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Dancing with the Stars’ Jeannie Mai on how Madonna taught her to speak English

Jeannie Mai from Dancing with the Stars
Jeannie Mai from Dancing with the Stars. Pic credit: Laretta Houston/ABC

Last week Dancing with the Stars held an ‘80s-themed night for Season 29 of the ABC competition show, and there was a lot of fun reveals amid the colorful fashion and retro music of the era.

One of those was the fact that Jeannie Mai’s family as immigrants to the U.S. learned to speak English – or at least were helped along the way — from the ‘80s catalog of songs including Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Journey, Pink Floyd, the Doors, Go-Gos, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and The Cure.

Jeannie Mai on Dancing with the Stars

“All of these songs I know because of my family,” Jeannie told Monsters & Critics.

“My uncle and father were into rock ‘n’ roll, my mother was a pop lover, and they knew how to sing all these words. I was the one that transcribed it. I was the one who sat down and wrote all the lyrics out.

“So, it was a very special bonding moment for my family, and it also goes to show how impressionable American music is, America is. You can’t be Madonna or New Kids on the Block if you’re not American. That is so beautiful about this country.”

In fact, Jeannie and her professional partner Brandon Armstrong performed a jazz dance to Madonna’s Like a Virgin for ’80s night, earning three eights from judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Derek Hough, and Bruno Tonioli for a total of 24 out of a possible 30 points.

But more exciting for Jeannie was the fact that Carrie Ann called her the “most exciting performer to watch.”

In this interview, Jeannie talks about what that comment meant to her, how she is learning to trust Brandon, and a controversial statement she made a few weeks earlier about planning to “submit” to her fiancé Jeezy after they get married.

Jeannie Mai interview

Monsters & Critics: How do you feel this week taking on Madonna?

Jeannie Mai: First of all, to emulate an iconic legend; that already has a pressure to itself. But, I also was carrying some weight from the 7s from last week. Boohoo, of course, 7 is still a great score, but I could have done better.

I have problems with my focus. So, this week, not only was it about perfecting the art of jazz, making sure to nail the cleanliness of the moves, but to listen to Brandon and to start leaning more into his advice, because I stray from it and, come show day, it is just a big mess.

This week, the work for me was consistent, and we were consistent when we found our ride, and we just rode it through.

M&C: Carrie Ann mentioned that you are the most exciting performer to watch. What did that mean to you at this stage in the competition where it is getting harder?

Jeannie: It is the first time I had a full-circle experience with not only what Brandon here – I have always said he is very wise for his young age – what he has always advised me, plus what I love to do.

Brandon has always told me, “Stop thinking so much about the actual counts of the routine. If you fill this room with emotion, if you make people feel what you are dancing, I will be proud. You will have done such a great job. It doesn’t matter if the dance is perfect.”

And then I think about why I am a television personality. I love to reach out and touch that person on the couch and let them know, “I see you. You are heard. You are worthy. Your word matters here.” I love doing that.

With dance, I thought I was just competing and not looking like a clumsy person on the dance floor, but I realized you can do the same type of reach out and touch somebody through dance if you just know how to have fun and fill the room with emotion rather than focus so much on the dance.

Jeannie Mai, Brandon Armstrong Pic credit: ABC/Eric McCandless

M&C: Talking about forming a connection and trust with Brandon, especially for lifts?

Jeannie: I learned that everything is a partnership. I learned that in order to give Brandon the best lifting power, you’ve got to clench your butt. When you clench your butt, your body freezes up, and it stays nice and stiff.

Otherwise, you’re wobbly, and you’re falling out, and he is struggling to keep me up there. I got a butt workout from that performance.

M&C: You said when you get married, you are going to submit to Jeezy. What do you mean by that?

Jeannie: I am more of a powerful woman because I understand my power of choice and that I would like to appreciate my man’s role by giving him the ability to make decisions for us.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t factor in my thoughts and my wishes, and it doesn’t mean that I’m any less equal than him. It means that I’m saying, “I trust you.”

So, in order for us to make the music we can together — in order for us to do our dance in life — I have to allow him to be the framework for our marriage and our life.

He knows enough to ask me the questions to incorporate what I want to build into the vision for us together. I am so excited to submit because, in my life, I am such a boss — I’m a boss in the way I wake up, the jobs that I choose, my career path, the people I hang out with, even where to eat and what to do in one 24-hour day is all my decision.

When I come home to see my King, he’ll say, “You know what, I know Jeannie. She just came home from a long, live dance routine. She’s going to want a pizza. She’s going to want her feet rubbed. She’s going to want to just go to bed early.”

Whatever it may be. I love knowing that we built this relationship where he can take care of me, and I can take care of him.

M&C: Have you set the date for the wedding, or are you waiting for COVID to pass?

Jeannie: We definitely have a date in mind. It is starting to come together.

M&C: We have seen everyone do fast and slow dances over the past five weeks. It seems you are more confident with the fast dances. Would you agree with that? Are you excited to take on more styles?

Jeannie: I would say yes, but the Viennese Waltz was one of our best dances.

M&C: What about contemporary?

Jeannie: You are saying the dance that Brandon — he wants me to do so bad. That he says is the No. 1 style of dance on Dancing with the Stars.

I have a lot to learn because not only do I think it looks so out of the box for me, but I am also, “What’s so great about it?”

But then when I see people like Johnny Weir just kill it, I am, “Oh!” But the thing is, there is so much attention in just like this little fingertip, there is so much attention in your eye gaze, there is so much attention in your knees, there is so much it intimidates me.

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.

Paulette Cohn


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