TOKYO – Less than a month after being crowned Japan's first Miss Universe in nearly half a century, Riyo Mori is hoping to land another job — with the popular TV show "Heroes" in the United States.
Back in her home country after winning the Miss Universe 2007 contest in Mexico City last month, Mori said she has been swamped by cameras and has been doing interviews and appearances "nonstop."
But Japan's newest star said she won't be able to savor her homecoming for long. She will soon be hitting the road again with her $250,000 pearl-and-diamond studded crown.
"I'm only here for a week, then it's back to New York" and a tour around the world, the 20-year-old dancer said in an interview Monday. "It's funny because I've never been surrounded by so many people, so many cameras. Japanese people never cared about beauty pageants before. But this is a huge thing in Japan now."
Mori said she is hoping to devote herself to her new role — which includes acting as a spokeswoman for AIDS issues — and is also looking for a possible role on the TV series "Heroes," broadcast by NBC, which has rights to the Miss Universe pageant.
"As soon as I won Miss Universe I had this big chance," she said. "I've never acted before. I went to the casting audition and read a script in English and Japanese, and they said it was really good. So I hope I can be in the show."
Mori said her role would be "Yaeko," a love interest for one of the main characters.
Mori's crowning caught Japan by surprise.
The only other time Japan has won the pageant was in 1959, when Akiko Kojima became the first Miss Universe from Asia.
Since then, several women from the region have worn the crown. Japan was runner-up last year, when Kurara Chibana narrowly missed top honors. Miss USA, Rachel Smith, slipped and fell to the floor during the evening gown competition and was this year's fourth runner-up.
Mori, who has been dancing since she was four, said she was encouraged to enter the competition by her grandmother. After seeing Chibana nearly win, she was hooked.
"I thought I needed something for my life, something different," she said. "Miss Universe isn't all about beauty. It's about serving people, too."
Though she avoided the fate of Miss America and managed to stay on her feet throughout the competition, Mori said she did almost drop her crown.
"It's very heavy," she said. "I almost dropped it, but I caught it. It's huge and it's beautiful."
Mori, who lived in Canada for three years and studied classical ballet, said her goal after finishing her year as Miss Universe is to open a dance school. Her mother was also a dancer.
She said the long years she spent training in dance helped build her character, and that appealed to the judges.
"I think I have a samurai soul," she said. "I'm very patient, and I can serve others."