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Monday July 24, 2006

Bevy of international beauties vie for Miss Universe


LOS ANGELES (AP): Twenty hopefuls made the first cut night in their bids to reign as Miss Universe 2006. 

The top 20 are: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Ukraine and the United States. 

The finalists' names were announced early in Sunday's show. Then their scores were discarded and competition began again, with the field gradually narrowed throughout the night. 

As soon as the final 20 had been selected, they immediately began to parade across the stage in skimpy two-piece bathing suits for the bikini competition. 

The field of 86 was actually narrowed last week during preliminary judging in the contest's swimsuit, evening gown and interview categories, but finalists weren't announced until Sunday's show was under way, allowing all 86 to be introduced to the television audience. 

In the opening parade of nations, several of the contestants sported costumes featuring colorful native dress, including feathers, sequins, fur, massive headpieces and, in the case of Miss Japan, a Samurai sword. 

"Access Hollywood'' host Nancy O'Dell and actor-singer Carlos Ponce were emcees of the 55th annual pageant. 

The winner travels the world for a year on behalf of charities and pageant sponsors. 

Natalie Glebova of Canada was to crown her successor at the end of the two-hour live telecast with a diamond-and-pearl-studded headpiece valued at $250,000 (euro197,000). 

"My year as Miss Universe has meant more to me than I can express,'' said Glebova, who began her reign with a trip to South Africa where she publicly took an HIV test. 

"I have traveled the world on behalf of various HIV/AIDS organizations, promoting education, research and legislation, and I walk away from this experience feeling like I truly made an impact.'' 

The pageant was last held in the United States in 1998, when the show originated from Honolulu. 

Carson Kressley of TV's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy'' and 2004 Miss USA Shandi Finnessey provided commentary during the program, with musical performances by Latin singer Chelo and opera singer Vittorio Grigolo. 

The celebrity judging panel included actor James Lesure of "Las Vegas''; "Desperate Housewives'' creator Marc Cherry; actress Bridgette Wilson Sampras; Sean Yazbeck, newest winner of "The Apprentice''; former Dallas Cowboys star Emmitt Smith; anchor Maria Celeste Arraras of Telemundo's "Al Rojo Vivo''; Claudia Jordan, briefcase model on game show "Deal or No Deal''; fashion photographer Patrick McMullan, and 2003 Miss Universe Amelia Vega.

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