‘DWTS’ Champ Shawn Johnson Ready for Another Challenge


West Des Moines native starts her hunt for a second mirror ball trophy Monday night.

Des Moines Register

“Dancing With the Stars” called Shawn Johnson when she needed it most.  Johnson, who won Season 8 of the ABC reality series in 2009, had just retired from gymnastics, and was feeling out of sorts.

“I kind of felt like I was at a low,” the 20-year-old Olympic gold medalist from West Des Moines said. “Like, ‘what now?’ ”

Enter “DWTS,” asking if she’d like to be a part of an all-star cast for the 15th season.

“I felt like it was a chance to compete at something again. I don’t know, it’s just really exciting to me.”

Johnson’s quest to claim a second mirror ball trophy begins Monday night at 7 p.m. on ABC. She’ll compete with partner Derek Hough, the pro dancer who has won the competition three times on his own (with Jennifer Grey, Nicole Sherzinger and Brooke Burke).

Johnson, who is living in Los Angeles and preparing for the season premiere, talked about the upcoming season, the challenge of competing in front of millions of fans again, and where she keeps that coveted mirror ball trophy.

Q: So what feels different about this time compared to the last time you competed on “Dancing with the Stars”?

Everything is different. Everybody knows how to dance. I’m not starting from nothing. I feel like I’m starting right where I left off.

Q: Do you feel like the bar has been raised since this is an all-star season?

Oh definitely. It’s much more intense. Practices are more intense. Everybody wants to win.

Q: Speaking of winning, was there a point (in Season 8) when you realized you actually had a chance to win?

No. I was in disbelief the entire time. I didn’t know how I was going to make it to week two, so when I realized I was in the finals, it was just so surreal.

Q: Where do you keep your mirror ball trophy?

It’s at my parents’ house (in West Des Moines), actually. It’s not on display, but my parents seem to show it off more than my (Olympic) medals.

Q: How does your partner this season (Derek Hough) compare to your last partner (Mark Ballas)?

It’s so hard to compare them, I don’t think I can. Derek and I get along great. He’s an amazing dancer and choreographer. We have a lot of fun.

Q: How much are you guys rehearsing right now?

Right now, we go from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. About five hours a day. But that will increase after the first episode. We had three weeks to learn our first routine, and soon we’ll only have about three days (to learn new dances for the next show).

Q: Do you try to tailor your dances based on what the judges will like?

Not really — that’s up to my partner to decide. I mean, you want to make the judges happy, but it’s not up to them who wins. It’s not always the best score who wins. It’s up to America and who votes.

Q: Well, you have a huge Twitter following and tons of fans.

It makes me feel good to know that, but it’s just surreal. All I can ask is that they vote for me.

Q: Any dances you’re dreading?

Dances are representative of what’s hard for both you and your partner as well. We’re starting with a foxtrot and it’s going really well.

Q: Wardrobe and makeup is a huge part of “DWTS.” Do you have any say in that part of it?

We get to help design them every week, and it’s a lot of fun. It reminds me of when I would help design my leotards for gymnastics. The day of the show is a full production and process. We spray tan, get eyelash extensions, the works. It makes you feel like a princess. We get there at about 7 a.m. and start shooting at 5 p.m.

Q: Who do you think will be your biggest competition?

I have no idea. Usually you have a little bit of an idea about who’s going to be good, but with all-stars, you know everybody’s going to be good and super competitive.

Q: Any favorites you have enjoyed watching in the past?

I always seemed to like watching Derek and his partner. Jennifer Grey, Nicole Sherzinger. Joey Fatone is hilarious. It’s been really fun hanging out with him.

Q: So it’s safe to say you hang out a lot with the cast?

Oh yeah. We share the same studio so it’s like a big family. We goof off and jump around and have lots of fun.

Q: Any plans on coming back to Des Moines soon?

Definitely. I’m missing home so bad I can’t even stand it. It’s my favorite time of year there, so I’m really missing Iowa. … If I’m still on the show and I have a good reason to come to Des Moines I’m sure (Derek) will come with me. We’ll need to rehearse.