Dancing with the Stars: Juniors is a fresh take on an established favourite in which 12 celebrity kids are partnered with professional junior ballroom dancers to perform choreographed routines. The show will be judged by Mandy Moore, Val Chmerkovskiy and Dancing with the Stars: Athletes champion Adam Rippon.
Hosted by Dancing with the Stars season 25’s Mirrorball trophy winner Jordan Fisher and finalist Frankie Muniz, the show features the youngest cast ever, including Toddlers and Tiaras’ Alana Thompson (Honey Boo Boo), MasterChef Junior winner Addison Osta Smith and YouTube sensation Mackenzie Ziegler.
Rippon has taken his talents back to Dancing with the Stars, this time as a judge.
One of the most dramatic figure skaters on the planet, Rippon won the hearts of Americans and people around the world at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Known for his refreshing candour and wit, Rippon’s rise to fame on the global stage has provided him with a platform to speak out in support of LGBTQ rights and the freedom to be oneself. His passion and charm have made him an inspiration to young and old alike, and he has quickly become a role model and icon to millions.
Global News had the chance to speak with Rippon about winning Dancing with the Stars: Athletes, the challenges he faces as a judge on the Juniors show, what he hopes to teach the show’s young contestants and much more.
Global News: You won Dancing with the Stars: Athletes. How important was that accomplishment for you?
Rippon: Right after the Olympics, to go from that craziness to go to the craziness of DWTS, it was a wild ride. It was a lot of ups and downs. I would come in exhausted but I had such an amazing time and I made some friends I’ll have for life. Getting to meet Jenna (Johnson) was so incredible. She’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. And I’ve also been lucky to do DWTS: Juniors with her fiancé, Val (Chmerkovskiy). So I guess, in a way, I feel like I’m part of the Chmerkovskiy house.
How do you feel your time on the show prepared you to become a judge?
I think my time on the show helped me to prepare to be a judge on the junior season because it helped me understand more about dance and it helped me understand what it’s like to be a contestant on a reality show. I think, more than anything, my skating has helped me because I know what it takes to put together a good performance. And I think that, on the judges panel, I focus on the performance and how clean the movements are done and how do they make me feel as an audience member and a judge.
I think a lot of the kids on the show will look up to you because your confidence is everything. How do you view your role model status? Is it weird to know that people look up to you?
It is a little weird, but I am the oldest of five younger siblings, and when I was training I was 28 and a lot of my training mates were still teenagers or in their early 20s. In a way, I’ve felt like a role model my whole life. Or I felt like I needed to act like one. I’ve tried to be a big brother and I’ve tried to be a leader in different things I’ve done. And I think that means reaching out to young people or your friends, if you feel like they are struggling, and just talk to them. Growing up, I didn’t have many friends and I got teased a lot. I didn’t like how that felt and as I’ve gotten older I’ve made sure not to exclude anybody or make people feel less than. If they just need a minute of your time, I try to give everyone a minute of my time because it takes little effort for me to do that, but it means a lot to the other person because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that.
Sometimes you never know how much it means to someone when you give them that second of your time.
One hundred per cent, and I know so many people that probably wouldn’t even remember that we’ve talked before, but the time they spent with me has made a huge impression on how I approach things later in life.
What was your biggest challenge when you took part in the competition?
My biggest challenge was that it was something so far out of my comfort zone, but I was able to rely on Jenna (Johnson) and her experience as a dancer and competitor on the show. I think that I was able to also rely on the fact that I am a good competitor. That’s what was so fun about being part of the athlete’s version, was that it was all of our strengths. Everyone on that show was a competitor so it wasn’t an advantage in any way, but as a group of athletes it made us pretty close. I’m still pretty close to a lot of the athletes that I did the show with just because it was such a fun experience, and a lot of us were just coming back from the Olympic Games in 2018.
What challenges do you face as a judge?
I’ve worked with kids in skating before, giving lessons and helping choreograph programs, and I think that as a judge in a children’s show you want to find a balance between giving constructive criticism and also raising them up. They’re out there doing things they are not comfortable doing, but they’re giving it their 100 per cent. It takes a lot of guts, and those kids have guts. But you also want to help them improve so that they have a good experience and it’s positive. I think that it’s finding a balance of giving them constructive criticism and raising them up by telling them: “Hey, I know what you’re doing is tough, and you’re doing a great job.”
What do you hope you can teach the contestants on the show?
I hope that I can teach them that they have the most fun, and they’ll have the best experience if they have an open mind, open heart, if they work really hard, and they go into every situation that they encounter in their time doing the show giving it their 100 per cent and not worrying about if it will be good or bad. And I know in my own life, when I was able to go into situations like that, that’s when I had the best results and the best time.
Do the juniors have to practice as much as you guys did in the athlete’s version? Because I know you all had to practice for hours every single day.
Well, because they are kids, they don’t work as long but they are expected to do a lot. And I know that from my own experience on the show, it’s a lot to learn. It’s also a lot to take on, and they were given no easy task and they all stepped up to the plate. It’s really amazing to watch.
If you could sum up this season of Dancing With the Stars: Juniors in one word, what would it be?
If I had to sum it up in a hashtag I’d be like #MyMindIsBlown.
If you had an entire day off from work and responsibilities, what would be your ideal day?
I think my ideal day would be waking up in my bedroom, which would already be clean, and my laundry would be done and my suitcases would be put away. And maybe I would go skating and go to the gym and just relax. When I go onto the ice, it’s my happy time and I feel at home when I’m there. I don’t get to skate that much anymore, but when I do have days off, I love to do that. I want to stay in touch with who I am and how I got my start. In the craziness of everything, I tell people that you need to find things that you love doing, no matter what they are or how intense you do them. But when you are able to do something you love, you’re able to really enjoy life.
If you ran into Donald Trump at a store, what would you say to him?
I’d say: “Get out and vote Democrat.”
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)