is still that Universe is the best pageant in the world and in New Zealand. But I am concerned that the other pageant organisers are doing a better job at promoting their pageant.

Miss World New Zealand it seems is on the same day as Miss Universe New Zealand this year and after seeing how much publicity they managed to generate last year, I fear that your wonderful pageant is going to be overshadowed. It must be tough trying to secure a sponsor this year for the girls, and I believe that if your pageant this year does not receive enough interest by the media, next year it is going to be almost impossible for the girls to gain sponsorship.

I think you have done a wonderful job with the pageant throughout the years, but lets face it, its still a competition. You want to be the best. How would it look if the cheapest entrant fee (World) was to come out on top? Now, I am not talking about the girls involved, just media side of things. All the girls in World received a lot of media attention throughout New Zealand afterwards, as did Rachel Crofts from Earth. The only publicity that Universe seemed to get was rather negative.

I hope you do not take offence to what I have said, I will forever be a supporter of Miss Universe New Zealand.
If I may correct the blogger above, MU is not as big as MW. As far as publicity is concerned MW has always been well publicized and well attended by the World's media.
Having said that, it is no surprise that NZ media gives more credit to this pageant than the other two, being considered the no. 1 in the world.

In the case of NZ World, it is not the cheapest as the bases for ranking but on how it is organized and its management of the event.  
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