Lauren Nelson, 20, wins the Mario Lopez-hosted pageant

By Stephen M. Silverman
January 30, 2007 09:15 AM

For the second year in a row, Miss Oklahoma was named Miss America when aspiring Broadway star Lauren Nelson was crowned on Monday.

“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,” Nelson, 20, of Lawton, Okla., said after her name was called at the ceremony in Las Vegas.

A student at the University of Central Oklahoma, Nelson – who will receive a $50,000 scholarship – wants to get a master’s degree in musical theater, the Associated Press reports. During her yearlong reign, she hopes to promote protecting children online.

Shilah Phillips, the first African-American Miss Texas, was first runner-up, and Miss Georgia, Amanda Kozak, was second. The others in the top five were Miss Mississippi, Taryn Foshee, and Miss Alabama, Melinda Toole, whom viewers named Miss Congeniality.

Dancing with the Stars’s Mario Lopez hosted the pageant at the Aladdin Resort & Casino, and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was among the celebrity judges.

Taking a cue from American Idol, the show featured clips of interviews between contestants and judges (Nelson talked about how her faith helped her handle the stress of pageantry).

In another reality TV-inspired innovation, viewers were able to vote via text message, although their votes didn’t count toward the final results.

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