- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Miss USA Olivia Culpo is one of 16 contestants advancing to the finals of the 2012 Miss Universe contest.

The 20-year-old from Cranston, R.I., is one of 89 contestants vying for the worldwide title Wednesday night at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

She wore a tight navy blue mini-dress with a sequined bodice as she walked on stage for the opening number of the competition.

Culpo is a sophomore at Boston University and a self-described “cellist-nerd.” She was the first Miss USA winner from Rhode Island when she took the national crown in Las Vegas in June.

The top 16 contestants were chosen from preliminary competitions during the two weeks leading up to Miss Universe.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Women from around the world squared off Wednesday night for the right to be called Miss Universe, as celebrity judges descended on the red carpet and brought some extra sparkle to the Las Vegas Strip.

Beauty queens from 89 countries prepared to don evening gowns, show their interview skills and strut in swimsuits as the two-hour competition at the Planet Hollywood casino got under way.

The women wore tight, pleated mini-dresses with glittering sequin bodices and sky high platform shoes as they strutted the stage to the hit “Live While We’re Young,” by English-Irish boy band One Direction.

The 61st annual Miss Universe show will feature performances by the band Train and Australian singer Timomatic. The pageant is returning to Las Vegas after being held in Sao Paulo last year.

Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic returned to host.

The panel of 10 judges includes singer Cee Lo Green, “Iron Chef” star Masaharu Morimoto and Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants.

Asked whether he found playing in the World Series or judging the beauty pageant to be more difficult, Sandoval said both were hard.

Miss Universe 2011, Leila Lopes of Angola, said she expected this night to be the worst part of her year. She offered some advice to the women vying for her crown.

“Be calm and smile,” she said. “Smiling helps a lot. Even though they are not relaxed, the judges will think that they are.”

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