JoJo Is Leaving Imposter Syndrome BackstageIt’s "too little too late" for anyone to stop her.
Joanna “JoJo” Levesque wears a shimmering rhinestone-encrusted corset that dazzles in the light as she descends over the crowd at the Al Hirschfeld Theater on April 11. A deafening roar erupts from the crowd below as the star makes her debut as Satine in the Broadway rendition of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Months of vocal lessons, dance lessons, and rounds of auditions led up to this very moment. And it’s well worth it for the multi-hyphenate singer and actor.
Having been in the spotlight since she was 13 years old, JoJo is no stranger to hard work or long days at the office. In fact, with five albums, half a dozen tours, and tons of acting credits to her name, there was perhaps only one challenge left for this theater-kid-turned-international-superstar: Broadway. And that makes her first foray into the world of musical theater even more impressive. It’s the first role she’s won—and likely won’t be the last.
We caught up with the star a few days after her opening night to chat about imposter syndrome, fear, and the best thing she’s ever learned in therapy.
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WM: How did you deal with self-doubt during the auditioning and rehearsal process for Moulin Rouge?
JoJo: I definitely had some imposter syndrome going on because I'm like, these performers that are here on Broadway have been auditioning and dedicating themselves to musical theater for so long, and even though I grew up a musical theater kid, I deviated and went into the pop world and R&B and all these things. So I was like, Do I even belong? Do I deserve to be here? I definitely had those thoughts in my mind.
But when those thoughts came up, I sat with them and then I made a conscious effort to challenge them, and I reminded myself I've been working my whole life. Everything that I've experienced and all the work I've put in has prepared me for this moment, and I'm right where I'm meant to be. So I just challenged those negative thoughts.
But I reminded myself that sometimes when those thoughts come in, it's because part of you is trying to protect yourself because you don't want to feel, you don't want to get hurt, and I just am trying to really throw myself into a new experience and take it for what it is and have fun, because you don't need to hold everything so tightly.
I'm just trying to find the fun and the flow.
WM: You said you were a little nervous on opening night. What did you do backstage to help assuage that fear?
JL: I meditated, actually. I did a 15-minute meditation, and I focused on non-judgment and on when those thoughts come into my head to thank them and say, "I don't need you." I love using the Calm app, and sometimes I'll do a guided meditation, and that really helps me to focus on my breathing because my anxiety can manifest physically sometimes in my heart racing, thumping in my chest, feeling like there's a frog in my throat. But I use all the tools that I can possibly use. I get into my body and out of my mind.
I do think there are so many more benefits to working out than just looking a certain way. That's secondary, actually, to all the mental and emotional benefits that can come from that. So I had a great workout that day. I walked my dog, made sure she was good, and then came here. And I tried to just believe that all the preparation was enough and I trusted the process.
WM: You've been open about therapy and medication as a part of your mental health routine. Would you be open to talking more about your journey with antidepressants and why you made the decision to restart after stopping?
JL: My journey with antidepressants started when I was in my early 20s and I needed some support, and my therapist recommended that, given the situation that I was in and all the different ways in which I felt like I was kind of drowning—whether in my career, in my family life, in my personal life—I just needed a little help. And I'm grateful that I had that resource to lean on at the time.
I personally didn't feel that I needed to be on something for the rest of my life. I think that what I was going through was more situational, and I think it can be a great resource for people. And I chose to start them again when I had stopped them for a little while, and now it's been over a year that I have not been on them, and I know that that's the right choice for me.
In my early 20s, I didn't have the other coping skills I now have in my early 30s. … I think going that route is what's appropriate for me now. And I wouldn't judge myself if I needed to get on them again, but I feel [I’m] in a very strong and balanced place right now.
WM: What's the best thing that you've learned in therapy?
JL: The best thing that I've learned in therapy is that I think depression can really set in for a lot of us when we're abandoning ourselves, when we are not being true to our needs, our desires, our wants.
When we're trying to be something else for somebody else, that's when we just fragment and we feel disconnected. And that can lead to anxiety and depression. So I think that recognizing that and then trying to integrate all the parts of myself—including myself from my 20s that I still judge a lot [because] I hurt people and I hurt myself, but it was because I was so deeply hurt. So accepting and integrating all those different sides of yourself and those people that you've been through your life, that's something that I'm learning with my therapist and embracing.
WM: What moment in your mental health journey are you most proud of?
JL: I would say the moment that I'm most proud of is sticking with a decision that I made to honor myself and not go backward, but stay firm, and stay firm in a decision for my future self—not because it feels good in the moment. Because it actually doesn't feel good in the moment to do something hard. Whether it's saying goodbye to somebody to make space for something new, it doesn't always feel good in the moment, but in therapy, reminding yourself of why you're making a certain decision and reminding yourself of that reason when it gets hard [is important].
Historically, I've been the type of person that goes back on her decisions and does what feels good in the moment. Well, what feels good in the moment isn't always good for the long term.
WM: If you could talk to yourself as a friend, what would you tell yourself right now?
JL: I would tell myself how proud I am of how far I've come. Yeah, that's what I'd say.
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