Miss Universe beauty pageant down to 15 contestants

LAS VEGAS -- Donald Trump's pageant days are over after his controversial comments about immigrants created a backlash, but the Miss Universe show must go on.

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The pageant that pits international beauties against one another returned to Las Vegas on Sunday to crown a winner on a new network, with a new Spanish-language broadcaster and a new pageant owner beginning with an elaborate costume contest inspired by the women's countries.

Miss Universe was already winnowed down to 15 contestants by early Sunday evening including the 24-year-old woman representing Mexico who had threatened not to participate at the time Trump still co-owned the pageant.

Trump sold the pageant in September and Wendy Esparza of Mexico reconsidered saying on her Instagram account that "love and respect between individuals and countries will always be more powerful than hatred."

The other 15 contestants vying for the crown represent the United States, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Philippines, France, Curacao, Belgium, Japan, Venezuela, South Africa, Colombia and Thailand.

The competition started with women representing 80 countries between the ages of 19 and 27. For the first time, viewers at home will get to weigh in, with their votes being tallied in addition to four in-person celebrity judges.

NBCUniversal and Trump co-owned the Miss Universe Organization until earlier this year. The real-estate developer offended Hispanics in June when he made anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his Republican presidential run.

That led Spanish-language network Univision to pull out of the broadcast for what would have been the first of five years airing the pageants and NBC to cut business ties with Trump.

The former star of the "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show sued both companies, settling with NBC in September, which included buying the network's stake in the pageants.

That same month, Trump sold the organization that includes the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants to entertainment company WME-IMG.

"It's quite a telenovela to be honest with you," said a laughing Manuel Abud, president and CEO of Azteca America, referring to the Spanish-language soap operas.

Abud's Spanish-language network won the broadcast rights to the contest only a few weeks ago. For English-language audiences, the show is being broadcast on Fox starting at 7 p.m. EST.

"It was such a shame for such an important event to the Hispanic community to be taken hostage by politics," he said.

The Hispanic audience loves to "cheer for the countries," he said. "It's a big deal."

Despite Trump disappearing from the business, Abud said his company didn't jump right in, concerned there might still be lingering anti-Trump sentiment connected to the pageant.

"As long as we made it clear that Trump had nothing to do with it anymore, then we should be in the clear," he said they concluded.

And so far, he said, no one has asked him if he's crazy for signing on.


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