Miss USA contestants prepare to take stage

Broadcasters, judges and performers pulled out of the pageant

In this Monday, July 6, 2015 photo, Miss Massachusetts Polikseni Manxhari, second from left, listens to instructions during rehearsal for the upcoming Miss USA Pageant in Baton Rouge, La. Pageant co-owner Donald Trump recently made comments painting Mexican immigrants as criminals. Manxhari is flanked by Miss North Carolina Julia Dalton, left, and Miss Missouri Rebecca Dunn, third from left. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Women from across the country Sunday are vying for the title of Miss USA in a decades-old beauty pageant of dazzling dresses and sexy swimsuits that this year has been dogged by comments made by Donald Trump bashing Mexican immigrants.

The pageant co-owned by Trump takes place Sunday night in Baton Rouge for the second year in a row.

Trump’s comments slamming Mexican immigrants during his presidential campaign announcement sparked a backlash against the business tycoon’s empire, including the Miss Universe organization that includes the Miss USA pageant.

In his June announcement, Trump said that some Mexican immigrants to the U.S. bring drugs and crime, and some are rapists.

Broadcasters NBC and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision said they would not show the contest. Judges and performers pulled out.

Organizers have scrambled to find replacements as the pageant was approaching.

Reelz television stepped in to air the contest, saying that the pageant and the women who compete in it “are an integral part of American tradition.” The station also said Trump would not profit from the deal.

The contest found replacement hosts and is bringing back a slew of former winners from Miss USA and Miss Universe as judges.

They’ve also highlighted the diversity among the contestants, including those of Hispanic descent.

Contestants are judged in three categories: evening gown, swimsuit and a personality interview.

The 51 women represent every state and the District of Columbia.

Natasha Martinez who represents California said during an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week that she didn’t think Trump’s comments have overshadowed the contest but it has provided an opportunity for her and others to show what they’re doing.

“You know, this isn’t about how big your hair is on stage or how good you look in a bikini. It’s an opportunity for these girls to be advocates for what they’re passionate about,” said Martinez, who does breast cancer advocacy.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press

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