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89 beauty queens vying for Miss Universe crown as competition set to open in Brazil
SAO PAULO (AP) ' A group of 89 beauty queens will don swimsuits, evening gowns and test their interview skills in the hopes of winning the 2011 Miss Universe crown Monday.
Contestants from six continents have spent the past three weeks in South America's largest city, trying to learn samba dance steps, visiting impoverished children and kicking a football around for cameras as the globe's biggest beauty contest is held in Brazil for the first time.
"It's our 60th anniversary, it's a very big show," said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe organization. "We're anticipating close to a billion viewers from around the world."
Shugart said it was fitting the globe's biggest beauty pageant be held in Brazil at this time, as the nation prepares to host some major events in the coming years.
"I don't think there is any doubt in the rest of the world's mind that Brazil is the place, between hosting the Olympics and hosting the World Cup," she said. "I love the fact we're going to kick it off. I always say we're the 'World Cup' of beauty."
The contestants, who must never have been married or had children and who must be at least 18 years of age and under 27 years of age by Feb. 1 of the competition year, are competing to take the place of Mexico's Ximena Navarrete, who won the crown last year in Las Vegas.
There have been no headline-grabbing gaffes going into this year's competition, as opposed to past years that have seen controversies of various stripes.
Some of the contestants have complained to the local news media about the size of bikinis used in some photo shoots, with Miss Mexico Karin Ontiveros saying they were "very small."
That was enough to draw chuckles in Brazil, where women from all walks of life, not just beauty queens, sport barely-there swimwear on beaches throughout the country.
Miss Cayman Islands Cristin Alexander seemed to side with local custom, however, stating in a video posted on the Miss Universe website that she thinks "the body is a beautiful thing and I think it's great we get to celebrate that by wearing little bikinis."
Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, from California, will be trying to end a long losing spell for the U.S. in the competition. An American has not been named Miss Universe since Brook Lee won the title in 1997.
The pageant, hosted by NBC "Today" anchor Natalie Morales and the Bravo network's Andy Cohen, will air live on NBC and be distributed to about 170 countries. The contest is co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC, and will be judged by celebrities including Connie Chung, supermodel Isabeli Fontana and Indy race car driver Helio Castroneves.
The pageant started as a local bathing revue in Long Beach, California, organized by a swimwear company.
(This version corrects the spelling of Miss Universe to Ximena)