Latinas, Asians lead Miss Universe

NASSAU: Beauties from Latin America and Asia emerged as the crowd's favorites as the quest for the next Miss Universe neared.

An online poll sponsored by contest officials favored Miss Indonesia Zivanna Letisha Siregar, followed by Miss Brazil Larissa Costa and Miss Guatemala Lourdes Figueroa, on the eve of showdown among 15 Miss Universe finalists.

Observers cast tens of thousands of anonymous votes by Internet. Latin American contestants held 11 of the 15 top slots in the informal poll. Reigning Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza hails from Caracas, Venezuela.

Contest officials closed a comment section of the online poll because more than 50,000 submissions were recorded in the first couple of days.

"It was just so excessive," said Carl Althoff, a spokesman for the pageant. "We weren't able to monitor them."

Dozens of tourists milled about the media center at the Atlantis hotel on Saturday, trying to slip past security and get an unauthorized glimpse of the ballroom where the event would be held Sunday night.

They stopped chattering and stared as pageant co-owner Donald Trump strolled by with two bodyguards.

"Incredible!" proclaimed Frederic Battut, who flew in from Paris to watch the event. His companion, Fernando Alzate, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Miss Colombia's name. But contest officials told him he would not be admitted unless he found a jacket for the event.

Tourism officials in the Bahamas hoped the pageant will stimulate an economy hard hit by the global economic crisis: The Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma hotel announced in May that it would close, and pageant host the Atlantis dismissed about 800 employees this season.

By Saturday night, about 2,700 tickets for the show were sold of the 3,100 available, said Glenda Johnson of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

NBC will provide live coverage of the event, featuring musical talents Flo Rida, Heidi Montag, David Guetta and Kelly Rowland.

Ingrid Stuart from Pembroke Pines, Florida, bought tickets to celebrate her niece's 21st birthday.

"It's a historic event for the Bahamas," said the native islander.