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Miss Universe pageant kicks off with preliminary competition at FIU

Miss Ecuador raises her arms to introduce herself to the audience during the Miss Universe pageant at Florida International University on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. To her left is Miss Dominican Republic, and to her right are Miss Egypt, Miss El Salvador and Miss Ethiopia.
Miss Ecuador raises her arms to introduce herself to the audience during the Miss Universe pageant at Florida International University on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. To her left is Miss Dominican Republic, and to her right are Miss Egypt, Miss El Salvador and Miss Ethiopia. el Nuevo Herald

Florida International University's arena was transformed Wednesday night as Miss Universe kicked off the pageant with its preliminary competition.

"I see flags from all over here," said host Roxanne Vargas.

The 88 contestants showed off their sparkling evening gowns and pink two-piece bathing suits to help the judges select the final 15. There was also a video about the women's time in Doral.

The basketball hoops were up, there were palm trees on either side of the stage and chairs were placed on the court. Hundreds filled the bleachers and floor seats cheering for their countries.

As the women were introduced, the judges and fans learned a bit about them. Some volunteered with homeless shelters. Others are studying to be lawyers, and some spoke multiple languages.

At times, the cheers drowned out the announcers. Fans from Colombia, Venezuela, Thailand and Mexico held flags and used noise makers.

FIU student Karen Rocha, 20, said she was proud of her school for hosting the pageant.

"This is amazing," said Rocha, who was rooting for Colombia. "This brings worldwide attention to our school."

The finalists chosen in Wednesday’s preliminary competition will move on to the next round of the pageant, which will be televised live on Sunday at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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