Houston Community News >> Miss Japan Crowned Miss Universe

5/30/2007 SINGAPORE - AS MISS Japan walked away with the fabled Miss Universe crown, trouble stayed to afflict the famous pageant. Controversy did not go away after having reared its ugly head during the contest in the form of protests, a banned dress, and the withdrawal of one beauty queen.

To top this, the crown fell off - an ominous last straw, perhaps - the newly-minted Miss Universe 2007, Riyo Mori.

The US$250,000 (S$380,000) diamond-and-pearl crown slipped off Mori, the 56th winner of the title, when last year's winner Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico helped put it on.

But 20-year-old Mori composed herself enough to keep the crown on to become Japan's first Miss Universe in nearly 50 years, bringing much joy to her country as pride and pleasure flashed across television screens nationwide on Tuesday.

Pomp, pageantry, and shame
Such pride and pleasure was not always the case, for the other contestants.

During the evening gown parade, Miss USA, Rachel Smith, slipped on the runway and landed on her bottom, although the slip didn't stop her earning fifth place.

She was accompanied by a handful of booing Mexicans in the run-up to the finals because of what they saw as US unfriendliness toward illegal immigrants.

Miss Sweden, Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, unexpectedly pulled out of the event because of complaints in her country that it degrades women. Sweden has won the Miss Universe crown three times in the past.

In another hitch, Miss Mexico was made to change her outfit for the regional dress contest after her original dress, decorated with brutal images of rebels in a 1920s religious uprising being hanged or shot, drew accusations of poor taste.

Still, Japan's Mori came away with the crown intact, to fulfil a lifelong dream. By winning, she surpassed the ambition of her grandmother, who told her as a child she wanted her to be Miss Japan one day.

A lifelong ballet dancer from a village near Mount Fuji, Mori wore a striking black gown with colored lapels for the final.

'My mind went blank,' she said of the winning moment.

USA's Smith came in fifth place, while second place went to Natalia Guimaraes, 22, from Brazil.

The second runner-up was Ly Jonaitis, 21, from Venezuela.

Ningning Zhang from China, 20, won the Miss Congeniality award, while Anna Theresa Licaros, 22, from the Philippines, was chosen Miss Photogenic.

The annual Miss Universe pageant - which tries to present itself as something more meaningful than a swimwear parade - was first held in Long Beach, California, in 1952.

The event was taken over in 1996 by US real estate mogul Donald Trump.

This year, it attracted protesters wearing white dresses splashed with fake blood and sashes proclaiming 'Miss Juarez', 'Miss Atenco' and 'Miss Michoacan' in reference to places in Mexico made infamous by killings or sexual abuse of women.

In another quirk for 2007, the long, twisted dreadlocks of Miss Jamaica, the contest's first ever Rastafarian participant, and the close-shaved head of Miss Tanzania stood out from the lacquered manes of the other contestants.

This was the fourth time the pageant was held in Mexico, which in 1991 won the crown with beauty queen Lupita Jones.

Mori - the second Japanese woman to win the Miss Universe title - will spend her year-long reign traveling the world to speak out on humanitarian issues like poverty and disease.

(Contributed by Reuters)