A young woman’s promise to her grandmother came one step closer to reality on Saturday as Jeanné Kapela, 20, was crowned Miss Hawaii 2015 at the Hawai’i Convention Center.
"My grandmother raised me, she was like my mother,” Kapela said backstage, moments after receiving her crown from Miss Hawaii 2014 Stephanie Steuri. “Losing her this year at the start of my journey was really a push for me because one of the last things I said to her before she passed was ‘Grama, I promise you we’re gonna walk across that Miss America stage together.’ I felt her with me tonight.”
Kapela ran last year as Miss Kona Coffee and came in second runner-up. This year, competing as Miss Kaka‘ako, she beat 28 other contestants to become the 71st person to hold the title of Miss Hawaii.
“Going into the competition this year I didn’t feel nervous. I just felt comfortable, I had prepared and done everything that I could to get to this point in my life. It’s really in God’s hands, so I’m so very blessed.”
In addition to winning the overall title and the opportunity to represent Hawaii nationally, Kapela won the swimsuit and talent categories. She won the talent portion of the pageant competition with what she described as a “lyrical dance” performed to Tioni Tam Sing’s recording of “My Heart Will Go On.”
“It was also dedicated to (my grandmother),” Kapela said. “I’ve danced classical ballet my whole life, and then I ended up deciding that I really wanted to go to college to pursue my education so I ended up dancing for the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warrior dance team and that brought me into a more contemporary feel. I wanted to do something that would showcase my lyrical side as well as this new-found contemporary side.”
Four other women also went home with consolation titles. Miss Paradise Kauai Sarah Manuel was first runner-up and also received the Children’s Miracle Network Miracle Maker Award. Second runner-up went to Miss North Shore Keala Patterson. Miss East Oahu Hali’alani Parish was third runner-up. The fourth runner-up spot went to Miss Kahala Alexandra Roth; Roth also received the Miss America Academic Award.
A panel of seven judges scored the contestants on their appearance in bikinis and evening gowns, their talent, their performance during a full-length preliminary competition earlier in the week, and their ability to stay on point while answering a “surprise question” on stage.
The unusually large number of contestants resulted in several significant changes in the order and structure of the program. This year the evening wear competition came first. The field was then cut to 24 women who returned for the swimwear competition. The top 14 from that round continued on to the talent competition. Performances were limited to 90 seconds each.
The talents of the 14 semi-finalists were unusually diverse: Miss East Oahu Hali’alani Parish accompanied herself on piano while singing “Halo.” Miss North Shore Keala Patterson presented a karate kata with bo (wooden staff). Miss Nu‘uanu Adrienne Wilson demonstrated scarf dancing. Miss Diamond Head Sunsearay Solatorio danced a breath-takingly graceful hula ‘auana to Nathan Aweau’s recording of “Akaka Falls.”
There was one award-winning contestant who didn’t make it to the final round. Miss Chinatown Hawaii Stephanie Wang was voted Miss Congeniality by the other contestants and won Most Photogenic by public vote. She also received the Miss Hawaii Golf Scholarship, the Miss America First Hawaiian Bank Community Service Award, and a trip for two to Las Vegas for selling the most tickets and sponsorships.
Talking backstage after Kapela had gone outside to meet the public, Miss Hawaii 1975 Cathy Foy summed up the feelings of many pageant observers.
“Many of these girls should try again,” she said.
MISS HAWAII 2015:
Miss Kaka‘ako Jeanné Kapela
Miss Paradise Kauai Sarah Manuel
Miss North Shore Keala Patterson
Miss East Oahu Hali’alani Parish
Miss Kahala Alexandra Roth