SYCAMORE – Ten years ago, Kylie Ryder of Sycamore watched her dance coach Hannah Bohn compete for the Miss America title on TV.
Bohn, who was crowned Miss Illinois 2011, finished in the Top 10 of the 2012 Miss America competition. Ryder cheered her on wearing a sash and crown, dreaming of the day she would one day compete.
At the end of the month, Ryder is traveling to Orlando to compete in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition. Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is a scholarship pageant and a sister company to the Miss America organization. The pageant aims to “promote scholastic achievement, creative accomplishment, healthy living and community involvement for America’s teens.”
On June 18, Ryder was crowned Miss Illinois’ Outstanding Teen 2021 at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center in Marion. She also holds the title of Miss Windy City’s Outstanding Teen 2020.
Although Ryder only started competing in 2020, she is familiar with pageants. For the past seven or eight years, she has danced on stage as a guest performer for the Miss Illinois pageant during the competition’s final night.
Bohn helps choreograph the opening numbers and fitness routines for the Miss Illinois Scholarship Pageant every year.
She describes the competition as “almost like a job interview, with speaking on stage, an evening gown, fitness and talent portions.”
“There’s often pressure from society to look and be a certain way, and the Miss America competitions embody everyone’s unique abilities,” Bohn said. “It’s not what mold you can fit into, but what you can individually bring. … I graduated from Huntley High School and was a nerdy dancer from McHenry County, but I was Miss Illinois 2011. It goes to prove that it can happen to everyone, and it comes from embracing who you are and not trying to fit into a mold.”
Bohn said words can’t describe her emotions as she watches her dance student compete in pageants. Bohn and her husband will travel to Florida to watch the competition and to cheer Ryder on.
“Seeing her get up on stage and go for it is just incredible,” Bohn said. “Seeing her succeed and do this is phenomenal. She is one of the most hardworking, passionate and talented students I’ve ever had, and her success has meant so much to me.”
During the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition, every title holder has a platform they advocate for. Ryder’s is #drive4life, which focuses on the dangers of distracted driving.
“The competition is so much more than what you think, it’s more than hair and makeup and dresses,” Ryder said. “It’s a way to learn more about social issues, education and politics and get involved in your community. You also get to meet others, network and form friendships.”
Ryder credits and thanks her parents, Jeff and Jessica Ryder, dance coach Bohn, director Rachel Johnson and the community for her success.
“Growing up in Sycamore really helped me become the person I am today,” Ryder said. “Everyone is supportive of each other and the community, and it taught me how to care about others.”
Her mother, Jessica Ryder, said Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is “not a beauty pageant, it’s a scholarship competition.”
“The majority of what she’s judged on is talent and interview skills,” she said. “She’s been a dancer since she was 3 years old, so she’s been preparing for this her whole life. She also has been preparing for the interviews and was an anchor on Spartan TV.”
Her father, Jeff Ryder, said he couldn’t be more proud of his daughter.
“When she competed for the first time in February 2020, it was definitely out of her comfort zone,” he said. “It’s amazing how much she’s grown and how her skills have developed throughout this whole process. Before a year and a half ago, we’ve never had an experience like this. If your child has a dream or ambition, let them follow it. Do anything you can to encourage your kid, and you’ll be amazed at how far they’ll come and the achievements they’ll make.”
After the competition, Ryder plans on attending the University of Iowa, where she will study communications.
“I’m excited for the competition, and I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I know I’m going to make friends and gain skills that will stay with me the rest of my life.”