Miss America 2012: Miss Wisconsin, Laura Kaeppeler, Wins Pageant [Photos]

Laura Kaeppeler was crowned Miss America 2012 last night during the Miss America Beauty Pageant in Las Vegas. The 23-year-old Miss Wisconsin winner impressed judges in a white bikini, a black beaded evening gown, and with a little opera singing.

Kaeppeler, who won a $50,000 scholarship last night, also impressed judges during the Q&A portion of Miss America. When asked if Miss America pageant winners should talk about politics, Kaeppeler said:

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

Betty Thompson, Miss Oklahoma, was the runner up.

The Associated Press reports that Laura Kaeppeler’s platform during the competition was mentoring children of incarcerated parents. Kaeppler’s father, Jeff, served 18-months in prison for mail fraud.

Kaeppeler said that she decided on the platform after a long conversation with her father.

Miss America said:

“Before I made platform I had to get his blessing. He knew Miss America was a dream of mine and I told him that if I was going to do this, I was going to spend my year talking about something I was passionate about. And it would be important to be to use this platform. We talked a lot and eventually we came to the conclusion that it’s OK. Because the past is not what this year’s about. It’s about looking forward.”

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Jeff Kaeppeler said that watching his daughter be crowned Miss America was the best day of his life.

“We’ve seen this come full circle… It taught us that God can turn everything into good if you let him.”

Kaeppeler studied music and vocal performance at Lutheran Liberal arts college in Kenosha. With her $50,000 scholarship, she plans to obtain a master’s degree in speech and language pathology.

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Kaeppler will now take on the duties of Miss America and will spend the next year traveling the country to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network.

Did you watch the Miss America pageant last night?