Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler worked at a drive-in, had a father in prison ... and that's not all

By Mark Gray
Updated January 15, 2012 04:40 PM
Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty

When Laura Kaeppeler was crowned Miss America on Saturday, she was already known as a stunning brunette who could belt out opera and didn’t think Miss America should declare a political party.

Shortly after being crowned, the new Miss America chatted with PEOPLE, saying there’s a lot more to the small town Wisconsin girl who plans to pursue a law degree.

Here are five things to know about Kaeppeler.

1. She Can Serve a Meal
During her high school and college years, Kaeppeler, 23, served meals through car windows as a carhop at The Spot, a drive-in diner in Kenosha, Wis., her hometown. Roller skates, however, were not a requirement. “That could have ended up in disaster,” she tells PEOPLE.

2. Her Singing Chops Are Always Ready
Kelly Clarkson is set to sing the National Anthem at Super Bowl XLVI, but if she can’t perform her duties, Kaeppeler is ready to step in. She has the experience; she’s sung it before at Brewers and Packers games.

“I hear I’m going to be at the Super Bowl, so I’m ready,” she says. Her singing background runs in the family – her great-grandmother attended Julliard School of Music.

3. Her Dad Was in Prison
When she was 17, her father went to prison for a year for white-collar crimes. The year, she said, was trying, but it grew the family together and helped her find her passion, having formed Circles of Support, a support group aimed at helping children of incarcerated parents.

“I decided to take that on because I was one of those children and I see how important it is for those children,” she says. “Every parent deserves to have a relationship with their child and every child deserves that relationship. My dad and I have never been closer.”

4. She’s Single
She’s smart, gorgeous, motivated … and single? Yes! But that’s all by design.

“I took this year really seriously as Miss Wisconsin and I didn’t have time for anything because I was so focused on Miss America,” she says. “I know this coming year will be really, really busy so I won’t have time for [a relationship] this year either.”

5. She’s a ‘Mom’
No, she doesn’t have any biological (or human) children, but she’s the proud mother of a 1½-year-old Shih Tzu Maltese named Smokey.

“He’s spoiled and he’s the love of my life,” she admits.