Miss Illinois USA pageant returns to normal


Watch now: Miss Illinois USA pageant returns to Normal

It was nearly 22 months since the previous Miss Illinois USA pageant at Illinois State University, as last year’s event that would have crowned Miss Illinois USA 2021 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NORMAL — As “Dynamite” by BTS blared through the Braden Auditorium speakers with colors and spotlights flashing, 71 women crossed the stage Sunday vying for one title by the end of the night: Miss Illinois USA 2021. 

It had been nearly 22 months since the previous Miss Illinois USA pageant at Illinois State University, as last year’s event that would have crowned Miss Illinois USA 2021 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the country inches out of the pandemic, the usual three-day pageant was changed to a one-day pageant this year, said Dalton Duane, social media coordinator for Vanbros and Associates, which directs the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA events in Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

“I think it’s great that we’re back here in Bloomington-(Normal), Illinois,” Duane said. “We’re finally being able to have events with people together again. We missed a year and we’re excited to be back.”

“Welcome to my town,” Ann Marie Kamps said in a video introduction of the 71 women contending to replace Olivia Pura (2020) as Miss Illinois USA.

An ISU grad, the 23-year-old Kamps represented Bloomington-Normal.


The 71 would be narrowed down to 16 during Sunday’s 8 p.m. show, and a winner with four runners-up would be declared by the end.

Finalists were not known by The Pantagraph’s deadline.

Like Pura, Haley Rose Pontius, who won Miss Arkansas USA 2020, has been crowned for nearly two years instead of one because of COVID-19.

“A lot of it, the pressure was put on her (Pura) having to have that title for such a long time,” said Pontius, who helped organize Sunday’s event with Vanbros. “Plus with all the contestants, they were kind of just waiting to see, ‘OK, are we having the pageant, what’s going on? I’ve signed up for it, but we don’t have a date, we don’t have a location, is it even going to happen?’”

Miss Illinois USA 2021 contestants took a final walk across the Braden Auditorium stage Sunday afternoon before the night’s event that would crown a winner.

Pontius added that girls competing likely felt a wide range of mindsets throughout the year and heading into this weekend’s pageant. The pageant is typically held Labor Day weekend each year.

“Some girls might look at it as this is my opportunity to train even harder, become even better for when I go back to compete, where other girls might have a feeling of anxiety — a feeling like, ‘Oh, I just want it to happen now and I keep having to wait.”

Gissell Bahena, representing Chicago Midway, won Miss Illinois Teen USA 2021 Saturday night.

The teen event ranges from 13 to 17 years old while the miss pageant is from 19 to 28 years old.

A group of 10 contestants for Miss Illinois USA 2021 pose on the Braden Auditorium stage on Sunday. Ann Marie Kamps (third from right), 23, represented Bloomington-Normal.

The scoring is based on three preliminary competitions: active wear/swimsuit, evening gown, and interview.

The active/swimwear round is judged by individuals’ “physical fitness, stage-presence and overall impression,” while the evening gown phase is evaluated on “grace, poise, style, stage presence, the confidence with which she carries herself, and overall impression,” according to Vanbros.

The interview round is a one-on-one four-minute interview with each of the five judges. Judges score contestants on their communication skills and personality.

The interview phase narrows contestants to five finalists, who then each conduct on-stage interviews. Judges make final rankings on the top-5 interviews “based on their overall impression of each contestant,” and a winner is selected.

Sunday’s winner advances to the nationally televised Miss USA Pageant – the 70th edition – on Nov. 29 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Miss USA winner will compete at the Miss Universe Pageant in December in Costa Rica.

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