Stars on Ice Cast Shares Its Favorite Memories While on Tour
After a pressure-packed season, the cast of Stars on Ice was ready to simply have fun. Cue the Stars on Ice tour.
Composed of the majority of the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team as well as two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu, Stars on Ice toured from mid-April to the end of May, stopping in 24 cities across the country. The show featured individual performances from each athlete as well as four group numbers.
On the final night of the tour in Portland, Oregon, cast members shared what the tour was like behind the curtain, the special family dynamic of the group and the fun moments they shared off the ice.
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It seems like you all really enjoyed this tour. Why?
Alexa Knierim: In my opinion, it's the connection that we've established over the course of over eight years together. It's not just this last season. We all went to the Olympics together and went on tour. We've literally all grown up together. I think throughout all these years together, we've been able to witness each other grow and being here, accomplishing our dreams together, and seeing everyone overcome their own demons, has made our bond that much more authentic.
Zachary Donohue: It's nice too because we haven't really been forced to fly or travel. We've all been together for the most part. Being on a bus and waking up and having breakfast and getting to explore the city, it takes you out of the skating side of things and you really just get to focus on who the people are and the friendships that come out of that.
Alysa Liu: I just like hanging out with everybody and spending time with everyone. We share time on the bus. We do fun things, besides doing the show together, so it's really fun being with everyone.
One of the things about this group, you all seem very close and like a family. What's the dynamic of this group like?
Nathan Chen: I think for one because we've all grown up skating with each other. With the exception of a couple, the majority of us grew up on the Junior Grand Prix series together. We went to Nationals in juniors and then moved up to seniors around the same time roughly, so we've just known each other for a very long time. We've gone to a lot of internationals together, roomed together, have our own little relationships besides being a part of this group, and then going to the Olympics together – in 2018 with Mirai and then 2022 with everyone else – the Olympics is such an impactful moment in our lives that to be able to share with that people that are having that same impactful moment of course creates a bond that you can't really find anywhere else. And then now we're getting the chance to tour together. It's been two months together – it really just solidifies those relationships.
Mirai Nagasu: I think terms like inclusivity and acceptance are really important in society these days and so to see it implemented and practiced and to really feel like we are a family, even though most of the time, I'm retired now, so I really only get to see my skater friends at things like this, and so to see inclusivity and acceptance really practiced here has been something that means a great deal to all of us.
Jason Brown: I think what's so cool is you take these group of athletes and one of the things that's really unique is we're all in our 20s or older, besides Alysa. Alysa is kind of like our younger sibling and I think it's so fun to get to share the experience with her and see it through her eyes. I laugh. Alysa's like the perfect example of a rookie and a veteran all in one. To get to share that with her and take her along for the ride and really bond with her as our little sibling, and then we're like this one insane family and we've grown up together in the sport. So many of us I grew up a few years behind or we were all on junior circuit together 12 years ago. Just to say 12 years ago, it's crazy! So we've really been through it together and I think that just breeds that family dynamic. I think as well as we've all had a lot of experience doing shows and some of us are new doing shows and so it's awesome bringing people in and teaching them and being the leaders and helping along the way. We've made it a real point on this tour to really get together in the different cities that we're in and really use that time to go out to dinners. We've gone to do so many exciting excursions and fun things as a group, and so it's been really special.
What are some of your favorite off-ice memories from this tour?
Madison Hubbell: That's tough. There are such these beautiful, small moments all together on the bus. I think one of my favorite moments was going on our days off into New York City and I went with Mirai and Alexa and I got my ears pierced with them. I have to mention that I went with three of the castmates and picked out my wedding dress in San Francisco. … The wedding dress and the selection can be kind of a big deal. I think that I'd gone to two other boutiques over the years and went recently with my mom and best friend in Detroit and the dresses just weren't my style. So, over the course of looking and keeping things on Instagram, I realized that a lot of the things that I was saving were from the same bridal boutique in San Francisco, so I looked up the distance, and I was like, we have a day off. So finally I just booked my car and was like, I don't know if anyone will be able to go with me, but it ended up being Kaitlin [Hawayek], Jean-Luc [Baker] and Mirai that went with me and it was just to look and see if I really liked the style I thought I did, but I tried one on and I just felt like it was the right one, so we said yes to the dress. We have the photo all together with the sign. It was so cute. Jean-Luc was trying not to get in it. I was like, "Come on, Jean-Luc! You have to get in here!"
Evan Bates: We did a lot of fun stuff on tour. I think the Elton John concert was really special and one of the most memorable nights on tour. … That was really cool. The fact that he gave Nathan a shoutout, we were all just losing our minds. It was so memorable.
Alysa Liu: Probably Disney World. That was fun. We all went, and we did the rides and we could go as many times as we wanted, so that was fun.
