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Image: Teresa Scanlan
Julie Jacobson  /  AP
Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan is crowned Miss America 2011 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
updated 1/16/2011 4:17:07 AM ET 2011-01-16T09:17:07

A 17-year-old aspiring politician from Nebraska captured the Miss America crown on Saturday after beating 52 other young women from across the United States.

Teresa Scanlan won a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run with the crown at the competition at the Planet Hollywood casino-resort in Las Vegas, giving the Cornhusker State its first-ever win at the pageant.

"And I never passed up a cookie on my journey here," Scanlan said.

She's the youngest Miss America since the pageant implemented age limits in 1938. Rosemary LaPlanche was runner-up in 1940 and easily won the crown in 1941 despite being one month too young to compete, according to the pageant's website.

Image: Teresa Scanlan
Julie Jacobson  /  AP file
Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan walks in the "Show Us Your Shoes" parade as part of Miss America festivities on Friday.

On Saturday, Scanlan said age didn't matter, though she thought she might have been an underdog because of her youth.

"We were on an even playing field," she said. "From 17 to 24, that can be a huge age range. But with these girls, they are all at the highest level imaginable."

Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady won $25,000 as first runner-up, while Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier won $20,000 for third place.

Scanlan, a recent high school graduate from the western Nebraska town of Gering, planned to study American politics at Patrick Henry College in Virginia after her reign as Miss America.

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She said she also hoped to attend law school, become a judge and eventually a politician.

But up first, she'll register to vote after she turns 18 next month, making decisions based on ideas rather than political affiliations, she said.

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"I do think I will register as an Independent," Scanlan said. "All the bipartisanship has become ridiculous and it's time to look at issues instead of parties."

Scanlan won after strutting in a black bikini and a white evening gown, playing "White Water Chopped Sticks" on piano and telling the audience that when it comes to the website Wikileaks, security should come before public access to government information.

"You know when it came to that situation, it was actually based on espionage, and when it comes to the security of our nation, we have to focus on security first and then people's right to know, because it's so important that everybody who's in our borders is safe and so we can't let things like that happen, and they must be handled properly," she said.

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Scanlan said the question was easier for her than a generic question, because she has routinely discussed current events with her family, she said.

The contestants — from every state plus the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — started the show by dancing up the aisles while wearing silver cocktail dresses.

A panel of seven judges eyed them for looks and fitness. The competition included evening gown, talent and interview portions, with eliminations for 15 finalists, then 12, then 10, five and finally the winner along the way.

The judges had picked Miss Oklahoma Emoly West; Miss Texas Ashley Melnick; Miss Rhode Island Deborah Saint-Vil; Miss Utah Christina Lowe; Miss Washington Jacquie Brown; Miss Arizona Kathryn Bulkley; Miss Virginia Caitlin Uze, and Miss California Arianna Afsar.

Ms. Senior America pageant celebrates women over 60

Fans voted in Miss New York Claire Buffie and Miss Delaware Kayla Martell.

And in a first-ever twist for the contest, the young women picked two finalists themselves, Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent and Miss Oregon Stephenie Denise Steers.

In her introduction to the audience, Bulkley dedicated her performance to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head last week in Tucson. Bulkley called Giffords her mentor.

The pageant celebrated its 90th anniversary this year. The Miss America Organization bills itself as the country's largest scholarship provider for women, with $349,000 in prizes given this year at the national level.

Scanlan said she planned to defer her university enrollment until she finishes her reign with the crown.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Miss America 2011

loading photos...
  1. Miss America 2011

    For the Miss America pageant's 90th year, 53 contestants competed in dazzling gowns and bathing suits in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 15, 2011. “The View" host Joy Behar, actress Marilu Henner and country singer Mark Wills were among the seven judges.

    Left: Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska waves to the audience after being crowned Miss America 2011 during the Miss America pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Crowning moment

    Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, is crowned Miss America 2011 during the Miss America pageant. Scanlan won a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run with the crown at the competition at the Planet Hollywood casino-resort in Las Vegas, giving the Cornhusker State its first-ever win at the pageant.

    "And I never passed up a cookie on my journey here," Scanlan said. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Taken by surprise

    Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan (R), 17, reacts after being announced Miss America 2011 during the Miss America pageant. Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron (L) prepares to crown her.

    Scanlan plans to study American politics at Patrick Henry College in Virginia after her reign as Miss America. She said she also hoped to attend law school, become a judge and eventually a politician. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Embracing the competition

    Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan, 17, is mobbed by other contestants after being crowned Miss America 2011. Scanlan is youngest winner ever in the pageant's history after a night of being judged for poise, talent, fitness and knowledge.

    During the interview portion of the competition, Scanlan told the audience that when it comes to the website Wikileaks, security should come before public access to government information.

    "When it comes to the security of our nation, we have to focus on security first and then people's right to know, because it's so important that everybody who's in our borders is safe and so we can't let things like that happen, and they must be handled properly," she said. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Puppet master

    Alyse Eady, Miss Arkansas, performs a ventriloquist act to "I Wanna Be a Cowboy Sweetheart" in the talent competition during the Miss America pageant.

    "It's a lot easier to do than it looks," Eady said of ventriloquism in an interview with the Southwest Times Record. "You put your teeth together, but P is a hard letter, and so are B, W and M, because people move their lips on those letters. You have to mix sounds, sometimes, to get those letters and words." (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Strutting it

    Miss Texas, Ashley Melnick, walks on stage during the swimsuit competition during the 2011 Miss America pageant. Melnick introduced herself as being from "the home of Superbowl XLV, where everything's super in my state." (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Struck a chord

    Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan, 17, plays "White Water Chopped Sticks" on the piano during the talent portion of the Miss America pageant in the Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Walking the runway

    Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, is filmed as she competes in the swimsuit competition during the 2011 Miss America pageant. Scanlan went on to be crowned the new Miss America. She's the youngest Miss America since the pageant implemented age limits in 1938. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Glowing in a gown

    Miss New York, Claire Buffie, walks on stage during the evening gown competition during the Miss America pageant. Buffie competed with her "Straight for Equality: Let's Talk" platform, championing for gay rights. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The long stretch

    From left: Emoly Wes, Miss Oklahoma, Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware, Djuan Keila Trent, Miss Kentucky and Jalee Fuselier, Miss Hawaii, wait for their turn to perform in the talent competition during the 2011 Miss America pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Holding tight

    The five finalists, from left, Jalee Fuselier, Miss Hawaii, Jacquie Brown, Miss Washington, Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, Emoly West, Miss Oklahoma and Alyse Eady, MIss Arkansas, stand together during the Miss America pageant, Jan. 15, 2011 in Las Vegas.

    Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady won $25,000 as first runner-up, while Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier won $20,000 for third place. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Shaking it up

    From left: Miss Louisiana, Kelsi Crain, Miss Oregon, Stephanie Denise Steers, Miss Ohio, Becky Minger and Miss Kansas, Lauren Werhan, dance during the opening number of the 2011 Miss America pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Heartfelt

    Miss North Carolina, Adrienne Leigh Core, left, waits for the start of the Miss America pageant, on Jan. 15, 2011, in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Gallery: Miss America: Where are they now?

Find out what happened after they've passed on the crown and the baton.

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