Miss Wisconsin wins Miss America pageant in Vegas

KENOSHA -- 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."

With tears running down her face, Kaeppeler had a look of disbelief after being announced as Miss America 2012 Saturday night. Kaeppeler's Kenosha neighbors say this couldn't have happened to a nicer girl!

On a snowy street, far away from the lights of Las Vegas where the competition was held, Kaeppeler's next door neighbors, the Covelli's, said Sunday they're still trying to grasp what happened Saturday night! "I was standing up cheering, and so was my wife and my kids were up at 10 o'clock at night pretty much! My heart is still beating. It was so, so exciting!" the Covelli's said.

Shirley Lehman says while the Kaeppeler's are away in Vegas, neighbors are taking care of their house. "We're taking in the family's mail, and kind of keeping an eye on things and helping snowblow the driveway," Lehman said.

Less than 12 hours after being crowned, support streamed off the front porch. A stuffed bear is guarding the front door.

Kaeppeler is a St. Joseph High School and Carthage College graduate. It's unclear when the new Miss America will be back in her hometown of Kenosha, but when she does, some very excited friends are eager to tell her congratulations in person. "Just to see her up there on the stage and to know her and her family personally, it is surreal," one neighbor said.

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.

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.