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COVID Extends Miss Iowa's Reign

Emily Tinsman

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

Like everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic upended Tinsman’s touring schedule last year, 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.

Tinsman competed in the 10-day Miss America competition in December 2019, and averaged four appearances a week across Iowa – speaking on the importance of arts education -- until last March.

“It’s kind of been an interesting experience in the sense of Miss Iowa as well, since that was my priority in 2019, up through the summer, and little did I know Miss Iowa would be canceled; Miss America would be canceled, and I would be signing on for year two, which has never happened.”

She had about 30 more appearances scheduled through June when the Miss Iowa competition is normally held, and switched to a virtual format. After she was crowned in June 2019, Tinsman did 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.

Tinsman at her other job, in Des Moines.

She says a lot of places canceled in the beginning. Then in May, her schedule picked up through July, virtually visiting 30 libraries in Iowa. Tinsman did musical storytimes from her laptop for young students.

Early in the pandemic, she offered Facebook Live sessions, “Musical Morning with Miss Iowa,” a 15-minute, twice-a-week program of songs and dances, to give more people something to do at home. And last summer, she volunteered to continue the program.

“I can’t imagine, if someone was crowned last June, what would they even be doing right now ? They’re not going to be able to get into schools; people aren’t having events like they were a year ago. I feel like I’m a little bit of a placeholder two.”

She did a few small gatherings outdoors last summer, including a birthday party. As Miss Iowa, her TEMPOS fund has raised over $5,000 – which has been distributed to arts organizations in Des Moines and the Quad-Cities, including the 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. She liked bonding with other Miss America contestants, especially over changes like shelving the swimsuit and evening gown parts of the contest. She sang an Italian aria for her talent and gave a pitch about her platform.

“It’s a pretty big opportunity to not only become Miss America, but when you compete for $50,000 in scholarships. 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, not be confident and comfortable. You always get that sense of butterflies when it’s a big performance, even if you are feeling ready for it.”

Only the top seven finalists got to perform for the actual NBC telecast. In May 2020, the Miss America Organization announced that the Miss America 2021 Competition, scheduled for December, was being delayed due to Covid-19.

“It was exciting to be part of the 99th Miss America. I walked away with a lot of friends; walked away with very unique experiences. One of the coolest things we got to do was be at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together in November of 2019. So without Miss America, I never would have gotten to go to the Macy’s parade.”

Due to Covid, the next Miss Iowa has been scheduled for June 10-12, at the Adler, and Tinsman will crown the new winner. Since September, she’s been working as a music teacher in a Des Moines middle school, which has been hard juggling online and in-person classes.

“Getting kids excited about music and the arts, providing really a space for them to be creative – to feel like they can express themselves. I know a lot of them are really struggling with anxiety. A lot of my kids are pretty open about being pretty depressed at home and just feeling like they don’t have a purpose right now. So that’s been tough to know as a teacher, I can’t fix that. I can’t fix the pandemic; I can’t fix their home life, but maybe with a little music and art, we can fix their spirit for just a little bit.”

The maximum number of students Tinsman can have in the classroom is 16, and they can’t sing together. She has many students that are completely virtual, with lots of videos and resources she’s put online.

“I think it’s really putting a damper on just the experience of being at school. In the hallways I see so many kids that look so put down and stressed by this whole situation. Why wouldn’t they be? Now we don’t have extracurriculars for them; we don’t have the activities that really bring them to school and are their reason for wanting to be there. It’s very difficult and very frustrating.”

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.