Crown a blonde, judges told

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

Three judges have said they fell out with director Val Lott after they ignored pressure not to choose last year's 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 New Zealand Herald has seen an email exchange between another judge and Ms Lott in which she says that a sponsor had indicated they wanted a blonde to win.

In the email dated May 3, 2011, 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 was the outstanding consistent person with the [total] package," Ms Lott wrote.

"She should have been at least [placed] in the top five.

"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. Chief executive Jack Ren 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 Miss Universe New Zealand Avianca Bohm.

The South African-born 22-year-old, who was crowned this month, will compete in December's pageant only if her citizenship application is given priority.

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

However, head judge Jack Yan said he was never told about the citizenship issues of both Ms Bohm and third runner-up, Miss Otago, Monique Cooley.

Miss Universe world organisers have indicated that so long as Ms Bohm has a New Zealand passport by the December event date she will be eligible to compete.

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


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