Miss Kansas is not in Kansas anymore. And the Miss America pageant has never seen anyone like her.
First off, Miss Kansas Theresa Vail is a sergeant in the U.S. Army, only the second contestant ever to be on active duty.
"Nobody expects a soldier to be a beauty queen," Vail told People magazine. “But I'm all about breaking stereotypes."
Second, Sgt. Vail has big tattoos. Two of them. One, the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps, is on her left shoulder, while a massive version of the Serenity Prayer runs down her right side. And when she struts her stuff in the bikini contest in the Miss America competition this week in Atlantic City, they’ll both be on display for the world to see.
"My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink,” Vail said. “How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can't do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all."
Sgt. Vail is also an M16 marksman, a bow hunter, and a mechanic. Only recently did she add beauty queen to her resume, when she entered her first pageant just nine months ago on the advice of her commanding officer. When she was told she wouldn’t be able to use archery as her talent, she had to pick another one and quick.
She chose to sing opera.
"I'd never sung opera in my life," Vail says. Forty-eight hours later she had mastered a Pavarotti piece she found on Youtube, and won the Miss Kansas talent competition.
It’s all about showing girls they can do anything they want to," Vail said. "I want to help them develop confidence, to let them know that they have what it takes to accomplish anything they want to accomplish. I know many young girls look at beauty candidates and think, 'What a perfect life they have.' But I want them to know that I haven't led a perfect life. And that beauty comes from the inside."