JoJo Siwa wants to be “a role model for people who love love”

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A few years ago, JoJo Siwa appeared as a marvel on the “Dance Moms” reality show, known for her brassy one-liners, rapid-fire spins and rainbow-colored ensembles. topped with huge knots for the hair.

Today, 18-year-old Siwa is set to return to dancing reality TV – as a budding queer idol. After releasing earlier this year, she will be part of the first gay partnership on “Dancing With the Stars”.

Her wardrobe hasn’t changed much.

“When I went out, people were like, ‘How didn’t you see this coming? ” She is always literally been a flag of walking pride! ‘ Siwa said. “This is the best compliment.”

In many ways, Siwa remains the same mischievous person that fans first met on “Dance Moms”. But in the years that followed, she built an empire on her power as a glitter and rainbow star.

Siwa now has 36.4 million followers on TikTok, 10.9 million on Instagram and 12.3 million on YouTube, where her song “Boomerang” is approaching one billion views. She has been headlining an arena tour and appeared in television series and films, most recently “The J-Team”, a film she has also produced. She was named one of GLAAD’s 20 Under 20s for 2021 and one of Time’s most influential people in 2020. She has sold over 80 million of her signature curls.

From the start, legions of tween girls embraced Siwa’s positive and anti-bullying messages. Since her release, she has started talking more directly to people her age, who tended to see her as a child’s affair. She’s heading into the 30th season of “Dancing With the Stars,” which kicks off Monday, with all of those fans – aka Siwanatorz – in tow.

“She’s like a living, breathing Mirrorball trophy,” said Andrew Llinares, executive producer of “Dancing With the Stars”, referring to her first award. “She’s colorful in her appearance, but she’s also colorful in her personality and aura. She’s just kind of an amazing being.

Siwa grew up immersed in dancing. Her mother, Jess, owned a dance studio in Siwa’s hometown, Omaha. Jess had JoJo in competitions when she was only 2, the toddler’s costumes hiding her diaper. “She could turn like nobody’s business, and her presence was unreal,” Jess said. “She would only captivate people.”

Making JoJo a star in the mold of Hannah Montana, the Disney Channel character played by Miley Cyrus, soon became the goal. “I had no idea Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana were two totally different people,” JoJo said. “Hannah Montana was the only human there was to me, and she was sparkling and sparkling and a rock star, and I just wanted to be that human.”

In 2013, 9-year-old JoJo secured a spot in the “Dance Moms” spin-off “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition”. Soon, JoJo and Jess joined the main cast of “Dance Moms”. While not the strongest dancer on the show – she regularly landed at the bottom of her brand pyramid ranking – JoJo’s outspokenness and unabashed confidence made her a natural reality show.

“Dance Moms” gave JoJo some degree of fame, but limited control over his image. In 2015, she launched a YouTube channel, which she described as a way to show off her true personality. “At 12, I was editing 10 videos a week, which is crazy,” JoJo said. “But it was just my favorite, because I was in charge and I had the freedom.”

Millions of followers beyond the “Dance Moms” universe have started connecting to watch her share the contents of her taco print dance bag and make pink slime without using her arms. She was a celebrity rooted in her own eccentricities and enthusiasms, without the formation of a society generating teenage idols. “In mainstream media there’s a kind of celebrity-making,” said Earnest Pettie, head of culture and trends at YouTube. “But by coming to social media, JoJo was able to claim her voice for herself, tell her own story.”

Credit…via JoJo Siwa

As her audience skyrocketed, JoJo became an anti-harassment activist, encouraging her young fans to be themselves, enemies be damned. This positivity, in its shiny packaging and topped with a knot, has proven to be very marketable. And JoJo has proven to be a savvy businesswoman, taking a hands-on approach to her lines of bows, dolls, and clothing. (Jess proudly portrayed 13-year-old JoJo standing in court in a room full of Walmart executives.)

But despite adoring 6-10 year olds, she faced increasingly venomous online bullying from her teenage comrades. “I never really had any friends for kids my age,” she said. “But the teenagers hated me. I mean, literally hated me. ”From the point of view of her detractors, she looked like a fake, perpetually inhabiting a lucrative character created at the age of 9.

She wouldn’t have been the only “Dance Moms” actress to feel trapped in amber. Zackery Lennon Torres, who identified as a boy when she was on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” and “Dance Moms” as a young teenage girl, came out this spring as a transgender woman. Now 22, she said she had “taken a break” from her feelings about gender and gender identity during her years with the franchise, which had specific ideas about what gender roles it would play Torres.

“I didn’t have time to think about where I was in my growth as a person,” Torres said. “After I left the show and went back to high school, I had to figure out that, like, Oh, I wanted a boyfriend. What does dating mean? Who am I?”

Siwa, who straddled Torres a bit in “Dance Moms”, doesn’t hesitate to express her sympathy for her. But Siwa maintains that her experience of “Dance Moms” did not stifle or alter her, and neither did her fame that followed.

“Nothing I ever did was something I didn’t want to do,” she said. “If I wanted to create an alternative identity, I could do it – it would be easy. I did not do it. It’s me.”

Since quarantine, however, there has been a new sense of vulnerability and transparency in Siwa’s online presence. On TikTok, his posts became a conscious wink. “I started showing people, like, hey, I know you’re kidding me, but guess what? I’m game! “She said.” They met a human they maybe really like. “After turning 18 in May, she started experimenting with slightly toned down looks, leaving the hair relaxed.

Siwa stepped out and introduced his girlfriend, Kylie Prew, in a series of messages in January and February – an undeniably honest moment met, overwhelmingly, with cheers. (She’s always looking for the best way to describe her sexuality; right now, she said, she goes “queer, because it covers him up, and it’s cute.”) She has disowned her homophobic trolls.

“I want to be a role model for people who love love,” she said. “I don’t want to be a role model for people who think being gay is wrong. I don’t need these people in my corner.

While Siwa’s ambitions extend to music, acting, and production, her “Dancing with the Stars” tour comes at a particularly dance-oriented time of her career. Her new film “The J-Team” centers around a dance team, and she is the choreographer of the upcoming streaming series “Siwa Dance Pop Revolution”, a collaboration with her mother. “Dancing has always been my home,” she said.

“Dancing with the Stars” will help tie dancer Siwa and queer model Siwa together in the public imagination. (There have been grunts online about her experience of dancing giving her an unfair advantage on the show, but “Dancing” frequently includes skilled dancers in its celebrity lineup.) When the “Dancing” team l ‘first approached earlier this year, they asked her if she would like to play with a pro man or woman. “I at once chose a woman, ”she said. “Is it great that I’m the first, that I can write history and inspire people in this way?” It’s huge.

This is huge. And, in some encouraging ways, this is not the case. “Dancing” follows in the footsteps of its BBC cousin “Strictly Come Dancing”, who featured their first gay partnership last year, and Danish “Dancing With the Stars”, who has previously awarded a male Mirrorball Trophy. – male duo. As of 2019, the National Dance Council of America, the official board of directors for traditional ballroom dancing in the United States, has defined a couple in the ballroom as “a leader and follower regardless of sex or gender. of the dancer “.

Siwa, once thought to be frozen in time, is now helping network television catch up. And his Siwanatorz? They are already caught up.

“I think the best part,” Torres said, “will be for these young kids to see her dance with a girl on TV, without even blinking.”



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