Thirteen months after Bettendorf native Emily Tinsman competed in Miss America, the 24-year-old is in the unprecedented position being Miss Iowa for a second year.

For the first time, two women from the Quad-Cities competed in Miss America, Emily Tinsman (left) and Ariel Beverly, in December 2019.

Like everything else around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic upended Tinsman’s touring schedule in 2020, and since there was no Miss America competition held last month, the 2021 Miss Iowa is expected to be named this June at the Adler Theatre in Davenport, and a new Miss America at the end of the year – the 100th anniversary of what is no longer considered a beauty pageant.

“I was on a roll,” Tinsman said recently of returning from the 10-day Miss America competition in December 2019, averaging four or five appearances a week across the state. “I was continuously contacting schools and arts organizations, to get out and speak about the arts. That obviously came to a stop in March.”

She had about 30 more appearances scheduled through June (when the Miss Iowa competition normally is), and switched to a virtual format. After June 2019 (when she was first crowned), Tinsman had done 180 in-person appearances as Miss Iowa – from libraries to schools to fundraisers. They gave her a car to use for the first year, and Tinsman logged 55,000 miles on it by March 2020.

A lot of places canceled in the beginning, she said. In May, her schedule picked up, through July, virtually visiting 30 libraries in Iowa. Tinsman did musical storytimes from her laptop for preschoolers through lower grade students.

“That was pretty cool, technology allowed me to do that, and I got to visit tiny little towns all over the state,” she said. Her 35-minute program included stories with songs; learning songs and dances together, ending with a story about chasing your dreams – with a cute story

Emily Tinsman competed in Miss America on NBC from Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in Connecticut.

about a little pig who wanted to be on Broadway.

Early in the pandemic, Tinsman offered some Facebook Live sessions, “Musical Morning with Miss Iowa,” a 15-minute, twice-a-week songs and dances, to give more people to have something to do at home.

“Social media has been great during the pandemic for reaching out to people,” she said, noting she’s been volunteering her time for a second year. Her top priority is keeping kids in school and healthy, and she’s fine not having Miss Iowa events.

“I honestly can’t imagine, if someone was crowned last June, what would they even be doing right now?” Tinsman asked. “They’re not gonna be able to get into schools; they’re not having events like they were a year ago. I feel like I’m a placeholder now, but I’m honored to be the person. That is a unique experience, being on year two.”

She did a few small gatherings outdoors last summer, including a birthday party. “Miss Iowa, she does anything,” Tinsman said. “It’s the most exciting, interesting and random job you could have.”

One of her favorite appearances was a week in October 2019, when she toured Davenport schools (17 buildings). “It was nice to be able to connect with people where I’m from,” Tinsman said. “Just get the experience of meeting more people and sharing with them the experience of Miss Iowa, and about why the arts matter. That one-week stint was pretty cool.”

She also loved performing at a Nov. 30, 2019 scholarship fundraiser at the Bettendorf High Performing Arts Center. As Miss Iowa, her TEMPOS fund has raised over $5,000 – which has been distributed to arts organizations mainly in Des Moines and the Quad-Cities,

Tinsman performed at her alma mater, Bettendorf High School, on Nov. 30, 2019.

including HAVLife Foundation and STEAM Lab in the Q-C.

With a focus on arts education, Tinsman’s TEMPOS program stands for Teaching and Encouraging Music Participation in Our Schools.

Granddaughter of former Iowa State Senator Maggie Tinsman, she played clarinet growing up, and got into vocal music and theater at Bettendorf High. In show choir, she was dance captain; she was a section leader in marching band and choir.

She earned a music scholarship to Drake University in Des Moines, and in Sigma Alpha Iota (the international music fraternity), Tinsman was vice president of ritual and co-chair of philanthropy. She was president of the student chapters of national music education and choral directing organizations, and was dancer relations chair for the Drake Dance Marathon.

At Drake (from which she graduated with a music education degree in May 2019), she earned the School of Education Service Award and the National Choral Award.

After graduation, she went on a 17-day European tour with the Drake choir, which included singing at the Vatican and in Vienna.


Days after getting home, Tinsman began weeklong activities for the Miss Iowa pageant. 2019 was the third time she had qualified for it, after winning the titles of Miss Cedar Valley, Miss Eastern Iowa and Miss Wild Rose. The Miss Iowa pageant is open to women ages 18 to 25.

The 100th anniversary of Miss America

The first Miss America was crowned Sept. 8, 1921 – 16-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., though the competition was not renamed “Miss America” until she returned the following year.

The contest was originally an activity designed to attract tourists to extend their Labor Day holiday weekend and enjoy festivities in Atlantic CityN.J. Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest, as it was initially called, attracted over 1,500 photographic entries from around the country, all vying to win the “Golden Mermaid” award and cash prizes.

Miss America is selling a new calendar to celebrate this year’s 100th anniversary.

Six “Inter-City Beauties,” arrived in Atlantic City and entered a new event: The “Inter-City Beauty” Contest. It was judged in stylish afternoon attire not only by the judges, but also the public, who shared in 50 percent of the final score. Personality played a large role in the voting, as masses of people surrounded each entrant to get to know her better and throw questions at them throughout the event.

In 2018, the Miss America pageant decided to remove its swimsuits and be more inclusive to women of all sizes. That year, Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, announced on “Good Morning America” that the event would no longer feature a swimsuit portion.

Miss America will be a competition, not a pageant, Carlson said on the show. “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That’s huge,” she said.

The official Miss America Twitter account tweeted a short video of a white bikini going up in a puff of smoke with the hashtag #byebyebikini.

In 2019, for the first time, the Miss Iowa pageant didn’t include a swimsuit competition. That part had contributed 10 percent of the point total, so without it, there was more emphasis on the talent competition. The current categories are talent, interview, lifestyle/fitness, evening wear, and on-stage question.

Tinsman, sporting a Miss Iowa mask, recently turned 24.

The pageant is not focused on external beauty, and evening gowns also were eliminated as part of Miss America, Tinsman said. “You’ve seen a shift in attracting more types of women. Women who weigh more or look different, or feel they never could have had that opportunity, now have that option,” she said in an August 2019 interview. “There are talented people who thought, ‘I can’t walk around in a swimsuit; I can’t do that.’ It’s really cool to see that.”

“Even ethnicity — Miss America, you think she’s this tall, skinny, blond girl. That’s completely shifted,” Tinsman said, noting Iowa was the first state to send an African-American competitor to the Miss America pageant, in the ’80s. The 2018 Miss Iowa, Rock Island native and University of Iowa student Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, also is African-American.

The Miss Iowa Competition preliminary scores are broken down:

35% Private Interview
15% On-stage Interview/Social Impact Pitch
35% Talent
15% Red Carpet (Evening Wear)

The final scores include:

40% Composite Score
10% On-stage Interview
35% Talent
15% Red Carpet (Evening Wear)
Final Conversation/Final Ballot for Top 5

Each contestant must have a platform that has relevance in her community or society at large and about which she deeply cares. The winner receives over $10,000 in scholarship funds.

Tinsman competed in Miss America 2020 on Dec. 19, 2019 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, broadcast on NBC.

Her talent – as in Miss Iowa — was singing an aria from the Donizetti 1842 opera “Linda di Chamounix.” (You can see her perform it HERE.)

Tinsman performed in three operas while at Drake and in three Bettendorf High musicals. She was in show choir for three years, and she has done community theater shows in the Quad-Cities.

“The big thing about my platform is making sure kids have access to arts programs, and knowing that a lot of times, kids’ situations are not their fault,” she said. “They need love; they need someone to give arts to them, to be creative and have an outlet. That’s why I do it.”

Tinsman performing an operatic aria during the Miss America competition in December 2019.

The 2020 Miss America was the first time two women from the Quad-Cities competed — East Moline native Ariel Beverly was Miss Illinois.

“I think it’s very unusual,” Ashley Hatfield, Miss Illinois executive director, who won the state crown in 2007, said in December 2019. “I know the Quad-Cities is a nicely populated area, but I do not recall this ever happening before.”

“I think it’s amazing that we have two Quad-Citizens heading out to Miss America this year,” said Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, the 2018 Miss Iowa who now works for WHBF-TV in Rock Island. “It shows the talent and intelligence of the young women in the Q-C. It’s also so fascinating that they share similar arts advocacy initiatives.”

Both Tinsman and Beverly — a 2017 Illinois State alum – had raising money and awareness for arts education as their platform, and they both sang in the talent competition.

“Most of our time spent there were rehearsals, getting to know each other,” Tinsman said this month. “I think we had an interesting time bonding over the changes in Miss America.”

They added a 90-second pitch about your platform, she said.

