JoJo Siwa: a Disney starlet who put ‘shoes and dudes’

The pint-sized reality star’s singing career may have been over, but Dribbling With the Stars has been her greatest triumph yet When JoJo Siwa first landed the headlining spot in Chicago’s 5th Third Ballroom,…

JoJo Siwa: a Disney starlet who put 'shoes and dudes'

The pint-sized reality star’s singing career may have been over, but Dribbling With the Stars has been her greatest triumph yet

When JoJo Siwa first landed the headlining spot in Chicago’s 5th Third Ballroom, she had a sizable army of devoted fans left to contend with. After singing the bouncy pop anthem Clothes off for Ellen DeGeneres, she helped celebrate USA Basketball’s 76ers winning the National Basketball Association championship with other stargazers of the entertainment scene. According to Erin Carlson, who helped launch Siwa’s career at her first music gig at age nine, the Disney toddler’s astonishingly beloved “charisma and charisma and music that kept coming” eventually won over the station’s heavy-hitters. “We always knew that people had a passionate connection with her, and that was good,” says Carlson. “They knew there would be a lot of fun things for them to listen to and participate in.”

3 awards … and a gagging incident Read more

But it was Siwa’s winning attitude that struck. “She had a palpable trust,” says Carlson. “She was very truthful.” Using the same maturity and persistence she would use to win the hearts of women and her fans, she went from little girl with big talent to America’s loudest artist. In little under a year, Siwa blew up the dance floor at the Six Flags Over Texas Music Festival. Fans descended on radio stations from coast to coast to show their support. She spent $50,000 of her own money on song downloads. She embarked on a lengthy tour of nearly 30 stations. In June 2017, in the same night that a headline performance in Boston had been cancelled due to a mudslide, Siwa performed to an audience of 75,000 in Mexico City.

To where Siwa’s journey to stardom led was a terrifying mystery to most. She didn’t belong in a bunch of adult men on stage raving about how great she is. Those blind spots were many: some wondered if she would actually write, sing and create any music that measured up to the high expectations. Others feared that the 9-year-old’s music would be coded for the underage set. Still others said Siwa would make the same mistake as her pop predecessors and miss out on massive popularity.

But time – and NBC’s undoubted clout – eventually took away any doubt. In January 2018, Siwa signed to the network, where the clips and snippets of her dancing that she’d posted online were splashed across The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly. Last summer, she appeared on the NBC competition show, Dancing With the Stars: Juniors, which granted her one of the many challenges she’d wanted to tackle but never got the chance. In the final round, a contestant wearing her signature outfit of short shorts and a crop top stepped out into the audience, where she quickly froze, and the show producers quickly scrambled to reinsert Siwa – who had then stepped on stage to literally dance – with no explanation. (This wasn’t the first time a contestant had earned an immediate return appearance by simply stepping on stage again.)

3 awards … and a gagging incident

Although her songwriting wasn’t on display during either performance, her performances did bring back memories of her year-and-a-half of live music. She was more spontaneous than her older peers. She repeatedly brought out dancers from the crowd and danced with them for many minutes at a time. She had rhythm. She had energy. Her fresh and playful energy played well to the young people she’d spent her life trying to connect with. During Dancing With the Stars, she scored 50 points out of 60. At night, that was enough to move her to the second round.

As Carlson soon discovered, however, things are different for young children with personalities and hearts and talents. “I was so happy for her,” says Carlson. “She’s such a personable kid.” But after that year, Siwa had acted on her own and become a people pleaser. She changed up her whole style and persona. Instead of going up on stage, she became more like the guest artist she’d hoped to be and enjoyed herself. She wanted to do bigger things, but had one thing in mind: to do them her way. “She wants to tell all her stories,” says Carlson. “And she wants to lead the way.

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