From Albania to Zambia, contestants from six continents were expected to strut across a stage Monday night at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
The winner will replace Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez, who gave Venezuela a second consecutive win by taking the title at age 18 last year. The South American country has won six titles since the pageant started in 1952.
Fernandez says it's clear in her mind who's contending in this year's contest - but she won't give her picks until after the telecast.
The pageant hosted by rocker Bret Michaels and NBC correspondent Natalie Morales will air live on NBC and Telemundo and be distributed in some 190 countries and territories. The contest, co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC, will be judged by celebrities including 2010 Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek and actress Jane Seymour.
Fans of Miss Universe gave high ratings to Miss Philippines Venus Raj, Miss Bolivia Claudia Arce Lemaitre and Miss Venezuela Marelisa Gibson in an online vote.
If Gibson wins, it would give Venezuela an unprecedented third consecutive win.
The pageant started as a local bathing revue in Long Beach, Calif., organized by a swimwear company. It now skips over the world; it was held last year in the Bahamas and in Vietnam in 2008.
Representing the United States is Miss USA Rima Fakih.