The young singer and internet personality is the first gay contestant to be paired with a same-sex partner in the competition. She reportedly refused to participate if forced to dance with someone of the opposite sex as all other LGBTQ contestants have been.
Siwa and her dance partner, Jenna Johnson, tangoed to Britney Spears’ hit “Baby One More Time,” and tied for first place.
Siwa, whose brand has been built around rainbows, glitter, and positivity since childhood, was able to pull it all together in a piece about Spears that aired before the dance. A former child star herself, the pop singer Spears has struggled with mental illness was recently released from her father’s conservatorship.
“I love Britney,” Siwa said. “Britney is a legend. An icon. A ball of talent and glitter and energy. She is a genius. She just has a way of being herself, almost like nobody else does.”
“I think I’ve had a really great support system around me, but being a child star is hard,” she added. “I was always homeschooled, and so I never had a person bullying, like it wasn’t a thing for me. One night, I went to a Halloween theme park. People were shouting at me, ‘JoJo Siwa, ‘F’ you.’ No 14-year-old wants to hear that. Every time that I go through something, it reminds me of the other side, of what’s good.”
The show involves pairing celebrities with trained dancers to learn and perform choreographed routines, getting points from the judges and votes from the audience. The pair with the lowest combined score and votes gets eliminated the week after their last performance.
Siwa is not the first LGBTQ person featured on the show. Olympic figure skaters Adam Rippon and Johnny Weir, fashion commentator Carson Kressley, tennis player Martina Navratilova, singer Lance Bass, and comedian Margaret Cho have all competed on Dancing with the Stars, but they were all paired with an opposite-sex dancer.
The show is broadcast during primetime on a network channel, getting millions – and sometimes tens of millions – of viewers who might not see much LGBTQ content on a regular basis.