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Wisconsinite wins 2012 Miss America crown

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."

Story: Miss America contestants beat hardship to take the stage

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.

Miss America / Miss America
This image provided by Miss America shows opera-singing Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler taking home a $2,000 scholarship for her performance of “Il Bacio” in the talent competition category during the first round of the Miss America competition Jan.10, 2012 in Las Vegas. The final competition is Saturday at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.(AP Photo/Miss America)

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.

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    Image: Laura Kaeppeler

    Miss America 2012

    In dazzling gowns and sexy bikinis, 53 contestants competed for the pageant’s coveted crown.

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    Miss America 2012

    For the Miss America pageant, 53 contestants competed in dazzling gowns and bathing suits in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 14, 2012.
    Left: Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, is surrounded by her fellow contestants as she reacts after being crowned Miss America at The Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

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    Crowning moment

    Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, is crowned Miss America 2012 during the Miss America pageant. Kaeppeler won a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run with the crown.
    Her platform during the competition was supporting and mentoring children of incarcerated parents.

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    And the winner is...

    Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, left and Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson react after Kaeppeler is named Miss America 2012.

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    Strutting on stage

    Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, competes in the swimsuit competition during the 2012 Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada.
    "Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well," Kaeppeler said when answering a question about whether beauty queens should declare their politics.
    "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."

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Laura Kaeppeler, Betty Thompson, Jennifer Sedler, Kaitlin Monte, Noelle Freeman

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    Final five

    Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, left, Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson, Miss Arizona Jennifer Sedler, Miss New York Kaitlin Monte and Miss California Noelle Freeman compete as the top five finalists during the 2012 Miss America Pageant.

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    Opera singer

    Miss Wisconsin performed opera in the talent competition category during the first round of the Miss America.

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    Swimsuit style

    Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte, placed third in the Miss America Pageant. Monte scored honors in the lifestyle and fitness category.

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    Here she is...

    Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, was chosen as the winner by a panel of seven judges. 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.

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    Class act

    Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, dazzled in a black beaded evening gown during the 2012 Miss America Pageant.

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    The last three

    Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, left, Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson and Miss New York Kaitlin Monte react as Monte is named second runner up.

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    Singing her heart out

    Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte, sang Marvin Hamlisch's Disneyland in the talent portion of the competition. Monte placed third.

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    Luck of the Irish

    Betty Thompson, Miss Oklahoma, performed an Irish step dance for the talent portion of the competition. Thomson placed second in the Pageant.

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    Stunning and stylish

    Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte, dazzled in a white evening gown during the 2012 Miss America pageant.

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    The runner-up

    Miss Oklahoma, Betty Thompson, placed second in the Pageant while Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, went on to win the crown.

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  • Image: Laura Kaeppeler, Chris Harrison and Brooke Burke

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    Hosting the event

    Hosts Chris Harrison and Brooke Burke stand with 2012 Miss America winner Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin.

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"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.

Officials also said Miss Idaho Genevieve Nutting won the $2,000 Fourpoints Award, while Miss Kentucky Ann-Blair Thornton won the $6,000 Quality of Life scholarship.

Story: New Miss America struggled with family pain

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.

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Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia

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