September 7th, 2011
06:34 AM ET
Long before becoming news anchor on NBC's "Today," Natalie Morales was a self-described "Air Force brat" growing up around the world. Part of that childhood, it turns out, was spent in Brazil.
"I was there for about four years until I was 10 years old. I can remember spending a lot of time at the beaches and walking on the black-and-white sidewalks," she recalled during an interview.
Since the Miss Universe pageant will be in Sao Paulo, Morales is heading back in a homecoming of sorts. The "Today" anchor is set to co-host the pageant, airing Monday on NBC.
Contestants from 89 countries and territories will be up for the title, but regardless of who wins, Morales says, Brazil will come out of the pageant a champion.
"The country's hosting Miss Universe this year, soccer's World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016," she points out. "Brazil is definitely becoming a go-to destination for the biggest events."
And for Morales, it'll also be a chance to reconnect. "My mother's family still calls Brazil home, and my husband and kids will be visiting the country for the first time. I hope to practice my Portuguese!"
When it comes to the competition itself, Brazilian-born IndyCar driver and former "Dancing With the Stars" champion Helio Castroneves, who will be one of the judges of this year's pageant, knows precisely what he's looking for. Whoever wins won't succeed solely on good looks.
"Miss Universe serves as a role model," Castroneves says. "You need to find someone who's more than just a runway model. She needs to also be a role model - the whole package."
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