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Arleearna Drake’s traditional outfit was one of three looks she wore to take out the crown at the Little Miss, Exquisite Queen 2023 pageant. Photo: BIPIN PHOTOGRAPHY

Pageant queen sets sights on Top Model

For twelve year old Arleearna Drake, the catwalk is her place to shine. 

The Karangahake resident was crowned the winner of the Little Miss, Exquisite Queen 2023 pageant on August 5. Now, she’s got her sights set on Aotearoa’s Top Model. 

The Little Miss pageant was a way for Arleearna to follow her interests of fashion and modelling, having a bit of fun along the way. When she won, however, Arelanna was taken by surprise. 

“When they said my name, they said my name wrong,” Arleearna said of the experience. 

“It took me a moment to realise oh, they actually meant me! 

“My brain was just like hold on, we won, and then my body kind of wanted to jump up and down.”

Arleearna had been preparing for the pageant since March, with monthly rehearsals, fashion shows, confidence building and photography sessions. On the night, she took three turns along the catwalk, showcasing a black-tie outfit, a traditional outfit and finally her eveningwear look. 

Mum Leanne said Arleearna had gained a lot of confidence throughout the process. 

“It’s definitely made her come out of her bubble,” Leanne said. 

“Even backstage the other night, a couple of the other young girls were starting to get a bit nervous and panicking … she was like we can do this, just go out there and do your thing, smile. So she’s definitely gained that confidence.” 

For homeschooled Arleearna, it was also a chance for her to meet other like-minded kids and get a feel for the industry. 

She’s got to meet other kids along the way that enjoy the same thing,” Leanne said. 

Now, Arleearna’s focused on the upcoming Top Model contest. This pageant is more intimate, Leanne said, with different requirements. She has to prepare a talent – Arleearna and Leanne are working on a dance duet – and multiple outfits including an eveningwear look and a look based around the colours of the NZ flag. 

There is also a charity fundraising component. Arleearna and Leanne are holding a fundraiser for kids’ mental health charity I AM HOPE. The event is set to be a toe-tapping music extravaganza, featuring artists Coral and Toe Jam, and with a number of raffles. 

The charity is one that is close to the family’s heart, Leanne said. 

“For Arleearna, for her personal struggles when she was going to school, it was quite connected to her as well as her brothers and others she knows who have used the charity,” she said. 

“Arleearna’s been helping towards organising two raffles to help towards the music fundraiser … she wants to raise $1000 at least towards the charity.” 

Leanne was full of praise for the whole pageant experience. 

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the pageant/beauty side of it, but if you look at it from making friends, gaining confidence, learning new skills, widening and opening up a different experience that they would enjoy, I’d say go for it,” she said. 

“It’s definitely full on but at the end of the night … she enjoyed it and the [excitement], and then afterwards was like, ‘I could do that all over again!’”

Arleearna agreed, saying it was something she got a lot of enjoyment from.

“I still have some moments where I get really nervous, but then I have to shut them out and just do what I can do and try my best,” she said. 

“[After I feel] excited and happy that I did it.”

DETAILS: I AM HOPE charity fundraiser, August 18, 7pm at Karangahake Hall. Limited tickets, visit  

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air