How the Olympic medallist plans on owning 2019 as a media superstar…
Don’t call him an ice queen. That’s because in 2019 Adam Rippon is going to let it, er, rip by reinventing himself off the ice.
Coming off an insanely successful 2018, Rippon has retired from the figure skating world after winning a bronze medal at last year’s Winter Olympics (he was the first openly gay American athlete to win at the Winter Games).
In the process, and thanks to his sassy and witty social media presence, the 29-year-old whippersnapper captured the imagination of the world – including major celebrities and politicians. (Reese Witherspoon and Rippon are totally, like, besties now!)
Not one to rest on his laurels, the native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was quickly cast on Dancing With The Stars‘ Athlete edition. Shocker: he ended up winning that competition too! And guess what? He’s the first openly gay celebrity to do that as well.
Are you sensing a pattern here?
On the heels of scoring the show’s Mirrorball Trophy, the fan favourite was asked to co-judge the ABC spinoff DWTS: Junior opposite ballroom champ Val Chmerkovskiy and Emmy-winning choreographer Mandy Moore late last fall. To top it all off, he was named by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people (with an introduction written by Cher!), and he was honoured by the Human Rights Campaign with its Visibility Award.
Add his infectious and prank-filled friendship with fellow athlete Gus Kenworthy, and you’d probably hate Rippon if he weren’t so damn lovable and entertaining.
(What did YOU do last year?!)
So what’s next for the ambitious star? While he’s intent on finding his new passion, Rippon is dedicated to lending his support to LGBTQ+ rights and extolling the virtues of personal liberation. In the process, he is already being called a gay icon and mentor. Now if he could only do something about his shyness problem…
In an exclusive interview with IN, the oldest of six children laughs, saying, “I’m really hoping I can come out of my shell in 2019!” We spoke with the affable personality about living in Toronto at one point, the dangers of Donald Trump’s administration, why coming out is more important than ever, and his friendship with Kenworthy.
It’s nice to see a celebrity call a journalist directly without a publicist involved!
I got a phone! I might as well use it…
Is winning an Olympic bronze medal and scoring the Mirrorball Trophy on DWTS among your proudest achievements thus far? Along with being a gay icon and activist …
It’s awesome to be an Olympic medallist AND win DWTS. It’s been great to be able to accomplish that as an out gay man. However, being gay had nothing to do with those successes. Because I was able to be open and be myself, that’s why I succeeded. I hope that’s the takeaway here: if you can be your authentic self and work your ass off, those are always the best experiences. That’s one reason why it’s important for me to be out.
You came out in 2015 in Skating magazine. What was that experience like?
One of the most liberating moments of my life was coming out to friends and family, because I needed to own who I was in front of them in private conversations. I think – and I hope – everyone experiences my positive coming-out experience because when you own who you are – your best version of yourself when you are fearless and don’t care what people think of you – that’s when you will be really embraced and accepted. People can smell fear, especially when someone is hiding something. And in today’s age, it’s harder to hide because we all have access to everyone’s social media. You know what people are up to and what kind of crowds they hang out with. That’s why it’s important to be transparent. I’ve been able to do that. I’ve tried to stay true to myself … yes, I’m still a disaster and hot mess sometimes, but I have a great heart!
I know it’s cliché, but people really need to focus on their inner health because the greatest relationship you will have is with yourself. I’m glad your generation sees that. Why did you exactly decide to come out?
Because of skating, I had this amazing distraction of, ‘Oh, I’ll deal with this later. I don’t need to come out now; I need to focus on what I am doing.’ So I didn’t come out until I was 22! Which is shocking because, as a teenager, I walked around with a messenger bag and wore whatever I wanted. I was myself but I didn’t share with people or explore that side of myself. But you get to a point when you’re 22 and life takes over. You meet people and feelings bubble to the surface. What changed my life was watching other people’s coming-out stories; and how they improved their lives and relationships. Yes, sometimes they lost people along the way, but for the most part, they felt good about themselves by being their authentic selves and enjoying the freedom to live the life they wanted to live.
Simply, the courage of people who came out really inspired me to do the same. It’s tricky today because there are people who want to be gay but don’t think they have to ‘come out’ formally. There are some people who think there is no need to come out today. Unfortunately, in this time right now, where there are people who are not accepting of the LGBT+ community, it’s important that we are out and that the world at large sees we are relevant. It’s necessary because there are kids stuck in the closet [because they’re] scared their families are going to kick them out or [because] it’s illegal in their country. If you have the opportunity to share your story…that’s what coming out is at its core. To help give someone else the opportunity to see themselves in your own experience and the world didn’t end, that’s powerful. It really does get better.
When I came out, I didn’t have a large following. I enjoyed some celebrity in the skating world, which was relatively small, but it was important to me to share my story for myself. It was an opportunity to say to my younger self: ‘I’m okay now and I’m better.’ If there is another little Adam from a small town out there, I need him to know it’s okay to live in [his] skin. That’s important to me.
You’re still presumed straight until stated otherwise, so coming out is still a reality, albeit an unfair burden. Okay, let’s lighten up the mood: if your besties, Gus and Reese, were drowning and you could only save one person, who would it be?
I wouldn’t be able to choose, so I would jump in the water and drown with them!
