Illinois State alumna Ariel Beverly ’17 feels like she is living a real-life Cinderella story. She has spent the last month on a whirlwind tour, doing photo shoots in Nashville and Iowa, and meeting with a top talent consultant in Missouri. And in a couple of weeks, she will get a close look at the princess’s castle when she takes an all-expenses paid trip to Orlando for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition.

Miss Illinois Ariel Beverly being driven through the Fourth of July parade in her hometown of East Moline.

Miss Illinois Ariel Beverly appeared at the Fourth of July Parade in her hometown of East Moline.

It’s a pretty exciting life for a 24-year-old high school art teacher. And these are just a few of the benefits of being the new Miss Illinois.

Beverly beat out 23 competitors to win that crown June 15 in Marion, thereby qualifying to represent Illinois as one of the 51 candidates for Miss America 2020. The victory came despite her not winning any of the three preliminary pageants she entered. She only made it into the statewide finals when the winner of the Miss East Central pageant, in which Beverly finished as first runner-up, dropped out of the statewide competition.

“I was in shock,” said Beverly, of East Moline. “Then that wonderful thing happened.”

Beverly spent the past year as an art educator at Glenwood High School near Springfield. She has canceled plans to teach in Des Plaines this school year to take up the responsibilities of being Miss Illinois and to prepare for the national competition. She will be busy with public appearances, fundraising events for Miss America, and work related to her social impact platform.

“Being Miss Illinois is a full-time job,” Beverly said.

Second act

Though she had watched Miss America since she was a child, Beverly didn’t begin entering pageants until she was a sophomore at Black Hawk College. Her family encouraged her to try it out after they saw a girl performing in a Miss America-sponsored event in the Quad Cities.

“My family kept saying, ‘You are a stage girl,’” Beverly said. She entered her first pageant shortly thereafter. “After that first one, I was hooked.”

She qualified for the Miss Illinois competition twice in college, before taking a three-year hiatus. “I thought I was losing myself a little bit. I was putting too much time in the pageants.”

Beverly took time off to focus on school and figure out her career. By then, she had transferred to Illinois State where she majored in art education.

Her role model was Professor of Art Education Judith Briggs. At Illinois State Beverly created technically beautiful artwork, participated in many professional development opportunities, and attended the art education study abroad program in New South Wales, Australia, Briggs said.

“Ariel Beverly was a dynamic art education student and artist when she attended Illinois State University,” Briggs said. “She is a passionate art educator who sees her vocation as a social calling to use art as a form of social dialogue and connection. ISU art education is extremely proud to call Ariel Beverly an alumna of its program.”

Beverly credits Illinois State with helping her mature. “I am a completely different person, in a good way, from the time I started. I stayed an extra year because I loved ISU so much.”

Life in the arts

The arts have always been a major part of Beverly’s life and are a big part of her pageant show. In high school, she served as the president of the theater club. She has played the flute since she was in the fourth grade and performed on that instrument in earlier pageants. Now she sings “I Know the Truth” from the musical Aida during the talent showcase.

Ariel Beverly after being crowned Miss Illinois

Ariel Beverly after being crowned Miss Illinois (Photo courtesy of Magic Dreams Productions)

Art education is the focus of her Miss America social impact program. Over the last few years, she has collected and donated over $10,000 worth of art supplies to school art programs. She is partnering with the Illinois Art Education Association and Americans for the Arts for a campaign to show why art education needs to continue in the schools.

What Beverly will do after the Miss America pageant may have a lot to do with how she does at the competition and what opportunities come her way for winning the state title. At some point, Beverly will likely go back to school. For winning the state title, she received a $10,000 scholarship and was granted access to a much larger pool of in-kind scholarships.

Beverly said she is at peace with however the Miss America pageant turns out. She had just wanted to finish in the top 10 at Miss Illinois so she could perform in front of her family. “I think that is going to apply for Miss America.”

NBC is scheduled to televise the Miss America pageant, though a date and venue have yet to be announced. Beverly said the competition will likely be held in spring 2020.

To keep up with Beverly, follow her on Instagram at @ariel_beverly and @missamericail.

Kevin Bersett can be reached at