LAS VEGAS (AP) — The ranks of 51 beauty queens from every U.S. state and the District of Columbia competing for the Miss USA crown in Las Vegas was cut to 15 as the show got under way Sunday.
Miss Texas, Miss South Carolina and Miss California were among the long-haired, super-fit women who remained in the competition after the first cut Sunday night at the Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas.
Also making the cut were beauties from Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Massachusetts, California, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Nevada, Connecticut and Utah.
The women were chosen based on competitions and interviews done during the week before the telecast.
They moved on to compete for the crown in three arenas: swimsuit, evening gown and interview question.
Reigning queen Nana Meriwether will relinquish her crown and the posh New York apartment that comes with it at the end of the night and usher in her successor.
The women got the night started with a light-hearted fashion show, gliding down a runway in short dress and ball gowns to Pitbull's "Don't Stop the Party" against a backdrop of gleaming LED screens. All but one wore her hair down in loose curls.
Miss USA Contestants cannot have been married or have children, and they must be younger than 27.
Unlike the rival Miss America pageant, Donald Trump's Miss USA does not ask its queens to perform a talent or choose a charity mission.
The judge's panel includes over-the-top fashion designer Betsey Johnson, "Biggest Loser" star Bob Harper and "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me" personality Mo Rocca.
Rocca praised the pageant as a prime example of Americana backstage. He said he was looking to appoint a new Miss USA who reminded him of Abraham Lincoln "without the beard."
The pageant aired live on NBC, hosted by Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers pop act and Giuliana Rancic, co-anchor of "E! News." The Jonas Brothers and DJ Pauly D were expected to perform.
The winner will represent the United States at the Miss Universe pageant in the winter.
Last year's Miss USA, Olivia Culpo, won that international crown, becoming the first Miss USA to ascend to Miss Universe in 16 years. Meriwether, who had been first runner-up, took over for her for the remainder of the year.
Sunday's winner will become a spokeswoman for breast and ovarian cancer awareness and other causes and will traveling to promote the organization.
The Miss USA hopefuls have been staying at the Planet Hollywood casino for the past week, but the flashing slot machines and ubiquitous oversized novelty drinks have been little more than a background to a stuffed schedule of product tie-in media events, including hairdo contests and paddleboat competitions.
The animal rights organization People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals is using the pageant to stage a protest of fur and the tradition of awarding furs to winners of some state pageants.
PETA has made a provocative ad featuring four nude former Miss USA winners. The tagline is: "Feel Beautiful in Your Own Skin, and Let Animals Keep Theirs."
Yvette Cruz contributed to this report.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier