Describing pop star JoJo Siwa is not a simple endeavor. The 18-year-old is a reality TV star, a social media influencer, a dancer and a singer all in one colorfully wrapped package — with a bow on top, of course. And she’ll soon be adding film producer and history-making “Dancing With the Stars” contestant to her lengthy resume.
So how does Siwa describe her own celebrity?
“I think that it depends on who I’m telling what I do,” she told TODAY.com. “Sometimes it’s easy to tell people that I work for Nickelodeon, sometimes it’s easy to tell people that I do YouTube, sometimes it’s easier to tell people that I have a book that’s a New York Times bestseller.”
If she could just choose just two titles, the multi-talented entertainer said she’d go with “pop star” and “TV personality.”
“I’ve done a lot of reality TV shows,” she said. “I sing, I perform, I go on tour. I have sold out over 97 different shows with ... like 80 of them arenas. So I’ve been around the block with that land.”
Ahead of her new film, “The J Team,” which debuts Friday on Paramount+, and her “Dancing With the Stars” debut later this month, Siwa sat down with TODAY.com to discuss her new projects, coming out as LGBTQ earlier this year and the biggest misconceptions about her.
Misconceptions and 'confidence confusions'
Siwa and her mom, Jess, rose to prominence in 2014 after appearing on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” a spinoff of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms.” The duo then went on to become “Dance Moms” regulars, with the younger Siwa going toe-to-toe with brazen dance coach Abby Lee Miller.
In Siwa’s forthcoming film, “The J Team,” actor Tisha Campbell plays a brassy dance teacher named Coach Poppy. When asked whether any of the movie’s characters were modeled on real people in her life, Siwa was quick to answer.
“Everybody’s asking me if Coach Poppy is off of Abby Lee, and I know that that’s what you’re asking, so you might as well just straight out ask it,” Siwa responded.
“The answer though is no,” she added. “There was actually the original script, some lines that Abby had originally said, you know, stuff like ‘No, no, no crying children’ or stuff like ‘If you yell at me, I’m gonna cry.’ I actually had those lines taken out, because I didn’t want people to think that it was a dig to Abby.”
In an interview with TODAY.com last month, Campbell revealed that she used her mentor, the dancer and “Fame” actor Debbie Allen, as a model for Coach Poppy, confirming that Miller was not used as an inspiration.
“I never really watched her on the show, so for me, there was no comparison,” Campbell said. “I’m not trying to be shady.com. I literally wanted to kind of hone in on this character and make her my own, so I drew from Debbie and exploded her.”
Misconceptions, misrepresentations and online haters are nothing new for Siwa. When asked about the biggest misconception about her, she answered, “That I’m fake.”
“I think a lot of people think that JoJo is a character, and somebody today actually asked me if I was ever gonna put my character to rest,” she said, referring to another interviewer. “I was like … ‘She’s been to rest, because she doesn’t exist.’ But I think that a lot of people think that it’s not true.”
Siwa’s world is full of glitter, sequins and, of course, bows, and while some may believe her seemingly endless reserve of positive energy is for show, Siwa said it is just who she is.
“I think all the time people think that it’s just not possible … but it is,” she said of her consistently sunny disposition.
However, Siwa said her career has not been without challenges. One of them, she said, is being pigeonholed as a dancer — even as she tries to establish herself as a singer.
“The reason why I have so many confidence confusions with singing is mostly because people have told me my whole life that I’m not a singer, that I can’t sing, that I’m not a good singer,” she shared. “And that’s just engraved in my brain, and it’s like set in stone in there, and so trying to get that out is really, really difficult.”
But sing she does, especially in “The J Team,” which she also executive produced.
“Being an executive producer on it gave me a lot more freedom with it, and I think that I really enjoyed that,” she said. “I got to have a say in the creative, saying how it was made and everything, that made me almost love the project more.”
Some seasoned actors might be peeved by an executive producer who’s still a teenager, but for Campbell, 50, it was the opposite. The “Martin” star described Siwa as “stoic” and “giving.”
“You cross your fingers hoping that the next job that you have, that person doesn’t have a big ego, and she was nothing like that,” Campbell said of Siwa. “I was so happy when I met her mother, and they were so grounded, and it really was a wonderful work environment.”
Icons and identity
When asked what she’s learned through her coming out journey, she said, “How much I love love … how much I love feeling it, how much I love just like having that version of love in my life.”
Siwa started dating her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, earlier this year, after the two were friends for more than a year. Siwa was lauded by activists and advocates for coming out the way she did at only 17 years old, setting an example for other teens and parents in her massive Nickelodeon fan base. This has caused some to already call her a “gay icon.”
“It’s the coolest thing ever,” she said of her icon status, adding that her own idols are Freddie Mercury and Lady Gaga. “I never thought I’d be called [a gay icon]. I mean, I thought I’d be called gay for sure, but I never thought icon would come after. It’s a really big honor.”
Siwa said she is still figuring out exactly how she identifies.
“I’m dating a girl; that can make me a lesbian. I’ve never really been in love with anybody or found attraction to anybody except for Kylie, and so therefore it could be demisexual. I’ve never minded who I would be with, if it would be a girl, a boy, (someone) trans,” she said. “But then I also think, so that could be pansexual … The l-word isn’t my favorite word, but I like the q-word. I like queer; it’s kind of ... I am who I am. But I’m not like, ‘Oh my God. No, I’m not this, you know what I mean?”
While many adjectives and descriptors could be used for Siwa, “trailblazer” is undoubtedly on the list, and the pop star is about to blaze a new one this month, as she is set to become the first “Dancing With the Stars” contestant to be paired with a professional dancer of the same gender (while this will be a first for the American franchise, international versions of had same-sex dance duos).
“At 18, JoJo Siwa is once again using her platform to inspire and uplift the LGBTQ community. As one of today’s most watched and celebrated programs on television, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and Tyra Banks are making the right decision to feature JoJo Siwa competing alongside a female professional dancer,” Anthony Allen Ramos, head of talent at the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, said in a statement to TODAY.com. “The show has such a wide, far-reaching audience and there is a real opportunity here for people to celebrate the same-sex pairing and root for JoJo and all LGBTQ young people.”
For young people who may be struggling with coming out or figuring out their own sexuality, Siwa said that it’s never too late to be yourself, but waiting until you’re ready is also totally OK.
“I think that a lot of people are scared of coming out,” she said. “You just have to know when it’s right for you, and if it doesn’t feel right for you, just wait. You know there’s no rush. It’s you, and you’re going to do what you want to do, and you get to celebrate being a part of the LGBT community as you wish.”
“When you’re ready to be open about it, you’ll know who your people are,” she added.