Jessica Casebolt, a 19-year-old Georgetown College student, was named Miss Kentucky 2012 on Saturday at the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts.
"This has been the most amazing experience in my life, and I know it's only going to get better," she said.
Casebolt, one of 31 young women who competed for the title, will represent Kentucky in the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas in January.
"Miss Kentucky is all about service," she said after winning.
Casebolt, of Pikeville, competed on a platform of heart health awareness. Casebolt's mother, Carol Casebolt, said her daughter chose that platform because there is a history of heart disease in their family and because she has enjoyed working with heart patients as a volunteer at Pikeville Medical Center.
As Miss Kentucky, she receives prizes that include thousands of dollars in scholarships, more than $5,000 in wardrobe certificates, personal fitness training, dental care, dry cleaning services, jewelry, and hair and skin care.
She is considered the state's official hostess, representing the Kentucky Proud marketing program, providing motivational programs for students and appearing at conventions, parades and other events.
Casebolt is a political science major who plans to pursue a law degree. She was scheduled to study at Oxford University next year, but that will have to wait, her mother said.
Casebolt qualified to compete in the Miss Kentucky pageant by winning Miss Goldenrod this year.
Olivia Henken, Miss Fayette County, was first runner-up. Other finalists included Jefra Bland, Miss Bowling Green, second runner-up; Annie Franklin, Miss Monticello, third runner-up; and Ashley Ferry, Miss Jeffersontown, fourth runner-up.
Elizabeth Hayley Franklin, Miss Heart of the East, was Miss Congeniality. Candace Cruz, Miss Heartland, was named Spirit of Miss Kentucky.
Before Saturday night's pageant, contestants had already completed in preliminary competitions. On Saturday night, the field was quickly narrowed to 13 semifinalists, who competed in talent, evening wear and swimsuit categories before being narrowed to five finalists who answered a brief, lighthearted interview question on stage.
For her talent, Casebolt sang Superstar. Her biography says she is teaching herself to play guitar and hosts her own radio show.
Casebolt said this was her second time competing in the Miss Kentucky pageant.
"I'm shaking," she said after being crowned. "I was just hoping that my knees weren't going to buckle."