Riyo Mori, a 20-year-old dancer from Japan who hopes to someday open an international dance school, was crowned Miss Universe 2007 Monday night.
Miss USA Rachel Smith, who slipped and fell to the floor during the evening gown competition, was the contest’s fourth runner-up.
Mori nervously grabbed the hands of first runner-up, Natalia Guimaraes of Brazil, just before the winner was announced. Then she trembled in awe as the diamond-and pearl-studded crown was placed on her head.
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.
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. Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza of Puerto Rico crowned her successor at the end of the two-hour telecast with the headpiece valued at $250,000.
“To the next Miss Universe, take advantage of this great opportunity,” Rivera said during her parting remarks.
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, but 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 to the music of Mexican pop group RBD.
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, airing from Mexico City’s National Auditorium, 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” and “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.