“We all were definitely dreading that, but in the end, the job of Miss America was being about being able to speak in public, occasionally show off your talent and be a spokesperson for the organization,” Tinsman said.


“It’s a pretty big opportunity, when you compete for $50,000 in scholarships, on TV,” she said “That’s a pretty intimidating thing to do. I was definitely nervous. I wasn’t as worried about my talent, just because – knowing me, I practiced it a million times. I wasn’t going to go in there and not be confident and comfortable. You always get that sense of butterflies when it’s a big performance, even when you are ready for it.”

Only the top seven finalists got to perform for the actual NBC telecast, Tinsman said. “They decided to really get to know fewer girls,” she said. “Everybody else, we had our little introduction at the beginning, and at the end when they crowned her, and that was it. While the telecast was happening, we were also watching backstage.

Camille Schrier, Miss Virginia, was named Miss America 2020.

“In true Emily fashion, I was eating a Krispy Kreme donut back there, watching the telecast. I thought I earned it,” Tinsman said.

She also was intimidated to compete against five other opera singers — one of them won first runner-up to Miss America and is now attending the prestigious Eastman School of Music.

Miss Virginia, Camille Schrier, was crowned Miss America 2020 in December 2019 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. She’s a doctor of pharmacy student and prescription safety advocate.

In May 2020, the Miss America Organization announced that the Miss America 2021 Competition, previously scheduled for December, was being delayed due to the impact of Covid-19.

For the safety, health and welfare of the enormous community necessary to make the Miss America competition possible, including participants, volunteers, organizers, and fans, the Miss America Board of Directors unanimously voted in favor of postponing the 2021 Competition and has advised the 51 qualifying competitions across the country to do so as well.

“Miss America, we got to see it change and evolve, and next year it’s the 100th anniversary of Miss America,” Tinsman said. “It was exciting to be part of the 99th Miss America. I walked away with a lot of friends; walked away with unique experiences. One of the coolest thing we got to do was be at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year.

“Without Miss America, I never would have got to go to the Macy’s parade,” she said. “That’s a fond memory.”

Tinsman enjoyed visiting Strawberry Point, Iowa as Miss Iowa.

While Miss Illinois has won Miss America five times (the last in 2003), there never has been one from Iowa. Due to Covid, the next Miss Iowa has been scheduled for June 10-12, 2021 at the Adler Theatre, Davenport.

“To think of the history of the program and what’s happened since then, it’s pretty monumental,” Tinsman said. “I’m excited to crown the next girl, to get to experience the 100th year.”

“I’m really looking forward to the celebration of the two years,” she said. “The celebratory of ending and passing the torch. I’m very traditional, in that I look forward to that.”

Even though she is still Miss Iowa, she doesn’t get any additional scholarship funds, and Tinsman is basically volunteering her time in the second year.

A challenging first year as teacher

She works full-time as a vocal music teacher at a middle school in Des Moines, another big learning experience. “It’s definitely been an interesting first year of teaching so far,” Tinsman said.

She had been hired by Des Moines Public Schools in 2019, after graduating from Drake. “Little did I know Miss Iowa would be canceled, Miss America would be canceled, and I’d be signing on for year two,” Tinsman said.

In addition to volunteering to continue as Miss Iowa, she’s also a dance teacher two nights a week for kindergarten students.

She sees about 25 kids for the dance classes, and at Harding Middle School, she sees about 175 to 220 kids a day (6th, 7th and 8th-gtrade music). At the beginning of January, they switched back to being in person, after being virtual for most of the school year after Labor Day.

“It’s been an interesting experience trying to navigate virtual learning, while in a first year, and transitioning back and forth being hybrid –

Her full-time job is teaching music at Harding Middle School in Des Moines.

having students back in class and online at the same time,” Tinsman said.

She started the 2020-21 school year virtually, meeting her students online, seeing only two faces, with the rest cameras were off. “Most of them don’t say anything; you’re lucky if you get a little participation,” Tinsman recalled. “We did that for about six weeks; we came back in person for two weeks, so I got to meet them for a little bit and we went right back to virtual.”

It’s been very stressful switching back and forth, she noted, as well as adjusting to new technology she had never trained for.

“This is all completely brand-new,” Tinsman said of learning online teaching for our Covid times. “You could have never predicted this, nor could you predict having to build your own curriculum from scratch, in order to adapt to a virtual year.”

“Being able to learn online, use the tools and resources that you’ll have to use if you’re ever virtual again,” she said. “I had never touched Microsoft Teams or Canvas (another online teaching platform) before August, and I probably spend four hours of my day on Canvas and another four hours on Teams.”

“It’s definitely been a shift in what we know as teaching,” she said, noting she got little online training from the school district before she started. “It was definitely a trial-and-error situation, and the one thing that did help me was, I’m pretty young and I’m pretty adaptive, and I was able to figure things out, even though it was very stressful.”

Juggling a hybrid of online and in-person teaching is a challenge, particularly when students can’t sing together, Tinsman said.

“It’s difficult to build relationships, get kids excited about music and the arts, and just providing really a space for them to be creative – to feel like they can express themselves,” Tinsman said. “I know a lot of them are really struggling with anxiety. A lot of my kids are open about

Tinsman made arts education her platform as Miss Iowa.

being pretty depressed at home and feeling like they don’t have a purpose now.”

“That’s tough to know as a teacher, I can’t fix that,” she said. “I can’t fix the pandemic; I can’t fix their home lives. Maybe with a little music and art, we can fix their spirit for just a little bit.”

Normally her classes would focus on choir and general music (including keyboard and drumming), but now they can’t do any of that. “It’s been a very interesting way of giving students music, without letting them play or make music,” Tinsman said. “It’s unfortunate, really.”

She’s mainly been teaching virtual classes in music appreciation, including music theory – learning about rhythm, melody and harmony. They had a unit on rap, hip-hop and slam poetry, which the students enjoy.

“It’s definitely not what I initially thought I was signing up for,” Tinsman said.

Back in person, she has helped kids get caught up, if they got lost with the technology from virtual lessons. She’s been reteaching from previous lessons.

They mandate masks in person, and students have the option of attending a hybrid model, or totally online, which reduces the number of students in the building, Tinsman said. The maximum she has in person is 16 students, with many completely virtual students.


“It’s difficult, especially when you want to prioritize the needs of the students physically in front of you. It’s hard to feel like the students at home are being supported,” she said. “I’ve been providing a lot more activities for students to do when they’re at home, that doesn’t require

Emily Tinsman helped a girl celebrate her fourth birthday in July 2020.

me to have my attention on them.”

“It really is a juggling act of being able to multi-task with lots of different things,” Tinsman said, noting some students have trouble speaking English. “It’s busy.”

Students at home sometimes get a listening activity, where they write what they noticed about the music, regarding style, rhythm and tempo.

Tinsman records all of her online lessons as she’s doing them, for students to access later, with an online portal where they get and leave assignments and can access videos. They can message her at any time during the day.

“No matter how much students struggle through this year or two years, they are definitely developing new and important skills,” Tinsman said.

Her students love the online trivia game Kahoot, where she has fun quizzes on her music lessons. She did one on a holiday music from around the world. “Anything with competition, they love,” Tinsman said.

In a heartfelt Facebook post Nov. 12, 2020, she wrote:

“This is never how I ever imagined my first year of teaching going. From starting off virtual to going hybrid for three weeks back to virtual learning. No college education, practicum, or experience could’ve ever prepared myself or seasoned teachers for this year.

“When we transitioned to hybrid, I had six total days with my kids to get to know them and help reteach everything we covered the last eight weeks of school. Some kids, this interaction and learning kept them from failing.

“There’s no worse feeling then seeing an F in the grade book for a student because you can’t be hands on and helping them through the

Tinsman doing one of her many musical storytimes online as Miss Iowa.

learning process. Technology is hard and we went to be there to provide that needed support. I saw more progress and hope with these kids in those six days than I did all eight weeks online.

“And here we are back to square one on the computers at home. No friends. No teachers. No activities.

“Parents we hear you. Students we feel you. We want to be in the classroom with your students making memories and learning new things.

“We want to be hands on providing that needed one-on-one instruction. We want to give them hugs and affirmation to make up for the love they don’t always see at home.

We want to make them feel supported and not alone. We want to help them with their anxiety, their stress, their mental health. We want more hours in the day to be there, but there just simply aren’t. We want to be superheroes for our kids, but that isn’t completely possible right now and we recognize that. We understand that and it hurts us.”

To learn more about Emily or the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program, visit To book her for an appearance, email

You can follow Tinsman on Instagram at @missamericaia and @emtinsman, Twitter at @missamericaia, and Facebook at Emily Tinsman – Miss Iowa 2019.


Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.