19 Sep 2014

In the Eye of the Beholder: Miss Universe NZ

From New Zealand Society, 2:20 pm on 19 September 2014

Miss Universe NZ
Left: Rachel Millns is now our Miss Universe New Zealand 2014. Photo by Alan Raga
Right: Rachel Millns centre with Becky Hingston , Monique Jay, Jack Yan and Nigel Godfrey. Photo by Alan Raga

Beauty is only skin deep, and competitions such as the newly rebranded Miss Universe New Zealand is testament that personality and brains go a long way too.

Streamed live via the web on the night of 18 September, the finals saw 25 contestants between the ages of 18-27 compete in front of a packed auditorium at SkyCity.

But it’s not like the pageants of old – in fact ‘pageant’ is a word that executive director, Nigel Godfrey prefers to avoid.

This year, contestants from diverse ethnic backgrounds have entered the competition. Iranian lab technician and belly dancing teacher Aida Sajadi had a bad experience in a previous competition that deterred her from pageants altogether. She was prompted by a friend to apply for Miss Universe New Zealand 2014, because word had gotten around that this competition would be ‘different.’

And it is different. Bringing in social media and allowing the public to have their say, via online voting has been a way to engage audiences and let people have more of an insight into the contestants is what Kiwi audiences want. So, for Godfrey, creating an event that is appealing to New Zealanders was the key into redeveloping the show and taking it on in the first place. Initially sceptical about the concept of beauty pageants; he was overseas when he’d read that a contestant had won the Miss New Zealand title (2012)  when in fact, she wasn’t even a New Zealand citizen. He cites a lack of professionalism in the organisation of these New Zealand shows which ultimately gives these competitions a bad rap. Coming into this project, along with cohort fashion publishing pioneer Jack Yan, has meant eliminating the cringe-worthy aspects of traditional pageants. Doing away with swimsuits down the runway was one of the first things to go.

And Godfrey is man who knows a thing or two about what works when it comes to the entertainment industry. With his wealth of knowledge from years in television here and abroad, he’s worked on high profile events and television productions, including; X-Factor, The Commonwealth Games, Master Chef and Stars in Their Eyes, among other prime-time franchises.   

When asked if they’re on the hunt to find the quintessential Kiwi girl, Godfrey contends, “It’s about a presence, an ability to communicate an outgoing personality – to a degree [someone] who can take an ambassadorial-type attitude towards New Zealand… I really don’t have a clue [about] what the quintessential Kiwi girl is – New Zealand has changed, so Miss Universe New Zealand has changed… “

Change has been a quality that many contestants experience. In the first round of auditions referred to as ‘Stiletto Camp’ – applicants go through a series of workshops that include; modelling, grooming and media training. Having received plenty of positive feedback about the sessions as ‘life-changing,’ for Godfrey it is confirmation that a show like Miss Universe New Zealand has more worth for those involved, than one might think.  

Sonia Sly finds out more about the re-branded glamour event.

There’s Something About Rachel

Rachel Millns is a beauty therapist and self-confessed ‘people-person’ who likes to get involved in the community, and make others feel good. She’s also the newly crowned winner of this year’s Miss Universe New Zealand title, announced last night at a large-scale event at Auckland’s Sky City.

When I catch up with her via phone during the final week of rehearsals, she has just come from her interview with the judging panel and by the sounds of things, taking it all in her stride. She’s relaxed, humble and immediately likeable. Having communicated with her via text message to try and pin down our interview, I already get a sense that she’s fun, vivacious and genuine – the kind of person you want as your very own BFF.

Rachel Millns and Aida SajadiRachel entered the competition last year and says that her decision to come back was due to the personal growth and confidence that she gained from the last experience. “The competitions have actually helped [to] mould me into who I am today. Before entering competitions of this nature I was so shy, I couldn’t really talk in front of the public.” Crushing those stereotypes.

Photo: Rachel Millns and Aida Sajadi

She’s a natural conversationalist who reveals that she:

a). Owns a pair of gumboots.
b). Feels more comfortable in flats over stilettoes for everyday purposes.
c). Would be ‘Bubbly Spice’ if she was an additional member of the Spice Girls.
d). Is more than willing to answer my serious and ridiculous questions, and does both with aplomb.

And now that she’s been aptly crowned, Miss Universe New Zealand 2014, her goal of being a positive role model can now be set in motion, “I just love being a positive role model for young girls. I’ll use it as a platform to do workshops or programmes to educate young girls on basic nutrition and skin care needs, and how to be happy with who you are.”  

Rachel heads to Doral, Florida in December to compete in the international Miss Universe competition in January 2015.