Julie Jacobson, AP


There she is: Miss America 2011, 17-year-old Miss Nebraska, Teresa Scanlan, the youngest winner since 1933.

Scanlan, a stunning blonde dressed in a one-shoulder white evening dress with crystal embellishments at the neckline and shoulder-duster earrings, received her crown and sash from retiring Miss America 2010, Virginia's Caressa Cameron during the live ABC broadcast at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas.

Scanlan, who graduated early from high school, begins her reign with a $50,000 college scholarship as well as an opportunity to advance her pageant platform of battling eating disorders.

The first runner-up was Miss Arkansas, 22-year-old Alyse Eady.

The 53 contestants included a pageant first: top 10 semifinalist Miss Delaware Kayla Martell, believed to be the only bald contestant in pageant history. Martell, 21, who has suffered hair loss due to alopecia areata since age 10, took to the stage wearing a blond wig. She began competing for the Miss Delaware title three years ago, winning after pageant officials convinced her to wear wigs onstage. She normally goes wig-free in her daily life.

So what qualifies a woman to be Miss America?

After many years of lots of hard work, it oddly comes down to one moment:
Pageant rules stipulate the winner is selected from the five finalists based a final question, with judges ranking the contestants in order based on their answer.

Scanlan faced a question about the Wikileaks controversy -- yikes, tough one. She walked the line, saying , "Our security as a country must come first," but adding that she understood that questions of personal liberties were involved.

Of course, much of the contest is more about looking, well, hot rather than hot-button issues.

Preliminary judging in categories including lifestyle and fitness (that's pageant-speak for swimsuit), evening gowns and talent earned 11 contestants a spot in the semi-finals. (Scanlan banged out "White Water Chopsticks" on the piano.)

Julie Jacobson, AP



And with the pageant's popularity in decline in recent years, officials are always looking to make things more interesting.

This year, two of a total 15 semifinalists were chosen by the public based on personal biographies of the contestants Miss America posted online. They were Delaware's Martell and Miss New York, Claire Buffie. Two more semi-finalists, Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent and Miss Oregon Stephenie Steers, were selected through voting by their fellow contestants after the judges' and audience choices were announced.

Perhaps's Scanlan's win will also stir some interest: She is the only 17-year-old to win the contest since age rules were put in place in 1938. Only two Miss Americas were younger; the first Miss America, 15-year-old Margaret Gorman and Miss America 1933, Marian Bergeron of Connecticut, also 15. And graduating early from high school means Scanlan, an aspiring lawyer and politician is more than just another pretty face.

Winners of swimsuit preliminaries, who all strutted black bikinis and nude peep-toe heels, included Miss Oklahoma Emoly West, Miss Alabama Ashley Davis and Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier. Talent winners were Miss North Carolina Adrienne Core, Miss Rhode Island, Deborah Saint-Vil and crown winner Scanlan.

The scholarship competition, which has been updated to seem more relevant in recent years, returned to ABC for its live broadcast for the first time since 2005.

The affiliation with ABC brought some familiar network faces to the judging panel including "The View's" Joy Behar, "Dancing with The Stars" pro Tony Dovolani, and "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry. Shoe designer Taryn Rose, actress Marilu Henner, Miss America 1990/CBS anchor Debbye Turner Bell and country star Mark Wills rounded out the panel.

"DWTS" host/Skechers spokesperson Brooke Burke shared hosting duties with a man used to being surrounded by nervous contestants, "The Bachelor" host Chris Harrison.

Can't get enough of pageants?

Read about a former Miss England's transformation into a "Combat Barbie" as she serves in the British Armed Forces.

And read about the controversial decision by Miss America's rival Miss USA pageant to showcase its contestants in racy lingerie.

Finally, hear Miss Delaware's story in the video from our partners below: