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New Miss Universe to be crowned Monday

The Miss Universe pageant will hand a diamond- and pearl-studded crown to its 2007 beauty queen on Monday, choosing from 77 contestants including the competition's first Rastafarian.Missing from this year's contest is Miss Sweden, whose country is one of the few to win the crown three times. Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, 20, dropped out because many Swedes say the competition, airing from Mexico City
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Miss Universe pageant will hand a diamond- and pearl-studded crown to its 2007 beauty queen on Monday, choosing from 77 contestants including the competition's first Rastafarian.

Missing from this year's contest is Miss Sweden, whose country is one of the few to win the crown three times. Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, 20, dropped out because many Swedes say the competition, airing from Mexico City's National Auditorium, does not represent the modern woman.

Organizers say the Miss Universe contest carefully selects women who are intelligent, well-mannered and cultured.

Some are challenging stereotypes from within, like Miss Jamaica, 25-year-old Zahra Redwood, the contest's first Rastafarian and the first to appear in dreadlocks.

The field was winnowed to 15 last week during preliminary judging in the contest's swimsuit, evening gown and interview categories, but the finalists will not be announced until early on during Monday's show, allowing all 77 to be introduced to the television audience.

The finalists will then strut across the stage in bikinis for the swimsuit competition. After narrowing to 10 contestants, the show moves to evening gowns, with the smiling hopefuls walking across the stage to music. From there, five contestants will be eliminated, and the judges will choose the winner from the five remaining.

Mexican pop group RBD will perform three songs during the live, two-hour telecast, broadcast on NBC and Telemundo. 1999 Miss Teen USA Vanessa Minnillo and "Extra" weekend correspondent Mario Lopez are the hosts of the show, expected to be viewed by more than 600 million people in more than 180 countries.

The winner spends a year representing charities and pageant sponsors.

Last year's Miss Universe, Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico, traveled the world as an advocate for HIV/AIDS education, research and legislation.

"I have learned more in the past year then I could have ever imagined," Rivera said. "I have met many people from all around the world, and I hope I helped them to make a difference in their fight against HIV/AIDS."

The celebrity judges include actor James Kyson Lee, model Lindsay Clubine, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, rocker Dave Navarro, Olympic figure skating champion Michelle Kwan, celebrity hairstylist Ken Paves, fashion designer Marc Bouwer, "Project Runway" judge and Elle magazine fashion director Nina Garcia; and former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres.

The pageant was last held in Mexico City in 1993, when Torres was crowned.