Adam Rippon skated his way into the hearts of the world during the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he won a bronze medal as part of the U.S. figure skating team event. Rippon rode this momentum to a turn on the all athletes season of Dancing with the Stars, where he and pro Jenna Johnson took home the coveted Mirrorball Trophy.
The first openly gay U.S. male athlete to win a medal in the Winter Olympics and the first openly gay celebrity to win Dancing with the Stars, Rippon is beloved for his candid charm, bold fashion choices and for being a straight-up competition beast, whether on the ice or on the dance floor.
Now, Rippon has taken his talents back to Dancing, this time as a judge for Dancing with the Stars: Juniors where he'll evaluate the pint-sized competition alongside celebrated choreographer Mandy Moore and Dancing pro Val Chmerkovskiy (who is engaged to Rippon's former Dancing partner Jenna Johnson).
TV Guide caught up with Rippon over the summer to discuss his transition from competitor to judge, what to expect of the Dancing spin-off and the shocking place he keeps his Olympic medal.
What did you learn from your time on Dancing with the Stars that you think will make you a great judge on Juniors?
Adam Rippon: I think more than anything it's my experience as a competitive figure skater. My background for judging in this competition would be I know what it takes to be a good competitor and I know what it to put on a good performance. I think my experience on Dancing with the Stars is pretty awesome as well, but it's just another viewpoint I have, that I know what it's like to be out there on that stage with everyone watching and being right in the middle of the competition. So I'm really looking forward to seeing all of these little kids perform their frickin' hearts out.
Do you think it's important for Juniors to have a celebrity judge, as opposed to just experts on the mothership, because you're trying to encourage the kids?
Rippon: I think more than anything you want somebody who you know is going to make the kids feel comfortable, who can make them laugh, but at the same time be honest with them and motivate them. I hope that I'm able to do that on the show because I feel that what I've learned from working with kids on the ice is that the best thing I can do is talk to them like they're on my level and make them feel comfortable but also keep it real.
The show is being filmed right now — it's not live — so have you gotten to see any of the rehearsals?
Rippon: No, I like to separate myself from the process because I really want to judge what's happening that night. You grow an attachment to the kids as it goes on because you see that they love what they're doing and you see all that hard work. So it's going to be a really, really good show.
What was it like the first time you saw these kids perform? Were you just blown away by their talent?
Rippon: I think there's a fear like, 'Can they do it? Can they handle the pressure?' Because it can be a lot. And they've not only stepped up to the plate but they've completely surpassed my expectations.
You're becoming a bit of a fashion icon right now, so should we expect a lot of looks on the show?
Rippon: You know, we have a great stylist on the show. They've really hooked me up with some sweet threads.
Are you going to perform on the show, because they love having extra performances? Jenna's there, Val's there...
Rippon: All of the right tools are there, I think we'll just have to wait and see.
I know that they've tried to do Skating with the Stars twice before. Do you think there is a way to do that that will work and be successful?
Rippon: You know, I think there definitely is a way, but it's hard because it takes a lot of time to look like you can be a good skater, because in 6-10 weeks you can still look like a beginner. What I think in dance, you have that fear of falling kind of taken away because it's just your two feet planted on the ground and you feel comfortable to move. So I think there's a way, but it's really hard in reality competition form. You need a year.
Would you do it if they rebooted it again?
Rippon: I think the first thing I would do would be to take everybody to church and say a really big and long prayer that they live and survive and then we just take it from there.
Where do you keep your Mirrorball Trophy?
Rippon: My Dancing with the Stars trophy is in my living room and my Olympic medal is, like honestly, in a box on a book shelf. It's just smaller. I need to figure something out. I'll get there.
You should get a really cool dress form dramatically placed under a spotlight with nothing on it but the medal.
Rippon: I love that. That's really good. I actually saw this statue at this one restaurant that was like, I want to do something with one of my old costumes like that. That's very cool. I'm going to turn it into art.
Are you going to be in Jenna and Val's wedding party?
Rippon: Yes. I got really close with Jenna on Dancing with the Stars and I got really close with Val on Dancing with the Stars: Juniors, so I'm part of the family.
Dancing with the Stars: Juniors premieres Sunday, Oct. 7 at 8/7c on ABC. Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.