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Miss America 2012: Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, is crowned

Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, was crowned Miss America in Las Vegas Saturday night after she dazzled the judges with her opera singing and her answer to the pageant’s final interview question.

View Photo Gallery: The finals of the Miss America pageant were held Saturday night at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Miss Wisconsin won the pageant.

Kaeppeler was crowned after answering a question from Good Morning America host Laura Spencer about whether or not Miss America should be allowed to declare a political affiliation. “Miss America represents everyone,” so taking sides in politics would be unnecessarily divisive, she said.

Kaeppeler, who hails from Kenosha, Wis., plans to get a master’s degree to become a speech pathologist, and her title earns her $50,000 in scholarship funds. She hopes to mentor children of incarcerated parents.

She won an additional $2,000 in scholarship funds for her victory in the preliminary talent competition, for her performance of “Il Bacio” by Luigi Arditi.

The Miss America pageant took a slightly different form this year — emulating competition reality shows, contestants were eliminated in the middle of segments such as the talent competition, rather than at the end of each segment. Contestants were also allowed to save one contestant from elimination by voting for their favorite, and they selected Miss Alabama, Courtney Porter.

In the end, five women made it to the finals: Kaeppeler; Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte; Miss Arizona, Jennifer Sedler; Miss California, Noelle Freeman ;and Miss Oklahoma, Betty Thompson. The finalists did not include Miss South Carolina, Bree Boyce, who became well known from a People Magazine story detailing her extreme weight loss.

This year’s judges included reality star Kris Jenner, actress Teri Polo, and Dancing With the Stars’ Mark Ballas. Kaeppeler was crowned by Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, who became the youngest winner ever when she was crowned last year at age 17.

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