"It was a lot of hard work," says Mora, 20, who continued to slave away as a coffee-shop waitress until recently -- even though she had won the show's top prize seven months ago.
"I just really had to find a place inside myself, believe in myself, find confidence and truly believe that I could do this," Mora says of how she won.
"When this started, in my mind I was thinking this is a great career opportunity, it's good exposure, but I wasn't sure if I could win or not.
"All the other girls around me were gorgeous and some of them were very outspoken, and -- having a quiet character like my own -- it made me feel a little insecure sometimes.
"It was about being patient with myself, affecting myself, being comfortable and really believing," she says.
On the UPN (search) show, executive producer Tyra Banks (search) presided over a bevy of 14 beauties competing to become "America's Next Top Model." The prize includes a contract with the Ford modeling agency (search) and a spread in Elle shot by Giles Bensimon.
Each girl is judged on how well she performs a number of tasks -- from runway strutting to makeup application to keeping cool during photo shoots.
They live together in a luxurious loft and, when not competing, are treated like globe-trotting super models.
So it was a rough change-of-pace for Mora to go back to reality and resume serving coffee in Detroit. She had signed a contract promising to keep her good news a secret from friends and co-workers so as not to ruin the show.
"It was a very humbling experience because it's one extreme to the next," she says. "People just treat [waitresses] very badly and it hurts.
"I realized the superficiality in people and I would think sometimes, 'If you knew the things that I know then you wouldn't be acting this way toward me,' and that's sad. It's really sad."
Mora laughs that she'll always be a good tipper. "I don't tip anything less than 20 percent," she says.
She will not however, be competing in any other model-making reality shows. "I would never, ever do this again," she says.