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Beauty queens vying for Miss USA crown

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From left, Miss Teen USA 2013 Cassidy Wolf, Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler, Donald Trump, and Miss USA 2013 Erin Brady pose during a red carpet event before the Miss USA 2014 pageant in Baton Rouge, La., Sunday, June 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

From left, Miss Teen USA 2013 Cassidy Wolf, Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler, Donald Trump, and Miss USA 2013 Erin Brady pose during a red carpet event before the Miss USA 2014 pageant in Baton Rouge, La., Sunday, June 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Pageant hosts Thomas Roberts, left, and Giuliana Rancic pose during a red carpet event before the Miss USA 2014 pageant in Baton Rouge, La., Sunday, June 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

FILE – In this Sunday, June 16, 2013, file photo, Miss Connecticut Erin Brady is crowned the winner of the Miss USA 2013 pageant by Nana Meriwether in Las Vegas. Brady, of South Glastonbury, Conn., relinquishes her crown Sunday, June 8, 2014, when the 2014 pageant competition being held in Baton Rouge, La., selects a new Miss USA. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari, File)

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A former wrestler, self-proclaimed tomboy-turned-ballerina and pre-medicine student were among the women making up the top 20 contestants of the Miss USA pageant Sunday night.

The home state beauty queen, Miss Louisiana Brittany Guidry, made the top 20, as did Miss Pennsylvania Valerie Gatto. She made headlines this week when she said she was the product of rape. During a taped segment that aired when her name was called, Gatto said her mother was 19 when she was attacked leaving work in Pittsburgh and became pregnant.

Gatto said she is living proof “that your circumstances do not define your life.”

The top 15 contestants are to be judged in swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions.

The winner of the 63rd Miss USA title will represent the U.S. at the Miss Universe competition later this year.

The field was narrowed from 51 queens from every U.S. state and the District of Columbia. Reigning queen Erin Brady, of South Glastonbury, Connecticut, is set to relinquish her crown when her successor is chosen during the three-hour telecast from the Baton Rouge Civic Center in Louisiana.

Contestants entered the stage on a glitzy float as Louisiana native singer-songwriter Marc Broussard sang the New Orleans hits “Iko Iko” and “Hey Pocky Way” to kick off the 2014 contest. The women introduced themselves while holding Mardi Gras masks in their hands as purple, green and gold confetti fell in the background.

Remaining contestants are to be judged in swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions. The winner of the 63rd Miss USA title will represent the U.S. at the Miss Universe competition later this year.

Celebrity judges walked a red carpet in evening gowns and tuxedos before the start of the show, posing for pictures and talking about the qualities they would be looking for in the beauty they crown the winner.

“It’s very important that she has confidence,” said Barbara Palacios, Miss Universe 1986 and a coach and judge for the new Telemundo reality show, “Miss Latina Universo.” ”The right attitude and perseverance are also very important.”

“It’s all about the eyes,” said Lance Bass of the pop singing boy group NSYNC. “I just want to see a girl that is just really having a good time up there.”

Others who walked the red carpet were former NBA star Karl Malone; actors Ian Ziering, Melissa Peterman and Rumer Willis; pageant show host Jeannie Mai; and Donald Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization, which includes the Miss USA pageant.

Brady recently told The Associated Press that she has worked hard during her tenure to break stereotypes about pageants and the women who compete in them.

A graduate of Central Connecticut State University in finance, Brady said that after the end of her reign she plans to return to New York to pursue a job that can use her knowledge to serve a global market.

“We’re very intelligent women with great personalities,” she said recently.

Contestants have been in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital city, for more than a week. During that time they have taken part in preliminaries and also done some sightseeing. They have visited the Louisiana governor’s mansion, tasted local cuisine and relaxed by singing karaoke.

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Online: www.missusa.com

Associated Press

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