There were a few toddlers and more than a handful of tiaras at the 91st annual Miss America pageant at Planet Hollywood Resort on Saturday.
But there was only one crown, at least one that mattered. By the end of the night, it was placed upon the head of Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, who was crowned Miss America 2012. In addition to the headgear, she won a $50,000 scholarship, a full wardrobe and a year's worth of opportunities to fly around the country representing the Miss America organization and stumping for her favorite cause, Circles of Support-Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents.
The pageant was staged in the Planet Hollywood Theatre for the Performing Arts and aired on ABC. Fifty-three contestants vied for the title, including Miss Nevada, Alana Lee. She was knocked out of contention early in the pageant, not even making the top 15. But she stayed in the show, sitting with the other eliminated contestants on stage. At one point, Lee got a chance to entertain the audience when co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet asked her, "What's next for you?"
"President of the United States," she said, laughing with her fellow contestants. "I'm entering the race."
Lee's father is state Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas. Her platform for the pageant was "Patriotism: Rock the Vote."
The night was full of funny moments, some unintended. After the top 15 were selected, Burke-Charvet asked one of them, Miss California, if she thought the right candidates had been chosen.
"I sure do," Miss California Noelle Freeman said.
She wasn't asked that question after she finished fourth overall in the competition.
The event drew thousands from around the country, many of them supporters of a contestant. Others, such as Miss Nevada's Outstanding Teen, Bailey Gumm, 16, were here to see what their future might hold.
"I'm so excited," Gumm gushed. "I'm a native Nevadan but this is my first time at Miss America. I have goose bumps. We're seeing these girls live their dreams."
She won her crown in August and has witnessed firsthand the impact a beauty pageant can have on a winner and her community.
"Anyone can listen to a 16-year-old speak, but I put this crown on and people hear what I say," Gumm said. "Now that I've grown up and I have a title, I'm making a difference in my community."
Before the show started, fans and ticket-holders surrounded a bar just outside the theater, eyes glued to the action on the TV screens. A roaring cheer erupted through the entire casino and the theater lobby as the New Orleans Saints pulled ahead of the San Francisco 49ers with 90 seconds left in the game. Seconds later, there was more celebration when the 49ers scored to take the lead back.
"Why did this have to be on one of the biggest football nights?" asked a woman in evening wear.
Tim Tebow, the devout Christian quarterback for the Denver Broncos, was mentioned several times during the pageant.
Miss Arizona Jennifer Sedler drew a Tebow question from judge Kris Jenner, who asked if it's OK for athletes and celebrities to use fame to spread their faith. At that moment, Tebow's team was taking a drubbing from New England in the NFL playoffs. The Patriots went on to win, 45-10.
Sedler said people have to keep in mind that, when they represent the Miss America organization, they represent people with a variety of backgrounds.
Miss Nevada's Outstanding Teen, Gumm, had an easy way to remember what Miss America stands for. She pointed to her crown.
"The values of Miss America are best represented by the four points of the crown," Gumm said. "Those points stand for service, sacrifice, scholarship and style."
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at email@example.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.