Laura Kaeppeler, 23, was crowned Miss America during the 2012 Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas late Saturday.

The Wisconsin-naitve follows in the footsteps of many past Miss America winners. The pageant is a long-standing beauty competition that first started in 1921. Contestants are judged based on personal interviews, talent, evening wear, how fit they appear in swimsuits and an onstage question.

Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well, Kaeppeler said in an interview. 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.

Winners of the pageant receive scholarships to attend the college, graduate school or professional school of their choice. Kaeppeler will receive a $50,000 scholarship, which she hopes to use to obtain a Master's degree in Speech and Language Pathology.

Miss America also plays a charitable role in supporting organizations, such as the Miss America official charity of the Children's Miracle Network, through fundraising and touring the U.S. to speak to groups in need.

During the competition, Kaeppeler pledged support to mentoring children of incarcerated parents. Her father, Jeff Kaeppeler, told The Associated Press that he served 18 months in federal prison for mail fraud. At the time of her father's struggles, Kaeppeler was finishing high school and headed to college.

There are many of you out there -- and I was one of them -- but it doesn't have to define you, Kaeppeler told The AP after winning Saturday night.

Kaeppeler took over the reign from Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, who was the youngest winner of all time when she was crowned last year at age 17. The 23-year-old beat out Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson and Miss New York Kaitlyn Monte, who placed second and third respectively.  

A panel of seven judges chose Kaeppeler as the winner. The judges included actress Teri Polo, reality TV star Kris Jenner and Dancing With the Stars' Mark Ballas.

Take a closer look at the Miss America Pageant winners from the past twelve years.