Theresa Vail said the Miss America contest was similar to boot camp, at least in terms of sleep deprivation.

Theresa Vail said the Miss America contest was similar to boot camp, at least in terms of sleep deprivation.

And Vail should know from experience. The Leavenworth High School graduate, who recently competed in the pageant, is a sergeant in the National Guard.

Despite the lack of sleep, Vail said she enjoyed her Miss America experience, becoming close friends with three of the other contenders

"I will remember it for the rest of my life," she said.

Vail, who graduated from Leavenworth High School in 2009, competed in the Miss America contest Sept. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J. This came after she was crowned Miss Kansas June 8 in Pratt.

Vail made it into the top 10 of the Miss America contest, something she said was in some ways surprising but not in other ways.

It was a surprise because a Miss Kansas hadn't made it into the top 10 in a decade. But at the same time, Vail said she knew she'd been doing well in every event.

Vail said she's not disappointed that the Miss America crown ultimately went to someone else. She is pleased with having been dubbed "America's Choice" as the result of the public's online voting.

"That's all I care about," she said.

Vail, who turns 23 Tuesday, made headlines ahead of the Sept. 15 pageant by announcing she would not be covering up her tattoos for the competition.

While Vail was the first Miss America contestant to do this, she hadn't expected it to receive as much attention as it did.

"It's 2013," she said.

She thought people would have moved past this issue.

But Vail said the national attention brought by this issue opened doors, giving people a chance to understand there's much more to her.

"All this came out because of the tattoos," she said.

There also were media reports regarding her talent for the competition ― opera singing. She chose this talent when preparing to compete as Miss Leavenworth County. A couple of days before the local event, she learned her chosen talent of archery wouldn't be allowed. That's when she started looking on YouTube for opera songs to perform, finding an easy one. After the local competition, she continued practicing opera singing.

Vail said she chose opera because "I just knew I couldn't sing anything contemporary."

She will continue to serve as Miss Kansas until June.

"This is a full-time job," she said.

Vail, who wants to be a dentist in the Army, has taken a year off from her studies at Kansas State University in order to serve as Miss Kansas.

Vail said she's been invited to speak at a number of schools because of her story of having been bullied, which became known to the public in the lead up to the Miss America contest.

As a role model, one thing Vail would like young women to know is that they can do whatever they want.

"It sounds pretty basic, but it's true," she said.