Miss America finals broadcast Saturday night.

When Sloane Lewis won the Miss Kansas title last June, she advised pageant faithful to "get ready for something big." A resident of small-town Norwich, she said it again last week, just before she left for the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. Finals will be broadcast at 8 p.m. CST Saturday on ABC.

Lewis arrived at Planet Hollywood Thursday, in time for rehearsals to begin that evening. Contestants got a little time off on Friday to attend a ventriloquist show — the only big outing, before getting back to work. Her first competition was interview, her favorite category, on Monday.

She also loves playing the piano, and has been practicing two hours a day to perfect a new piece. She's most nervous about swimsuit, but she assumes she shares that feeling with other contestants, so the playing field is more or less level.

In addition to piano practice, her preparation for the national stage has included working out, not eating ice cream every night — the hardest part — and speaking about her platform issue, empowering at-risk youth.

A cousin, in and out of foster care for much of his youth, was her motivation for the platform. His story didn't have a happy ending, she said in June. During the weekend after Thanksgiving, he committed suicide.

"He felt he had no other options," Lewis said.

Her goal is to help young people know that they do have options.

"Everyone has the opportunity to be at risk," she explained. "It's whether they have support. If you want to make a change, become something, you have to make a choice."

She has spoken to middle and high school students, partnered with Youthville, the foster care agency that contracts with the State of Kansas, and visited a juvenile detention center in Wichita.

Seeing kids the age of her younger sister in orange jumpsuits was an eye-opener, she admitted. She was able to interact with teens in a weekend alternative program at the facility. A memorable moment — one of many — was speaking at an inner city school in Kansas City, Kan., where Dec. 19 had been proclaimed as Sloane Lewis Day.

Coming from a rural background, she was excited to realize, "those kids understood my message."

The job of Miss Kansas has not been all serious. In August, she and other Miss America contestants met at the Miss America's Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Fla.

She was able to attend the Miss Maine Invitational in Atlantic City, the birthplace of the Miss America Pageant, where contestants walked the boardwalk and visited other sites that are part of the pageant history.

And there has been some shopping — Lewis said she owned 20 pairs of shoes when she won the Miss Kansas Pageant. She discovered while she was packing for Las Vegas, that she now has 76 pairs to go with various outfits. Narrowing everything down to three bags required some choices.

"I am so excited to experience Miss America," she enthused. "It's a dream come true. I'm excited to tell my story on the national level. I believe I was put in this position for that purpose.

"I'm getting ready for something big," she concluded.

Vote for Sloane
Watch a video and cast a vote for Sloane Lewis as a finalist at the Miss America competition.
Find the link at www.misskansas.org.
One vote per person and internet connection device; voting closes at 11:59 p.m. PST (9:59 CST) Thursday, Jan. 10.