Lauren Nelson, an aspiring Broadway star, was crowned Miss America on Monday night, the second year in a row that a Miss Oklahoma has won the crown.
Nelson, 20, of Lawton, Okla., is a student at the University of Central Oklahoma and wants to get her master's degree in musical theater.
"I watched Miss America as a little girl since I was 2 years old, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be one of those girls on that stage, and never did I think that I would be Miss America," she said afterward.
Shilah Phillips, the first black Miss Texas, was first runner-up, and Miss Georgia, Amanda Kozak, was second runner-up. Miss Mississippi, Taryn Foshee, and Miss Alabama, Melinda Toole, rounded out the top five. Viewers named Toole as Miss Congeniality.
Nelson was crowned by last year's winner, Jennifer Berry. Nelson, a blonde who told judges she wishes she was taller, sang "You'll Be In My Heart" in the talent competition and plans to promote protecting children online during her yearlong reign as Miss America.
She gets a $50,000 scholarship with the crown and stands to make thousands more in appearance fees, the AP reports.
Mario Lopez, of "Dancing with the Stars" and "Saved by the Bell," hosted the show, which marked its second year at the Aladdin Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
The pageant moved from Atlantic City, N.J., last year in an attempt breathe new life into an institution that had fallen far from the forefront of American pop culture.
This year's show included viewer voting and increased participation from the panel of celebrity judges, which includes MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews.
Producers took cues from "American Idol" and incorporated interviews with judges and text-message voting after the swimsuit, talent and evening-gown competitions, kesq.com says.
In an interview portion of the show, Nelson was asked by one of the judges, Miss America 1981 Susan Powell, about how to close the salary gap between men and women. Nelson replied, "I think by being a good role model, by being a Miss America that shows that women are strong and that they can succeed in our society. I think by being a good role model, we can change that."
Nelson sang the Phil Collins song, "You'll Be in My Heart," during the talent portion of the evening. She and the other nine finalists also competed in the swimsuit and evening wear competitions. Miss Pennsylvania Emily Wills, Miss Utah Katie Millar, Miss Hawaii Pilialoha Kalai Gaison, Miss Washington Kristen Eddings and Miss California Jacquelynne Fontaine rounded out the Top 10, cmt.com reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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