Mirai Nagasu: As a 29-year-old to really feel like a little kid at Disney World and I think our tour manager has really gone out of his way to make sure that – our entire lives have been catered towards skating – so to have these opportunities to go to a baseball game, a hockey game, to have Elton John shout Nathan out, that really meant a lot to us. We've been signing our programs for each other and Alysa has been calling them her yearbook, and it really truly is our yearbook because she's already graduated high school at 16, so I think that to have this experience, this is not normal for a day-to-day person, but for it to tie in what a 16-year-old would experience, but Olympian style, I think that is really special to us.
Alexa Knierim: [The night before the last show] is going to be one of my favorite memories because we literally sat on the bus talking about our favorite moments of this tour and hearing everybody reminisce and bring up moments that you forgot because we've been together for so long on this tour, made the moment even more special because you just sat there within the three hour bus ride and remembered all the wonderful things that we did together.
In the leadup to the show, how to rehearsals go and learning the show?
Madison Hubbell: Three days to learn the show. Zach and I were fortunate in this case because a lot of the cast had already done some of the show in Japan, so we were able to kind of just insert ourselves, but in general, you think you're really ahead on the first day and you finish and you always have this misconception like, "We learned almost all the show! We're going to be great tomorrow!" But what happens is your brain is soup, so when you show up the next day, it's starting from square one almost. So it's a lot of effort, obviously, and a lot of teamwork and I think that's also what bonds us is the ability for all of us to come together and as competitors, go and say, "Hey I'm pointing out that this thing needed work" or "This thing wasn't quite right" and we're all open to receiving each other's comments because we want the show to be fun and enjoyable for everyone. So it's exhausting, but it's a really good bonding experience.
What is your favorite part of the show?
Brandon Frazier: I would have to say it's been doing the group numbers – working with everyone and doing these big production numbers together. It's rare that you get the chance to get to be able to skate with all these guys in the same number, so my favorite part on the ice has been able to share that experience with everyone. … They each are fun in their own way. We have four amazing group numbers. Wonderful World is way more sentimental and meaningful to us all and the AC/DC is where all of our energy just comes pouring out. And then I would have to say the Weeknd is our definition of how fun we all are as a group. And then Elton John it all comes to an end and we're showing everyone our natural, genuine selves with one another. It's great.
Vincent Zhou: My favorite part of the show on the ice has to be the boys skate in the Weeknd because we get to skate fast, which doesn't typically happen when everyone's on the ice together. That's super exciting. It's groovy. I like it a lot.
Jean-Luc Baker: I think it would be different if we were fulltime cast members, but since we're guest cast members, honestly just the very, very ending when we're all on the ice together. I think that being able to share what we love, not just with one another but with all our best friends, I think that's the most fun.
Kaitlin Hawayek: For me it's probably the opposite. We're not part of the opening number, but before we get on the ice, we all congregate in the tunnel before they go to skate and there's these things called goodies that everybody does, which is basically a name for a handshake or something funny, and each person has one individually with one another, so we all go through and do our goodies with everyone and it's just something different we don't usually do when we're at competitions, so that's been fun to experience and figure out what you want to do with everyone.
Nathan, the finale is a compilation of Elton John songs. Being that your free skate was to Elton John, what does it mean to close the show to it?
Nathan Chen: I love this program. I've been performing it for the good part of two years, so it's something that I'm really comfortable skating to. And then to tie in the whole Elton piece to the rest of it and add that to the finale is really cool. To have the whole group skating together to Elton to music that I'm not skating to is really cool. Elton of course means a lot to me and his music and to be able to perform to his music to the have the whole cast skate to it is really cool.
Were there any funny moments where things didn't' go as planned?
Karen Chen: We've had a few group number falls that have been so funny. I made a little compilation that I sent to the group chat and honestly, I want to have an epic fall in the group number [Laughs]. I've been telling everybody this: "You know, if we just put a feather where I'm supposed to stop and I just trip and faceplant, I'm totally okay with that" because it's so funny. I'm okay with embarrassing myself.
Mariah Bell: There was this one time. It was just in dress rehearsal, but we laugh about it all the time. Alexa has a quick change, so me and Madi Chock, Mirai, Alysa and the wardrobe lady are helping her change quickly. There was one time where her skirt was on backwards, but there is a slit up the side, so there was a slit in the back of the skirt since it was on backwards and we were laughing so hard. And she was laughing. But luckily it was just a dress rehearsal. And then our choreographer – Jeffrey Buttle – we could hear him from way up high watching and laughing. And then once I did go the wrong way. We had a bunch of skating people there from U.S. Figure Skating in San Jose and in Anaheim, and I was so into my program. I finish and I just skated off and there was no curtain and I was like, "What? Where's the curtain?" And then the spotlight was to the curtain over there and I was like, "Oh, I have to go there!" Everyone was laughing.
