8:15 AM, Apr 18, 2010 | by Sophia Ahmad |
The two West Des Moines natives hit the books at Westridge Elementary, Indian Hills Junior High and Valley High School. They both attend Lutheran Church of Hope. Each rose to national fame and wowed audiences on reality television shows.
Epperly, 20, and Johnson, 18, are back in town and spent a recent afternoon together. On the agenda: Chatting about life in front of the camera, dishing on future plans, reminiscing about favorite local hangouts and even guys.
On their TV stints and fame
Shawn Johnson: It’s funny to think that we went to the same elementary, middle school and high school and then you went to “American Idol” and (I went to) “Dancing with the Stars” – and they film right across the street.
Katelyn Epperly: Uh huh, (they were) right there!
SJ: What was it like (for you) getting on stage? I’d never get on stage and sing, but getting on stage and dancing was nerve-wracking. Was it hard?
KE: I thought I was going to be really nervous about it. And, I don’t mean this in a cocky way, I just mean it in a weird way – I didn’t get nervous. It was the strangest thing. I just focused on the small audience in the room and didn’t think about the 30 million people that are watching, and it felt natural. … If “American Idol” did anything else, it confirmed what I want to do in the future.
SJ: Going straight from (the Olympics) to “Dancing with the Stars,” being thrown into something completely new – that was really intimidating.
KE: So have you ever danced before?
SJ: No, you’re not allowed to have any dance experience.
KE: Wow, that’s even more impressive!
SJ: … I started from nothing, then I got used to the whole production of a show, doing red carpets and being a part of the whole TV world and it’s completely different. I have to admit, I miss the athletic world, but the TV world is fun. What did you think about the whole production?
KE: … The only part – I would call it my least favorite perk – is being recognized everywhere you go. And TMZ (celebrity news Web site) hounding you and pictures. … There’s so much of your life that isn’t normal anymore, and sometimes you just want that time to, like, go out to dinner with your friend. It’s nice that people support you, but …
SJ: Do you get that around here?
SJ: I completely understand, it’s really hard to handle sometimes. … It’s hard, because, like, they’re your fans and it’s really nice.
KE: And you want to be gracious to your fans. If it weren’t for my fans, I’d have no future in music, you know. You just have to bite the bullet with that one.
SJ: It’s definitely different than L.A., though. I remember the whole TMZ thing. … There was a huge controversy over “Dancing with the Stars” with safety. We actually moved studios, dance studios. We had TMZ people, like, climbing trees to get pictures through the top windows! … It’s crazy.
Katelyn and Shawn reminisce about L.A.
SJ: I miss L.A. shopping.
KE: Yeah, but I don’t miss L.A. traffic and I don’t miss L.A. superficialness. There’s definitely a homey feeling about Des Moines.
On West Des Moines
KE: We have another thing in common besides reality TV: We both have the key to the city (of West Des Moines).
SJ: Yep! When they know that and stuff, they’re like, “So what does the key get you?”
KE: (Laughs). It’s nothing, it’s just an accomplishment.
SJ: An honor.
SJ: I remember back … we went to the same elementary (school and) we did the school play (“100 Years of Broadway”) together – you sang and I danced.
KE: … When you were first going to be on the Olympics … I had a flashback to you sitting on my lap in a rehearsal!
SJ: Yeah! We were in the corner of Mrs., uh, Houston…
KE: Mrs. Houston’s room! You were in fourth grade, and I was in sixth grade.
SJ: You were an amazing singer, too, back then, I remember that.
Later in the conversation:
SJ: Did you ever go to Skate West?
KE: I went to Skate West every Friday in sixth grade.
SJ: Me too!
KE: That was the place to look for cute boys or to do the cha cha slide in your roller skates …
Sophia Ahmad: What are some places you’ll always come back to visit?
SJ: Gateway Market.
KE: Mmm, mmm. Gateway Market. I like the Grand Piano Bistro. And I’ve never been here before, Blue Moon, it looks pretty nice too, it’s newer.
SJ: The Samurai Sushi place is my favorite.
KE: I just went there this week with my dad, it’s way good. I like downtown in general. …
SJ: Have you been to the Gateway Market down there?
KE: Mmm, hmm. That’s way nice. …
Ahmad: What do you guys get there?
KE: At Gateway? I get the cranberry walnut salad.
SJ: Yeah! (laughs)
KE: You do (too)?
