A tiara for a "cheesehead!"
Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, 23, was crowned Miss America 2012 on Saturday night. The appointment came in a pageant fronted by ABC hosts Chris Harrison (The Bachelor) and Brooke Burke-Charvet (Dancing with the Stars), live from Las Vegas.
The beauty queen's mission: Helping children of incarcerated adults feel less alone through fellowship and mentoring.
Laura was 17 and studying speech and language pathology at Carthage College when her father, Jeff Kaeppeler, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for mail fraud. She has since founded Circles of Support, a group mentoring children with incarcerated parents.
Kaeppeler says she thought long and hard about whether or not she should make her father's jail time part of her pageant platform. Jeff says when his daughter approached the family about possibly making the personal topic public, they supported the move fully.
"We've seen this come full circle," says the elder Kaeppeler, who attended Saturday's event, clad in a black tuxedo and sporting a smile
"It taught us that God can turn anything into good if you let him," he said.
Kaeppeler, a native of Kenosha, performed opera for her talent segment. She wowed the panel of judges, which included reality TV matriarch Kris Jenner, with her response to a question about whether or not beauty queens should declare their own politics.
"Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well," Kaeppeler replied. "We need to be looking forward to what America needs and I think Miss America needs to represent all."
Laura had once hoped to become a speech therapist, but she now plans to use her $50,000 scholarship grand prize to become a lawyer, specializing in helping children of incarcerated adults.
"I really feel like I've been called to work in this. Whether I became Miss America or not, this is something that I would pursue in my career no matter what."
Kaeppeler succeeds Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan, who won the title in 2011.
Second place went to Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson. Miss New York Kaitlin Monte placed third.
As the new Miss America, Kaeppeler will spend the next year touring the country speaking with different groups and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network.
"I was crying even before my name was called," Kaeppeler said backstage after the show. "It was just surreal to have this honor."
Photo credits: Judy Eddy/WENN.com