At 4 feet 10 inches and 17 years old, Shawn Johnson could become the shortest and youngest Dancing with the Stars champion ever. And as an Olympic gold medalist, history is already on her side to win it all. "I think [Olympic athletes] are used to working hard and we're used to having a goal and a dream set in front of us and going for it," Johnson told TVGuide.com. "But everybody can work hard." See what else the gymnast had to say about strapping on three-inch heels, her new Dancing sibling and how dancing really compares to gymnastics. Dancing's eighth season premieres Monday at 8 pm/ET on ABC.
TVGuide.com: You have the waltz as your first dance. How are things going?
Shawn Johnson: Good. I'm really, really, really nervous. [The waltz] was really hard. It's still hard! I'm used to being the powerful athlete and the waltz has really sharp lines. But Mark [Ballas] has done a great job of teaching it to me.
TVGuide.com: He took one Olympic gold medalist [Kristi Yamaguchi] to the Mirror Ball trophy, so he can do it again.
Johnson: I hope so! I think every person's different, but it's up to the audience to vote, so hopefully they like me.
TVGuide.com: Well, on our poll, you and Nancy O'Dell [who since dropped out of the competition due to injury] are neck and neck to win, and most people are pegging you as the early favorite. Do you feel more pressure knowing that?
Johnson: It's more of, like, an honor for people to think I'm a good dancer. That's pretty cool because I don't know if I am. At all. I took a ballet class when I was 3, [but] that's when I switched to gymnastics. It's nice to know I have fans and supporters that have followed me since Beijing. I don't know if it's pressure — well, it's probably a little pressure. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Since everyone thinks you're the one to beat, who do you think you need to watch out for?
Johnson: I haven't been able to see anyone dance yet, so I don't know if I can pick one. ... Steve-O, he's got a big following. Lil Kim — she's a sweetheart! She calls us sisters now. She's like, "Let's go for a walk." I'm like, "OK!" [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Who's taller — you or her?
Johnson: Lil Kim, by, like, two inches.
TVGuide.com: Were you worried about being too short?
Johnson: A little. I was afraid they wouldn't pick me, but they said it wasn't a problem. I don't think it's a disadvantage at all. I've always been the youngest and the shortest in everything I've done, so I'm pretty used to it. Mark put me in higher heels. I'm dancing in three inches now, instead of two.
TVGuide.com: How are your feet? You're usually barefoot. Are you afraid of rolling your ankle?
Johnson: My feet hurt so bad! I've been asked to try a flip and I'm like, "Oh, no, no, no! Not gonna happen! I don't want to get hurt." [Laughs] There are a few things [I'm afraid to try], but other than that, I'm pretty careful. I'm doing well so far, so knock on wood. I have a healthy lifestyle, but there's nothing you can really do to prevent from rolling an ankle or something like that.
TVGuide.com: I know you're a fan of the show. Who's been your favorite contestant?
Johnson: Apolo [Anton Ohno]. He's just fun to watch. He called me once right before they called to ask if I wanted to be on. I told him I went to a live show and he kinda just explained it to me how it worked. But once I actually got on the show, he was really excited and stuff.
TVGuide.com: When they called you, did you have to think twice about doing it?
Johnson: Oh, no! [Laughs] I was like, "Oh my God! Definitely!" It was immediate. No thought-process needed. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something that might not come around again.
TVGuide.com: You have to wear less revealing clothing because you're a minor. Are there other restrictions placed on you?
Johnson: I have a certain amount of hours of work because of child labor laws. I have a chaperone everywhere I go — my mom. What else? Oh, I have to be a little more age-appropriate for the dance moves and stuff like that. That's basically it.
TVGuide.com: How long can you work for then?
Johnson: 48 hours a week. It's still pretty — like, a lot. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Well, the average work week is 40 hours.
Johnson: Right, so I'm doing [overtime]!
TVGuide.com: People thought there were similarities between figure skating and dancing, but Kristi Yamaguchi said there aren't. Now people are saying the same about gymnastics and dancing. Are they similar?
Johnson: Um... not really. [Laughs] Nothing I've found yet! I know a lot people think there are [similarities] — I was one of them, thinking, going into it, it may be easier for me, but it's so totally different than anything I've ever done — the body posture, dancing in heels, dancing with a partner, dancing in general.
TVGuide.com: Is there anything you've learned that you can apply to gymnastics?
Johnson: Oh, definitely! I think the dancing will transfer over to gymnastics a lot, just because it makes you more elegant and a better dancer, of course, and just being able to perform and present yourself.
TVGuide.com: Are you planning for 2012?
Johnson: Not sure yet. I'm just focusing on this and of course I took a break from gymnastics to do this since it's so time consuming. But once this is done, I'll get back to the gym and start training again and see how that goes. But as of right now, this is my main goal and focus.
TVGuide.com: You need to. I need to see your new dancing floor exercise routine.
Johnson: [Laughs] I'll do the waltz or something.