Diplomatic answer! I really admire the friendship you have with Gus. I don’t think there are a lot of platonic gay bros out there to help dispel certain stereotypes. What kind of impact do you think your friendship has had, not only on the gay community but on the mainstream? Or have you even thought that deep into it…
I’ve thought about it a lot. One thing that is so awesome is that we’re two very different people. Sometimes when you see two people from the same community, there can be a rivalry: who do you like better; who is your favourite? [Laughs] One thing Gus and I were able to do was show that we were champions of each other and could be friends – especially within our own Olympic community. It’s cool to cheer on our fellow athletes.
One of the most incredible moments of my life was walking in the opening Olympic ceremony – not only to be able to represent America with all my peers – but also to walk out with Gus. I had just met him about a half-hour before we walked out, but I felt like I had known him forever. I related to the experiences he had gone through – and they are very different than mine, and vice versa – but at the same time, they were very similar. I remember thinking the young me would drop dead if I had known I would be at the Winter Olympic Games as an out athlete walking alongside another gay man.
What’s so interesting is that, yes, I may be more flamboyant than the next guy but I didn’t ever have to apologize for it. I know I’m a good person and I say what I mean. Being authentic, well, people respond to that. I was very grateful that Gus was also authentic and he also uses his voice. I think we were a great representation of America. I can only speak for myself but when I see Gus, as a gay guy, I am so extremely proud of him. I hope I was able to do the same.
I love how you guys poke fun at each other on social media. When he mocked your Academy Awards outfit on Halloween, I laughed my old ass off!
I almost dropped dead when I saw that post!
You famously had an encounter with the White House when you turned down an invite to meet US Vice President – and gay conversion advocate – Mike Pence not once but twice. Are you worried about present (and future) gay protections and rights under this administration? Or are you hopeful that as your country hits rock bottom, it will galvanize the community even more?
Of course I’m worried! That’s why it’s important for people across my country to use their voice and say: this stuff isn’t right. If Trump were an Olympian athlete, and he said the things he says now, he would not be allowed to go to the Games. That’s why I don’t think he’s a good representative of my country. The things he says and the way he treats people is not right. It is not the way you treat the most powerful position in the world. You should not bully people. We all know what it is like to be bullied and teased – it’s awful. That’s not how you move forward. You should not play into people’s fears, which is how this administration operates.
It’s important that Americans stand up and attend rallies. Find the candidates that really represent who you are and how we want our country and communities to be represented. Now more than ever, it’s important to use our voices – regardless if you have 10 million Instagram followers or just 10, engage and discuss issues. Even if it’s just to help a friend register to vote or to drive someone to a voting poll. When you are able to help people…that’s how a country moves forward.
What are your long-term goals? I can totally see you hosting a talk show one day. What’s your endgame, media-wise? Acting…
Skating used to be my outlet to entertain people but at the very core, I’m like a show pony. I like to be out there. I like to perform. I like to engage with people. I like to make people laugh and have serious conversations. In this last year, post-Olympics, I’ve explored many different experiences but I brought my lessons and experiences as an athlete into every single situation I’ve thrown myself in. I think the reason why I’ve been successful is that I’ve been able to carry through my successes into the next year. I hope I can carry it further into 2019. I’m really into trying as many opportunities as I can so I can see what I like, because I’ve been focused on one goal and job for 20 years. I have this post-college feeling right now – ‘I don’t know what to do!’ – and I think that’s normal. Yes, I would love to get into acting or host my own talk show.
Luckily, I have an amazing team behind me to help me take the right and next steps. I’ve been very clear about my vision and staying true to myself. And that means saying no to things, too. Especially when they want me to be the stupid, funny gay guy – and that’s not who I am. Yes, I like to say stupid things sometimes, but I am very thought out. And I mean what I say. I want to find projects where I can be myself but also be impactful.
You’ve spent some time in Canada skating. What did you think of our country?
I did! My grandmother is actually from Toronto.
That’s where I lived: in North York for two years. Which is always a fun fact. I just met the Queer Eye guys, and Antoni [Porowski] is from Montreal. I met Shawn Mendes, who is also from Canada. Whenever I meet a Canadian, it’s always a bonding experience. Toronto is one of my favourite cities. I always look back on my time in Canada so fondly.
I knew you were cool for a reason!
See, even in this interview, it’s paying off that I used to live in Toronto!
And if things ever go south down south, you can always move here! Are you binging anything these days?
When I was training, I didn’t have a lot of time to watch TV. I’m a huge YouTube person. In my life, I don’t have commitment issues but if I have to commit to a whole season of episodes, I have a fear. I’m trying to overcome that and grow and become a better person, but old habits die hard. I loved watching A Handmaid’s Tale because I’m a huge Samira Denise Wiley fan. I love watching Queer Eye, especially after meeting them. They deserve the platform they have because they are the kind of guys we need out there changing perceptions. And what kind of gay guy would I be if I didn’t watch Drag Race?
An excommunicated one!
NELSON BRANCO is the digital editor and producer for the Toronto Sun. As a contributing editor, he’s penned pieces for magazines like Hello Canada, People and TV Guide, and online sites like Huffington Post. He’s also worked as a TV producer for Breakfast TV and The Marilyn Denis Show. You can follow him at @nelliebranco.