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Big Miss America moment arrives for Mitchell's Dee

Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee, of Mitchell, models her evening gown Tuesday evening during a preliminary round of the swimsuit/evening wear competition of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization)1 / 5
Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee, of Mitchell, models a black, two-piece Catalina swimsuit Tuesday night during a preliminary round of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo courtesy of Tessa Dee)2 / 5
Far right, Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee, of Mitchell, is pictured on Sept. 7 with, from left, Miss North Dakota Laura Harmon and Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick as part of this year's Miss America 2014 events. (Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization)3 / 5
Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee, of Mitchell, performs her gymnastics dance routine Wednesday during a preliminary talent competition for the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization)4 / 5
Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee, of Mitchell, performs her gymnastics dance routine Wednesday during a preliminary talent round of this year's Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization)5 / 5

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The stage is set.

Literally.

After nearly two weeks of appearances, rehearsals and preliminary competitions in preparation for the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee, of Mitchell, said it's been a whirlwind.

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Preliminary winners were named each night in the talent and lifestyle and fitness categories, and though Dee did not win any of them, she is happy with how things went.

"Preliminaries were great!" Dee wrote in an email to The Daily Republic. "I worked hard to get where I am and felt comfortable with my performances. As a perfectionist there's always things I feel like I would change if I could, but overall, I'm happy."

On June 29, Dee was crowned Miss South Dakota at the annual competition in Hot Springs. Dee's platform, Project Bookworm, seeks to promote literacy among children and families.

Miss America contestants arrived in Atlantic City, the birthplace of the Miss America Pageant, last week. Preliminary rounds were held Tuesday through Thursday, with 53 contestants -- one from each state, along with the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico -- being evaluated on an interview, evening wear/swimsuit, talent and an on-stage question.

Dee modeled a two-piece, black Catalina swimsuit and a shimmering black Claire's collection evening gown on Tuesday for her swimsuit (referred to as the lifestyle and fitness category by the Miss America Organization) and evening wear preliminaries. On Wednesday, amid a sea of vocal and instrumental talent routines, the 22-year-old former gymnast performed a gymnastics dance routine.

Kristi Richter, executive director for the Miss South Dakota Scholarship Foundation, said Dee's talent is a strong representation of gymnastics and of Dee herself.

"It's high energy. She has a ton of personality when she performs," said Richter, who is in Atlantic City this week for the competition and meetings with the Miss America Organization. "You don't always get all of that in one package."

According to the Miss America Organization, the three nights of preliminary rounds determine who makes the top 15. The top 15 will be announced during Sunday's live television broadcast of the final competition at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Now that preliminaries are done, Dee said the rest of her time will be busy with rehearsals before Sunday's telecast, more appearances and today's "Show Us Your Shoes" parade in Atlantic City, where each contestant will model outfits designed to encapsulate something about the state she represents.

"I am really looking forward to it!" Dee said.

Dee's outfit, including tall, studded boots, seeks to capture the spirit of Sturgis, home of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The boots were photographed earlier this week by The Associated Press, but Richter said Dee is doing her best to keep the rest of her outfit under wraps.

"If you are impressed by the boots, just wait until you see the rest of the outfit," Richter said. "It's really good."

The parade is going to be streamed from 5 to 7 p.m. today at www.PHL17.com.

And though South Dakota has never taken home the Miss America crown, Richer said she continues to believe Dee could be the first.

"She has a great chance," she said. "We are so proud of her as a state organization."

Even if she doesn't win on Sunday, Dee said she has no regrets.

"I'm very excited for Sunday. No matter what happens, I know the title will go to the right woman," she said. "I worked as hard as I could to become Miss America 2014; now it is time to wait and see where the chips fall!"

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