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The bamBOO Amphitheatre stage at Highgate's Luxe Bar had a lot to live up to on Sunday night as Miss Universe hopefuls got a step closer to the coveted title - it is where *Renae Ayris * had her first heat last year before going on to win the Miss Universe Australia crown.

"I remember driving here and being really nervous last year," Ayris told _AAA _. "I'm really excited for the girls - you just learn so much about yourself."

The beauties strutted through four sections in the hope of reaching the State final, decided by a distinguished judging panel that included operations director of Kooey Swimwear *Nikki Silverthorne * and designer *Ruth Tarvydas *.

Tarvydas said that judging the girls came down to openness and charisma.

Miss Universe WA talent manager *Sophia Barbagallo *, who hosted the event along with Ayris, agreed: "Girls who have a real presence on stage; who can show us that beautiful bubbly personality they've got. It's about getting that across."

Barbagallo said she was "blown away" with the improvement each year, crediting previous winners such as Ayris and 2011 Miss Universe Australia winner *Scherri-Lee Biggs *with inspiring new talent.

"They see this girl, who started in the program and was really nervous, now has the confidence to go and nail interviews, " she said.

Seven girls from the second round have progressed to the State final, which will be held at the rooftop movies venue in *Northbridge * on April 5, including third-time entrant *Ashleigh Munro-Smith *.

"We're very lucky to experience this with such beautiful girls," said Munro-Smith, who won Australian Lingerie Model of the Year last year, after the presentations.

Fellow State finalist and Chadwick's Perth model *Jessi Simpson *agreed: "We are talented, intelligent girls - there's way more behind all of us."

EMMA CHITTY

'I'm really

excited for the girls - you just learn so much about yourself.'