“Dancing With the Stars” has revealed two superstar teenagers for its milestone 30th season: U.S. Olympic gymnast Sunisa Lee and YouTube sensation JoJo Siwa will compete for the mirrorball trophy starting Sept. 20 (8 EDT/PDT).
In a break from tradition, the reality dance competition revealed the two ascending stars – both 18 at a Television Critics Association event Thursday, two weeks before announcing other cast members.
Siwa, who has 12.3 million followers on her YouTube channel, was named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list last September. She came out as a member of the LGBTQ community in January and will be the first “DWTS” contestant to have a same-sex pro dance partner.
The first-generation Hmong-American Lee is the breakout hero of July’s Tokyo Olympics, winning a gold medal in the all-around competition, a bronze on the uneven bars and competing as a key member of the U.S. team that won silver after Simone Biles unexpectedly withdrew from much of the competition.
Meet the two new “DWTS” stars:
Suni Lee is looking to express herself on ‘DWTS’
Lee joins a list of several star gymnasts who have excelled on “DWTS,” including teammate Laurie Hernandez, who won the mirrorball trophy for Season 23 in 2016, and Biles, who placed fourth in Season 24.
“I’ve seen so many people go out there and do ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ so it was one of my goals after the Olympics,” says Lee, who says she watches the competition “whenever there are gymnasts on the show. So I’m excited to see another one.”
Lee has posted TikTok videos dancing with fellow U.S. team member Jordan Chilesto her 1.6 million followers. She was dissatisfied with the results of her early dance lessons.
“It was a struggle; Jordan was trying to teach me how to dance,” says Lee, who showed natural talent. Chiles “makes fun of me so much. She’s like, ‘You’re going on ‘Dancing With the Stars? You don’t know how to dance!'”
Nonetheless, Lee has a strong love of dancing developed with younger sister, Shyenne, one of five siblings she grew up with in St. Paul, Minnesota, after immigrating with her family from Laos. In her view, it’s this enthusiasm, determination – “I really want to win this show,” she says – and athleticism that give gymnasts a “DWTS” advantage.
“It’s expressing yourself even more when you’re dancing, because you’ve kind of been locked up a little bit in gymnastics,” Lee says. “Dancing is just super fun.”
It will be a kick, even in spiky shoes. “Dancing in high heels is the one thing I’m scared about,” she says. “My ankles are very fragile. Hopefully they will get stronger.”
The college freshman will take first-semester online courses at Auburn University this fall to train and compete in Los Angeles with her still-unnamed partner. Lee will return in January to compete on the Auburn gymnastics team, where her medals hang in a secured, discreet and inspirational display.
“No one knows it’s there. But I like to look at them; it helps me,” says Lee. “And yes, there is a lot of room for a mirrorball trophy in there.”
JoJo Siwa looks to dominate a new dance form
Siwa says she’s already leaning on Kylie Pew, her girlfriend of eight months, for support in the dance competition.
“We were just having a conversation five minutes ago and I was like, ‘I’m scared’ ” says Siwa. “I just want to do really good. And she just hypes me up. She tells me, ‘You’re going to do great. You’re going to win.'”
The Omaha, Nebraska-born Siwa says she is undaunted by the completely different form of dancing she’s famous for, including performing with her mother Jessalynn on Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” and in YouTube videos.
But she is fretful of the expectations.
JoJo Siwa and her girlfriend:Talk about their ‘instant’ connection, coming out in joint interview
“What scares me is going into this as a dancer. It’s a blessing and a curse,” she says. “I guarantee the judges will judge me harder than they would a figure skater or gymnast. I’ll be expected to be on a different level, and will have to live up to that.”
The super-influencer plans to rally supporters with her social media reach, vowing to add behind-the-scenes videos for young fans (Kim Kardashians’ daughter North among them) she hopes to bring along for the ride. Siwa’s mother will also be a guiding factor.
“Every night I’ll come home and be like, ‘Mom, I need you to watch this video, judge me and tell me what I could do better,'” says Siwa.
Siwa is already enough of a “DWTS” fan to know it’s crucial to keep pushing up the judges’ scores, week after week.
“I never want to have them hold up their paddle and have the score be anything less than an 8. From 8 to 10,” she says. “I want everything to keep going north. Nothing goes south. Every week I want my turns to get stronger, my choreography better.”
She sees signals from universe that she can win the competition, including a recent Monopoly game. “Every time I put out there what I wanted to roll, I ended up rolling it,” says Siwa. “So I’m putting mirrorball trophy out there to the universe. I want a new accessory for my house.”