Thoroughly modern Miss America!
Saturday's Miss America Pageant 2012, broadcast live on NBC from Las Vegas, was definitely a 21st-century production — with surprising frankness from the bikini-clad contestants, bizarre twists and even a Kardashian (judge Kris Jenner) in the midst. (Dancing with the Stars' Mark Ballas, reality show heavyweight Mike Fleiss, actress Teri Polo and Good Morning America's Lara Spencer joined Jenner at the judges' table.)
Winning the year-long crown and $50,000 in scholarship cash was Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler of Kenosha, Wisc. — a trained opera singer who initially wanted to become a speech therapist but will now use her winnings to earn a law degree. Here, Us looks back on some of the buzziest moments from the night.
Miss America's painful past. Kaeppeler, 23, bravely shared her checkered family history with hosts Chris Harrison (The Bachelor) and DWTS' Brooke Burke-Charvet and millions of viewers: Her dad, Jeff Kaeppeler, served 18 months in a federal prison for mail fraud while she was a young college coed.Now free, Jeff, her "best friend," watched his daughter win in the wings. Her related career goal: To become a lawyer specializing in aiding and mentoring kids of incarcerated adults.
Two reality show twists! Soon after the show began, 38 out of 53 total contenders were eliminated, with one woman, Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson, chosen by fans online to continue. But co-host Burke-Charvet announced that the eliminated women would vote to rescue one of the semi-finalists later on. After the sexy swimsuit competition, 12 women were left — plus Miss Alabama Courtney Porter, who got a last-minute reprieve thanks to votes from her competitors.
A weight-loss winner in the midst! Among the top 12 was Miss South Carolina Bree Boyce, who lost over 100 pounds before the competition. "I have a lot of TV shows offering me jobs and I have a book in the works," she said after her elimination.
Paging Natalie Portman! Miss California Noelle Freeman (who has 800 Twitter followers) danced a chilling "Black Swan" variation from Swan Lake.
What's the 411? During the talent competition segment, random facts about the ten remaining women were flashed up on the screen. Performing an Irish step dance, Miss Oklahoma, for instance, "knows how to give a cow a pedicure." Miss New York Kaitlin Monte (singing "Disneyland") "wishes to visit outer space." Miss Illinois Hannah Smith, performing a ballet piece, is "afraid of windmills." Miss Florida Kristina Janolo was the first Filipino-American to be crowned Miss Florida.
Be Kardashian-esque! Kris Jenner was upfront about what she was looking for as a judge. "Somebody that's really got confidence, who's passionate, who has worked really hard. These girls are applying for a job," she said. "I think somebody who's got an amazing work ethic really impresses me, too."
Tell Us: What was your fave moment from the pageant? Did the right woman win?
For access to all our exclusive celebrity videos and interviews – Subscribe on YouTube!