Published On: Wed, Jun 1st, 2022

From tween phenom to queer icon, JoJo Siwa is blazing her own trail

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After rising to fame as a tween phenom on “Dance Moms,” JoJo Siwa made headlines last year when she came out as a member of the LGBTQ community and became the first contestant to dance with a same-sex partner on the American version of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Now, as a judge on the latest season of “So You Think You Can Judge” and an executive producer of her own content (“The J-Team,” “Siwa’s Dance Pop Revolution”), Siwa, who turned 19 in May, is returning to dance reality television as a bona fide queer icon, hoping to inspire the legions of fans who have taken to her bubbly, effervescent personality.

“I want to be a role model for people who love love,” she told The New York Times in an interview last September. “I don’t want to be a role model for people who think being gay is wrong. I don’t need those people in my corner.”

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Siwa began dancing as a toddler, with her mother, Jess, the owner of a local dance studio, entering her in competitions from the time she was 2 years old. In 2013, Siwa, then 9, began her professional career as a top-five finalist on the second season of the “Dance Moms” spinoff “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition.” Two years later, Siwa and her mother joined the main cast of “Dance Moms,” where Siwa went toe-to-toe with dance coach Abby Lee Miller.

But as her profile began to rise, Siwa, seeking an opportunity to control her own public image, decided to start her own YouTube channel in early 2015 — a page that now has over 12.2 million subscribers to go with her 41.6 million followers on TikTok and 11.6 million on Instagram.

In 2016, Siwa released her first single, “Boomerang,” an anti-bullying anthem that has been viewed over 950 million times on YouTube and been certified multiplatinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Soon, she headlined her first major arena tour and was named one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2020 and one of GLAAD’s 20 Under 20 for 2021, cementing her status as one of the most recognizable teenagers in the world with her rainbow-hued ensembles and signature hair bows.

And while Siwa has dealt with her fair share of haters, telling the “TODAY” show that others still believe she is putting on a “fake” persona, the multihyphenate has taken her newfound fame in stride, blocking and distancing herself from her naysayers and recognizing the responsibility that comes with the platform she has created for herself. When she came out on social media in January 2021, Siwa admitted in an interview with People magazine that she knew a lot of things in her life “could have gone away because of my love life.”

“I was thinking that all the comments were going to be nice and supportive, and they weren’t,” Siwa said. “A lot of them were, ‘I’m never buying your merch again. My daughter’s never watching you again.’ I couldn’t sleep for three days.”

“My thing is, I don’t want people to watch my videos or buy my merchandise if they aren’t going to support not only me, but the LGBTQ community,” added Siwa, who chose to introduce her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, in a series of posts shortly after coming out. “I’ve never gotten this much support from the world. I think this is the first time that I’ve felt so personally happy.”

Last fall, Siwa and her “Dancing With the Stars” partner, Jenna Johnson, teamed up as the first same-sex pairing in the show’s 30-season history — with the former revealing that she opted to dance with a female pro in early discussions with producers.

“I have a girlfriend who is the love of my life and who is everything to me,” Siwa told USA Today shortly after the casting announcement. “My journey of coming out and having a girlfriend has inspired so many people around the world. I thought that if I chose to dance with a girl on this show, it would break the stereotypical thing. It would be new, different and change for the better.”

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