Talented Teens—Three Naperville-Area Teens Compete in the Spotlight

May 2015 View more


The music starts, the lights go up, and you’re teetering onto a stage wearingnothing but a swimsuit and heels. All eyes are upon you, but you don’t mind at all. In fact, you’re hoping every eye in the room is focused on you, not the dozens of other girls walking in front and behind you. Focus is the most important, for without it, how are you going to be best in show?

Pageants have received a bad rap ever since making sure your makeup was perfect as you prepared your husband’s dinner went out of style. But ask girls today who are currently competing in teen competitions and with a giddy laugh, and a flick of the pony tail, they’ll insist competing is not only giving them the time of their lives, but is more relevant today than ever. Meet three young women from the Naperville-area who are taking the stage, developing important life lessons, and fulfilling a dream along the way.


NMAG0515_LargeFeature_Ellie McGee_800pxEllie McGee

Age:16 | Hometown: Naperville | School: Naperville North

Current Title: Miss Illinois Teen America

It was first-time luck for Naperville high school junior Ellie McGee who took top honors in Miss Illinois Teen America last year. She entered the world of pageantry at the suggestion of Bri Zan Couture owner Sue Cerulli.

“I had worked with Sue to find dresses for dances and she said she thought I had the look and personality for the pageant world,” McGee said. “I thought it would be great fun. My mom said ‘you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,’ so I applied.”

“People think it’s all about how you look but this is about how you represent yourself,” she said. “It’s about your platform (the Ronald McDonald Family Room) and self-confidence. In half a year I feel like I have gained so much confidence and got to meet so many new people.”

In July, McGee will compete for International Junior Miss after winning the International Junior Miss Illinois Teen title in March. She’s already preparing with her pageant coach.

“I am more excited about it than anything,” McGee said. “I’m going to work extremely hard to win this title.”

“The judges are looking for someone who is not stick thin, but who is healthy and exercises,” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand what goes into it because it is so foreign to them. It’s not so big in the North but all my friends and my family are very supportive.”

NMAG0515_LargeFeature_GraceE1952_800pxGrace Etzkorn

Age: 18 | Hometown: Lisle | School: Benet Academy

Current Title: Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen

For someone who has been performing as a singer her whole life, pageants seemed like a logical next step for Grace Etzkorn, a girl who loves to perform.

“I was watching Miss America in 2013 and I said to my mom, ‘I could do that.’ I thought it would be a fun life experience,” said Etzkorn. “It’s been really exciting.”

Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is a nonprofit organization that provides scholarship funding for young women. The national competition rewards the talent, communication skills, community service, and academic achievement of young women between the ages of 13 and 17. It began in 1921 and is held in Atlantic City every year.

“The organization promotes strong women who are not just beautiful, but intelligent and talented too,” Etzkorn explained. “There’s a large misconception about pageants but it’s all about who you are as a person. It encourages women to embrace those qualities.”

‘Those qualities’ for Etzkorn include speaking to schools about drug abuse resistance. She’s been a strong supporter of D.A.R.E America after the loss of her uncle. As to future competitions, Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen says she’ll wait and see.

“I’m a senior in high school and then I’ll be a freshman in college, so I’m taking it one step at a time,” she said.

NMAG0515_LargeFeature_riesner_800pxMegan Riesner

Age: 19 | Hometown: Plainfield | School: University of Louisville, Kentucky

Current Title: Miss Illinois Teen USA

It’s been absolutely life changing, a dream come true,” says Megan Riesner, who is preparing to represent Illinois at the Miss Teen USA finals at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas in August. To win the Illinois title, Riesner competed against 90 other girls in swimsuit, evening gown, and interview categories.

“Modeling is something I have always desired, I loved America’s Next Top Model and my mom and dad supported me,” she said. “I believe if I don’t work towards this, then someone else will.”

If she win this competition, Riesner could be eligible to enter the Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions since this pageant is part of the Donald Trump Empire.

“They are looking for the whole package. They want an all-American intelligent girl next door to represent the state and the whole country,” said Riesner.

Taking part in pageants also gives her a platform for her favorite charity, pediatric cancer. Riesner has a cousin who suffered from it when she was three years old, so for Riesner, it’s something not only important, but personal too.

“We are not required to do events, just volunteerism which is something I grew up with,” she said.

Riesner says one of the best things she learned from competing is the confidence it has given her. 

“My motto is if I have prepared myself I have nothing to worry about,” she said. “I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had. I don’t think about the other girls as competition, I’ve become friends with them and I know I can learn from them. It’s all about women empowering one another and I really love it.”