What appeals to you about show skating?
Kaitlin Hawayek: Everything because as skaters, we love to push boundaries as artists, but it is a sport still, so when we're competing, there's certain regulations and parameters we have to stay within, so diving into the show world side of things, it's pretty much a blank canvas. There are no regulations. There are no requirements. You can choose whatever music and style you want, so we have a lot of fun. We try to push the boundaries, not only with choreography and music, but also costuming. We have a really nice time having this creative outlet. [Jean-Luc and I] also choreograph our show programs ourselves versus when we do competitive programs we work; with a choreographer, so it's an opportunity to dive into our creativity fully.
Evan Bates: Making people happy. Really in a show environment, I feel that a lot more than in the competition just because we're so focused on what we're doing and in the show we're more focused on how the audience is feeling and we can literally look out and see their faces and when you see that you're making people happy, that's the best feeling as a performer.
Madison Chock: Of course, there's no technical pressure of executing elements, so that's completely different already, but just the lights and the dramatic effect that the scenery can enhance your performance is really special and there's something so fun about being under the spotlight and performing and really wanting to give the audience a show.
Jason Brown: I love shows so much. I think for me, I've always wanted to bring the difficulty and the dynamics of competition and bring that to show skating. Really go after really difficult, intricate moves while also you have more artistic freedom to really play and sell it to the crowd. So I really love drawing that in. It's been really fun. I've done "Sinnerman," which I did as my short program, on this tour, but we adapted it to a show program, so we really emphasize certain moments and made it really dynamic and different and special in its own way outside of the that competitive realm but keeping it very technical when it comes to the footwork and certain elements and the spins. So I don't take anything for granted. The shows are tough. My programs are so hard and I really trained for this show, but I think I just love being out in front of an audience and making them smile, making them just sit back for a moment and enjoy skating. If I could bring in more skating fans and more people that are just excited about the sport, then I am so happy. Each time I step out on the ice, I try to look at it as a chance to draw more people in, get people excited as well as just pour my heart out for the crowd and give them a performance that they'll remember.
Before the shows, there is a Q&A hosted by Jason and Mariah. What are those like?
Mariah Bell: Jason and I go way back. We've been friends for such a long time, and we love talking. So we have no problem. We could talk to each other the whole time if no one asks questions. The Q&As have been awesome. We get lots of really great questions are really in depth and then we get lots of fun questions like "What's your favorite color?" or "What's your favorite animal?" I love feeding off of his energy. The people are really into it, so it's a fun way to connect with the audience.
Talk to me about the costumes on this tour.
Mariah Bell: It's been amazing. The costumes have gone seamlessly. They've been super easy. I want to buy them. I'm like, "Can I buy them?" They're like, "No, we keep them in circulation." I'm like, "Dang it!" I would use them again. They're so awesome. It's so cool though because they do keep all the costumes for future stars and you can read who was in your costume from before, so you can be like, "Oh this was Sasha Cohen's or Michelle Kwan's." It's so cool, so they keep them for that.
What is your favorite city you stopped in and why?
Vincent Zhou: Of course it has to be San Jose. I was born in San Jose. I got to see my parents there. My parents were actually at three shows, but I got to go home there and that's where U.S. Figure Skating flew out all the coaches to have that special Olympic reception afterwards. I got to see some really special people. That was a great night.
Jean-Luc Baker: For me, Seattle 100%. It's home for me. The audience was phenomenal. They showed up. They were so loud, and just being able to skate in front of my home crowd is so cool.
Zachary Donohue: I think for me it's probably a tie between anywhere in California – from the time you wake up and you get in the sun, it's amazing, so I just like the feeling of walking around in that air – but also Florida for us before tour actually really got going.
What's it been like to have fans back in the stands?
Madison Chock: Incredible. There's nothing like performing for a live audience in my opinion and there's nothing like seeing skating live as opposed to on tv. So in that regard, it makes it all the more special and because people haven't been able to come to shows and we haven't been able to perform in shows, it was a lot of built-up energy that's ready to explode every time we do a show.
Brandon Frazier: It's great to have it back. If there's one thing the pandemic has shined light on, it's how much you enjoy performing in front of people. When we had to perform during the first season of the pandemic, you could feel that energy shift of not being able to perform in front of a live audience. So whether in competition or a show, it's great to be able to entertain a live audience.
Karen Chen: It's been so great. It's such a highlight for me when I skate out there and I hear the crowd cheering and especially during the bows, we bow to one side and they cheer and then the other side, it's such a cool experience. … The spotlight being on us and us panting a little bit, it feels like such a movie moment.