MEXICO CITY &
A 20-year-old dancer from Japan was crowned Miss Universe 2007 on Monday night, marking only the second time her country has won the world beauty title.
Dressed in a black, red and purple Japanese-style gown, Riyo Mori nervously grabbed the hands of first runner-up, Natalia Guimaraes of Brazil, just before the winner was announced. Then she threw her hands up and covered her mouth, overcome with emotion.
But she gathered herself together enough to catch the diamond-and-pearl-studded headpiece valued at $250,000 as it slipped off her head when Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico crowned her. Mori immediately placed it back on her head.
The last time Japan won the pageant was in 1959 when Akiko Kojima became the first Miss Universe from Asia.
"She is an amazing champion, an amazing woman and I hear that they go totally insane in Japan, so that's good," said Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC.
Miss USA Rachel Smith, who slipped and fell to the floor during the evening gown competition and was jeered by the Mexican audience during the interview phase, was the contest's fourth runner-up.
Mori, from the small town of Shizuoka at the base of Mount Fuji, won the cheers of the Mexico City audience when she opened her interview, saying 'Hola, Mexico!'
"I learned how to always be happy, be patient and to be positive, and this is what I want to teach to the next generation," she said during the interview competition.
The daughter of a dance school operator, Mori said her grandmother told her as a child that she wanted her to be Miss Japan before she turned 20.
"From the very beginning, I entered the competition with high hopes and an unswerving determination to make this dream a reality," she said in a pre-competition interview.
She wants to someday open an international dance school in Tokyo.
"Right now I am only 20 years old, so I'm really excited about what I'm going to be able to do at this age to benefit society," Mori said after winning.
Smith was booed during her interview and several audience members chanted "Mexico! Mexico!" until she spoke in Spanish, saying "Buenas noches Mexico. Muchas gracias!" which earned her applause. Mexico has a fierce rivalry with its northern neighbor.
Also finishing in the top five were second runner-up Ly Jonaitis of Venezuela and third runner-up Honey Lee of Korea.
The winner travels the world for a year on behalf of charities and pageant sponsors.
The 15 finalists from a field of 77 contestants were announced early in Monday's show. They were picked last week during preliminary judging in the contest's swimsuit, evening gown and interview categories. Their names were not announced until Monday, allowing all 77 to be introduced to the television audience.
As soon as the final 15 had been selected, they immediately strutted across the stage in animal-print bikinis for the swimsuit competition. After the evening gown competition, five contestants were eliminated, and the judges chose the winner from the five remaining.
Missing from this year's contest was Miss Sweden, whose country is one of the few to win the crown three times. Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, 20, dropped out because many Swedes say the competition does not represent the modern woman.
Hours before the pageant began, dozens of protesters held a mock ceremony in downtown Mexico City that featured "Miss Marijuana," "Miss Sexual Health," "Miss Human Rights" and other candidates with obscenities written across their sashes. The group yelled "Neither ugly nor beautiful, should a woman be considered an object!"
Pageant organizers say the Miss Universe contest carefully selects women who are intelligent, well-mannered and cultured.
1999 Miss Teen USA Vanessa Minnillo and "Extra" weekend correspondent Mario Lopez hosted the live, two-hour telecast, broadcast on NBC and Telemundo, expected to be viewed by more than 600 million people in more than 180 countries.
The celebrity judges included actor James Kyson Lee, model Lindsay Clubine, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, rocker Dave Navarro, Olympic figure skating champion Michelle Kwan, celebrity hairstylist Ken Paves, fashion designer Marc Bouwer, "Project Runway" judge and Elle magazine fashion director Nina Garcia and former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres.
The pageant was last held in Mexico City in 1993, when Torres was crowned.
— — Zuleyka Rivera, Miss Universe 2006, poses on stage during the opening of the Miss Universe 2007 beauty pageant in Mexico City, Monday, May 28, 2007.
Dancer from Japan crowned Miss Universe 2007 in Mexico pageant
MEXICO CITY &