LAS VEGAS - A 23-year-old beauty queen from Kenosha, Wis., has won the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas.
Laura Kaeppeler won the pageant Saturday night after strutting in a white bikini and black beaded evening gown, singing opera and answering a question about whether beauty queens should declare their politics by saying Miss America represents everyone.
"Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well," Kaeppeler said. "And so in these economic times, we need to be looking forward to what America needs, and I think Miss America needs to represent all."
Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson came in second, while Miss New York Kaitlyn Monte placed third.
Kaeppeler wins a $50,000 scholarship and gets the title for one year. Her platform during the competition was supporting and mentoring children of incarcerated parents.
Kaeppeler was chosen as the winner by a panel of seven judges during a live telecast on ABC. The event was the culmination of a week of preliminary competitions and months of preparations for the titleholders from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The new Miss America will spend the next year touring the country to speak to different groups and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization's official charity.
Teresa Scanlan of Nebraska won Miss America last year at age 17 to become the pageant's youngest winner ever. She said contestants' nerves likely were at their highest point just before the pageant.
"You can always breathe a sigh of relief" once the live pageant begins, Scanlan said.
Pageant officials earlier announced the winners of preliminary competitions, including Miss Hawaii Lauren Cheape, Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson and Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler for talent, and Miss New York Kaitlin Monte, Miss Texas Kendall Morris and Miss Utah Danica Olsen for swimsuit.
The Miss America Organization touts itself as the world's largest giver of scholarships to women, with about $350,000 to be given this year at the national level.
Scanlan said she planned to use her scholarship to help pay for law school en route to a life in politics.