Don't tell Isabelle "Izzy" Hanson that she participates in beauty pageants.
Yes, the 17-year-old from Glen Ellyn won the title of Miss Illinois' Outstanding Teen in June and now is in Florida competing in the Miss America's Outstanding Teen competition that ends Saturday.
Isabelle HansonAge: 17
Hometown: Glen Ellyn
School: Benet Academy, Lisle
Who inspires you? My friend Amanda Moreno from Georgia. I met her through pageants. She used to be overweight when she was younger and she was just for what was on the outside. Her platform is "True Beauty Movement."
What's on your iPod? Imagine Dragons is my favorite band.
What book are you reading? Nothing right now. I'm so busy I don't even sleep!
The three words that best describe you? Faithful. Dedicated. Hardworking.
But those are not beauty pageants. They are scholarship pageants, she emphasizes. The point is not the recognition but strengthening abilities, building confidence and earning scholarships -- in Izzy's case, a four-year, $80,000 scholarship to Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., thanks to her Illinois title.
"What I gain from the pageants is growing within myself," she said. "It's not necessarily about how I am on the outside."
Izzy is about to start her senior year at Benet Academy in Lisle. Her GPA is approximately 3.8, said Audrey Valles, executive director of Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen.
She's also a talented violinist and member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra since third grade. She performs a violin solo, "Czardas" by Italian composer Vittorio Monti, for the talent portion of the pageant competition.
"I think it reflects who I am because in the beginning it starts off as really slow and mature, then it goes into a really fast, fun part," she said.
Izzy started playing the violin at age 4 at the Community School of the Arts in Wheaton, where she had several teachers over the years. "Ever since then music has been a very big part of my life," said Izzy, who now takes private lessons from Nan Zhou in Darien.
"When I was little I'd see all my friends play outside, while I would spend another 30 minutes indoor practicing. Somehow, I always knew within me that it was worth it. I've loved it ever since, so I stuck it out."
Izzy made the top level of CYSO last year, said Brian Baxter, the orchestra's director of operations.
"To be accepted in CYSO at any of our levels is extremely competitive, especially on violin. For the last several years we had between 600 to 700 students audition, and about half are violinists," he said. "She's an outstanding violinist, very dedicated."
Being part of CYSO is a massive commitment, requiring at least three hours of practice daily, Izzy said.
"It's a lot of dedication, definitely it's a lot of sacrifice to get to this level," she said. "Music does mean a lot to me, but it doesn't matter to me where I'm ranked in orchestras as long as I'm getting something out of it and I have the opportunity to play."
Izzy says she gets bored if she's not active, so she's also involved in several school activities, including musical theater and choir. She is the co-Mass choir director and co-head of the special events committee at school, is a cantor at St. Petronille Catholic Church in Glen Ellyn, and teaches violin to a young student.
"I enjoy teaching a lot," she said. "My philosophy is that it has to be enjoyable for my students to want to excel at it."
She was selected to be part of CYSO's ambassadors program both years she was eligible, as a freshman and sophomore. The program has CYSO members perform at Chicago schools that don't have music programs, to expose kids to music, Baxter explained.
"We're looking for students who have a lot of potential to be great presenters in front of little kids, fourth-graders and third-graders," he said. "It's lot of responsibility, discipline and self-confidence. She did great."
Izzy said participating in pageants also built her confidence tremendously.
She was in her first pageant, National American Miss Illinois Junior Teen, in eighth grade at the suggestion of her voice teacher. She won the title the following year and also earned the title of Miss Northern Suburbs' Outstanding Teen her junior year.
"In the eighth grade I was very shy, so it was difficult for me because I had never done that before. It was a whole different aspect of learning and growing. It was hard," she said.
"Now, I surprisingly don't get nervous at all, which is kind of a blessing. I just enjoy it. Maybe I just get 'excited nervous.'"
Izzy's personal pageant platform is "Play It Forward: The Gift of Music."
Service to others has always been an important part of her life, whether through church, Girl Scouts or local 5K races, she said.
Her latest effort is to secure scholarships for kids to participate in the CYSO's steel orchestra, a new program launching this year. Tuition is $550 per student. Last month, she raised $1,650, enough for three scholarships, during a fundraiser she hosted in conjunction with her "send off" party held at Glen Oaks Country Club in Glen Ellyn.
CYSO education coordinator Malika Coletta said Izzy's contribution is priceless.
"The scholarships means (the kids are) getting an opportunity that they wouldn't have otherwise," she said. "For Izzy to raise money especially for this, it's really exciting."
Izzy's mother, Terry Hanson, has become her daughter's traveling companion. The two woke up at 3 a.m. recently to drive to Peoria for a TV interview. Her father, Christopher Hanson, is in medical sales.
At first, Terry Hanson said, she was skeptical of pageants, but after some research she decided they were OK.
"I didn't know anybody who was part of a program, but it's all about growing a girl in confidence," Terry Hanson said. "It's about her inner heart, her ability to publicly speak, to see herself as a girl and someone who is growing."
Pageants also have given her a newfound appreciation for her PJs, Izzy jokes.
"My friends always joke around that I'm always the most dressed up," she said. "Since I've been doing makeup so much (for pageant-related appearances), I really appreciate those moments when I can wear my PJs and wear my glasses."
Her plan is to go to college, where she'll study broadcast journalism and maybe minor in music. Once she has her degree, she might rejoin the pageant circuit, she said.
"I would like to be Miss America," she said. "I've gone this far, so I might as well stick it out because I really enjoy being in pageants and the whole service aspect (of pageants)."
As for the violin, she can't really envision herself not playing, although it might not be for anyone but herself.
"When I come home from school, I like to play violin before I go to other things," she said. "It definitely brings me happiness."
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.