SJ: Yes, or the cilantro lime chicken salad.
On friends, Shawn’s boyfriend
KE: What was your partner like on “Dancing with the Stars?”
SJ: My partner (Mark Ballas) was awesome, he’s like a big brother.
KE: Do you still talk to him?
SJ: Yeah, actually I talked to him today! … He’s really nice. He’s a musician. He just came out with an album.
KE: Nice! It seems like you guys had a lot of fun together.
SJ: We did. We had a great time. Did you get really close with all of the other people on “American Idol?”
KE: … Lilly (Scott), Crystal (Bowersox) and I got really, really close. … I still talk to Crystal. She’s like saying how she’s going to send me free stuff – they’re (the finalists) super spoiled now (with merchandise). I didn’t get a piece of any of that cool stuff!
Ahmad: (To Shawn) I saw that your boyfriend pulled an April Fool’s Day Joke on you. Can you talk about that?
SJ: Yeah, I didn’t even know it was April Fool’s. I got a text in the morning, and he’s like “I’m in the hospital,” and I was like “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do!” He recently had surgery, so he said that he got hurt again and needed surgery. It just wasn’t a funny joke. I freaked out. And he goes, “That’s not even the worst part,” and I was like, “Oh no, what is it?” and he goes, “That you fell for that so easily!”
KE: (Laughs). That’s awesome!
Ahmad: Can you tell us who it is?
SJ: No, I’ll keep that one a secret.
On their plans
KE: I’m working and writing an album right now. … I’m going to be visiting Nashville … moving down there (in August) and trying to tackle this beast on my own.
SJ: Do you write your own songs?
KE: Yes, I write my own music and I definitely do better when I’m in the company of other musicians and we work together. … Right now, when I work an eight-hour shift (working at a salon or nannying) and I come home to my mom’s house, it’s not really motivating to sit down and write an inspirational song, you know.
Later in the conversation:
KE: I’m really excited, I’m nervous, ’cause I’m going to literally be that typical, struggling musician. …
SJ: Yeah, but, I think with “American Idol,” that will really help you. Just with what I’ve been able to experience from “Dancing With the Stars” – I’m not even in that world and you know, I get offers all the time. It’s just a launching pad for everything. You’ll be amazed no matter what.
KE: You think so?
KE: Thank you!
SJ: I mean, you’re going to go to Nashville and they’re going to be like, “Oh yeah, you’re the ‘American Idol’ girl, we know you can sing.” It’s not like you have to prove yourself.
Ahmad: Shawn, would tell us what colleges you’re considering?
SJ: I’m looking into Stanford, Vanderbilt and Duke. It just depends on the Olympics. If I go back to the Olympics, it won’t be college for another, like, 4 or 5 years. If I don’t, then I’ll go to college next year (for fall admission). … ( I would major in) business, communications and kind of being able to go and speak and be a part of the entertainment world. … I’ve always wanted to study kinesiology. I think with gymnastics, you get a sense of that because you know your body so well.
On being a role model:
SJ: You’re thrown into the spotlight. … Every move you make is watched. It’s hard, but it’s an honor, it’s something you work for … I love the title.
KE: Definitely. Being from a small town, it’s a way to show that it doesn’t really matter where you come from, if you work hard enough then things can be accomplished. …We have all these bad decisions that we could be making because of our surroundings. I think that being in the spotlight is not only good for us to help other people, but it puts you under a microscope so it helps you better yourself as a person. You can’t make a bad decision and get away with it. You’ve got a camera somewhere or someone blabbing about it. It definitely keeps yourself in check.
On their wildest dreams:
KE: I would own my own studio and (would) be writing and selling music. And I’d be doing it with, like, multiple artists. On the show, I so often got criticized for not picking a niche for my genre, but that’s the thing, I don’t have an exact genre. … That would be the life – and owning a studio and being able to record other people once I was too old and people don’t want to look at me anymore. (Laughs.)
SJ: … I’d love to own my own chain of athletic departments. There’s a camp called Woodward, it’s an extreme sports camp. I’d love to have my own international camp.
KE: The Shawn Johnson sports camp! (Laughs)
SJ: Yeah! I’ve always wanted to host my own show. … I did some commentary for E! (Entertainment Television). I would love to host my own program.
Ahmad: What kind (of program)?
SJ: I don’t know yet, I haven’t figured that out.
Ahmad: Maybe sports or entertainment?
SJ: Yeah, a mix between both.