Miss Wisconsin wins Miss America pageant in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - A 23-year-old beauty queen from Wisconsin won the Miss America pageant Saturday in Las Vegas after singing opera and strutting in a white bikini and black beaded evening gown.

Laura Kaeppeler also had to answer a question about whether beauty queens should declare their 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.”

Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson came in second, while Miss New York Kaitlyn Monte placed third.

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

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 _ a topic close to her heart.

Kaeppeler’s father, Jeff Kaeppeler, told The Associated Press he served 18 months in federal prison for mail fraud.

He said when his daughter approached the family about making the personal topic her chosen platform, they supported it even though they knew it would be discussed publicly.

“We’ve seen this come full circle,” he said.

Jeff Kaeppeler said his daughter’s win on Saturday night was the best day of his life. He attended the event in a black tuxedo with a baby blue vest and bow tie.

“It taught us that God can turn anything into good if you let him,” he said.

When asked about the experience during a news conference after the pageant, Laura Kaeppeler teared up and briefly brought her father onstage after calling him her best friend.

“I love you,” Jeff Kaeppeler whispered to his daughter as dozens of cameras snapped pictures of them together.

Laura Kaeppeler’s hometown of roughly 97,000 people, Kenosha, is about 40 miles south of Milwaukee.

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.

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