Susan Jeske returned from Las Vegas last weekend the winner of a national beauty pageant that does not care if contestants are married, single or parents.
Crowned the first Ms. America at the Luxor Las Vegas hotel, she swept up $75,000 in cash and prizes. Jeske, 36, said she was shocked that she bested younger contestants.
"When I got to the pageant and I looked at everyone, like Ms. Texas and Ms. Alabama, I said, 'If I am in the Top 10, I'll be very happy,' " she said.
The concept behind the Ms. America Pageant is to provide a competitive forum for women older than 24 without regard to whether they have a Miss or Mrs. before their names or children--issues that exclude them from other contests, said pageant director Richard Simon.
"I found there was a real niche there," he said.
Women from all 50 states, ages of 26 to 52, competed in interview, swimsuit and evening gown segments. Jeske, an image consultant, shined before four judges.
"A lot of women look great in evening gowns and swimsuits, but the interview is where she really stood out," Simon said.
Jeske received $40,000 in cash and $35,000 in prizes, including vacations, a wardrobe and a new car to replace the 1987 Hyundai she drives to classes at National University in Costa Mesa.
No stranger to pageants, she is a former Miss Orange County and Miss USA International. She's also a record setter: She earned a spot in the "Guinness Book of Records" in 1992 for singing the national anthem the most times--17--in one day at sanctioned sporting and other events.
She didn't have to sing for her latest title. Ms. America does not have a talent competition.