Shawn Johnson is making a comeback. But this time there are no Olympic medals at stake; instead, Johnson is returning to Dancing with the Stars with her eyes set on her second mirror ball trophy. Johnson originally appeared on Season 8 of the hit reality competition series in the spring of 2009, months after capturing millions of hearts with her winning skills and winning smile at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. In Beijing, Johnson earned a gold medal on balance beam and three silver medals in the all-around, floor and team competitions.
On Sept. 24, Johnson returns for Season 15, the series’ first all-star season. The Season 8 champion will be competing against five fellow champions, including Season 4 champion and eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno, three runners-up, two third-place finishers and two fan favorites. Team USA fans recently submitted their questions for Johnson via Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, and she took the time to answer them just days before the Season 15 premiere.
The live performance shows air Monday nights on ABC at 8 p.m. ET, with results shows airing Tuesday nights. Fans can vote for Johnson online or by calling 1-800-868-3402.
Do you feel pressure to repeat as a Dancing with the Stars champion?
I did at first but it really isn’t about that this time. This is a completely new season, one they’ve never done before. Every single person on the show has made a huge accomplishment on the show, by being a fan favorite or winning or coming in second or third, so it’s more of a celebration of the honor of being on the show and honoring what you’ve done. So just getting past Week 1 is what I’m working for right now. If I get to take home another mirror ball trophy then that will be a dream come true but, can’t think that far yet.
How much fun are you having this time around on Dancing with the Stars and how different is it from when you were on in spring of 2009 for Season 8?
I’m having a lot of fun. I feel like I’m having more fun this time because I’m a little more relaxed. I know what to expect and I’m not as quiet and shy. I feel like I got really caught up in the chaos of it the first time and I didn’t get to experience it. And the difference is that it’s the first time they’re doing an all-star season, everybody knows everybody already and we’re not starting over. We’re starting from where we left off.
How is it working out with your partner, Derek Hough, and did you wish you were paired with your Season 8 partner, Mark Ballas?
It was bittersweet. It would’ve been nice to have a partner you already had and pick up where you left off but I absolutely love Derek. I was so excited when I got him and it’s been a great partnership; he’s a great teacher and a great dancer.
How does your Olympic gymnastics background help you on the dance floor?
I honestly don’t think it helps at all. It gave me that athletic ability of being driven and having to work for something and being disciplined, but it’s completely different in the movement side of it where it’s really graceful and smooth and you’re not serious. I feel like I have to fight my gymnastics habits a lot.
Was it difficult to switch from gymnastics to dancing?
It was a little difficult but I absolutely loved it. I’ve always loved to dance. I was never a part of it, but I always loved it and wondered what it would be like and it was just a fun challenge.
Have your eating habits changed now that you aren’t training to make the Olympic team?
I would say my eating habits changed a little bit only because since I’m not training for the Olympics, I don’t have to be so regimented. I can relax a little more and have a cupcake if I want to! But I still eat very healthy and I think I always will, it’s just engrained in me.
Now that you’re done with competitive gymnastics, how do you keep in shape – when you’re not dancing, of course?
I do a lot of physical activity. I’m not necessarily the type that loves going to the gym and getting on the treadmill but I love doing different activities. I work with a lot of trainers and I do kickboxing, swimming, cycling, running. I try to change it up so I don’t get bored.
Do you have tips for people balancing a schedule packed with school and work to include regular workouts?
Don’t let it stress you out. Workouts should be fun, balancing things shouldn’t be stressful, just take it one day at a time, one step at a time. There’s always time to fit something in.
What is your most inspirational or favorite quote?
It’s very cliché but, “everything happens for a reason.” It gives you meaning to life events.
What is it like being back on with two contestants from your season, Gilles Marini (who finished second in Season 8) and Melissa Rycroft (who finished third in Season 8)?
It’s definitely interesting from our season having 1, 2, and 3, but it’s fun. They’re friends and they’re like family to me. It was nice to see a familiar face but it’s gonna be really competitive because they’re kind of like, “Not gonna let you beat me again!”
Which dance are you most looking forward to doing again?
I don’t know if I could pick one since this is a different partner. But I loved the cha-cha the first time so I think it would be fun this time.
How easily did your first dance, the foxtrot, come back to you?
Not at all. People keep asking me, they’re like, “Oh so it came back like riding a bike.” I talked to all the different dancers and it doesn’t, it’s not our nature so we have to re-learn everything and it’s been a challenge. Derek’s really been pushing me.
How much do you remember from Season 8 and does that help you at all?
I definitely remember certain things and I remember the concept, it’s just the technicalities and the showmanship that is really rough.
@shanedanger42 on Twitter said, “Ask her if she is busy on November 20th so I can take her to the Marine Corps ball in Okinawa, Japan”
Well if I’m still on the show, that’s around the finale time so I’d love to but I’m hoping I make it that far.
How important is nutrition when you are training in gymnastics?
I’d say nutrition is everything. I think that’s the most important aspect because you get out what you put in. If you’re putting in junk, you’re gonna get junk out.
What was most the difficult dance for you to learn in Season 8?
I’d say the most difficult one was the jive and I have that Week 2, so I’m kinda nervous.
Have you started that yet?
We have, and it’s déjà vu.
Are you excited about having Justin Bieber perform on the first result show (Tuesday, Sept. 25) of Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars?
Uhm, yeah, I’m excited. I’m not one of those huge huge Bieber Fever people or whatever. It is pretty cool.
Did you ever doubt you would make it to where you are today or did you have confidence throughout your whole career?
I never really knew where I would end up or what I would do, so I don’t think I held any expectations to be able to compare where I think I would have been or would not. I just always took it one day at a time. I definitely feel blessed, I feel like I worked hard to get where I am and it’s been fun.
Who do you think is your biggest competition this season?
I don’t really know. I’m being honest. There honestly isn’t one single person you can pick out where you’re like, “Oh you’re a frontrunner,” or, “Oh you’ll go out first week.” Everybody has come back and they’re really good, which is scary. Any season, you see a cast and you think, “Oh I can pick out three I think will be in the final, or three I think will go the first few weeks,” but if you look at this cast and you see them practicing or dancing, you’re like, “Oh crap, I could be the one going the first week.” It’s hard to pick out one competitor, there’s definitely people who are more intense than others but I don’t think I can pick out one.
Who will finish second to you on Dancing with the Stars?
I have to get through Week 1 first.
What is it like having Olympic speedskater Apolo Ohno on this season?
It’s really cool having him on the show, being fellow Olympians. It’s another familiar face and we can relate a little more.
If you had to come back and train for just one event for the next Olympics, which one would it be?
Oh gosh, that’s not gonna happen (laughs). Beam.