New Miss America confronted family pain with pageant

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She was good enough during preliminary competitions to be chosen as one of 15 semifinalists who moved on to compete in the pageant’s finale. Her bid lasted through swimsuit, evening wear, talent and interview competitions that saw cuts after each round.

She was asked minutes before being crowned whether Miss America should declare her politics.

“Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well,” she 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.”

The pageant aired live to East Coast viewers on ABC and tape delayed to the rest of the country. 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 Kaeppeler, of Kenosha, Wis., some 40 miles south of Milwaukee, said her crowning moment was a blur.

“I was crying even before my name was called,” Miss Kaeppeler said. “It was just surreal to have this honor.”

She replaces Teresa Scanlan of Nebraska, who won last year at age 17 and plans to use her scholarship to pay for law school.

As the new Miss America, Miss Kaeppeler 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.

She majored in music and vocal performance at a private Lutheran liberal arts college in Kenosha and told pageant officials initially that she planned to obtain a master’s degree in speech and language pathology and become a speech therapist.

But that changed once she became Miss Wisconsin.

She now says she intends to use the scholarship money to pursue a law degree and become a family attorney who specializes in helping children of incarcerated adults.

“I really feel like I’ve been called to work in this,” she said. “Whether I became Miss America or not, this is something that I would pursue in my career, no matter what.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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