The dancer also opens up about her journey on the reality competition series, what people would be surprised to know about Lizzo and more.
"Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls" star Jayla Sullivan has got the "Juice" -- and she's putting her mark on the dance world.
Sullivan, a transgender dancer from Portland, Oregon, stars on Lizzo's new Amazon Prime Video series, "Watch Out for the Big Grrrls." Per Amazon Studios, the eight-episode dance competition series sees Lizzo on the "hunt for dynamic, full-figured women to join the elite ranks of the Big Grrrls and join her world tour."
The unscripted series follows 10 women, who "must prove they have what it takes to make it to the end and join Lizzo in front of a global audience on center stage."
In an interview with TooFab, Sullivan, 33, opened up about her journey on "Watch Out for the Big Grrrls," overcoming challenges as a trans and full-figured dancer, and — spoiler alert! — becoming one of Lizzo's Big Grrrl dancers.
Sullivan also shared what it means to her that Lizzo is an advocate for the LGBTQ community and women of all shapes and sizes, what people would be surprised to know about the singer and more.
Check out the full Q&A with Sullivan, below!
First off, what was/is it like working with Lizzo? What, if anything, is something people would be surprised to know about her?
It's very surreal working with somebody that you've seen and watched and appreciated from like a fan standpoint I guess, like, and appreciating the music, the artist behind everything. And it's so surreal to see how powerful she is and her work ethic. I think that one thing that people would be surprised about is what you see is really what you get. Like, there's no fakeness, it's a 100% raw and unfiltered. And we live in a society that it's all about the edit, it's all about, you know, deleting a post and changing things or putting a filter on something. And with her, it's just her. And that's something that I really didn't realize that was just so raw and so beautiful.
She's 100% that bitch! ... And she's even more beautiful in person. Like, I feel like, you know, people say that like, "Oh, you know, you look like your pictures," or "You're actually pretty." Like, she's breathtaking. And like, her heart is even purer. Like, I love her.
During one episode, Lizzo says, "It's hard to love yourself in a world that doesn't love you back." Have you felt that in your career? If so, how?
100%. Prior to transitioning, I was too big or I was too feminine, and then I started transitioning and my body was still big, so I was still too big, but then I was too masculine. So I dealt with both ends of that spectrum where it's just like, "Okay, well, my body's not good enough. My gender expression isn't good enough. I have talent, but people aren't looking at that, they're looking at me as a physical thing." And it turned into this kind of vicious cycle where, you know, something that you love turned into something that you kind of resented because you felt like you'll never would be good enough for it.
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You said that dance is your safe haven. Can you elaborate on that?
Growing up, I was bullied relentlessly. I went through a lot of hard times in middle school and high school specifically.
People are so mean.
They're so mean! It's awful. And not, I guess not necessarily understanding myself fully then and trying to figure that out and navigate life, dance was always that escape for me, where it didn't matter what was going on at home, at school. I knew that I had my friends there that understood me, even if I didn't understand myself. And when that music played, you can just kind of get enveloped in it and just live freely.
You seemed to have a rollercoaster of a journey during the competition. You fell during one challenge, injuring yourself after already having injuries. You also had to dance for your life after the next challenge. What would you say was the hardest or biggest challenge you had to overcome during your time on the show?
My biggest hurdle was myself and trying to get out of my head because there's always that negative voice that's in the back of your mind, that's telling you you're not good enough that you don't deserve something or whatever the case is. And it didn't matter what, you know, choreographers said, it didn't matter what the girl said. It didn't matter what Lizzo said. Like, I didn't believe it until I kind of had like this, like, "Aha" moment. And I realized, like, looking back that there was a lot of the experience that I helped my back myself back from for simply just not being as present for myself as I should have been.
Do you think being able to watch the show, are you almost like, "Oh, I wish I did this or wish I did that," or is it like "no regrets?"
So I wasn't even planning on watching the show to be a 100% honest. ... I'm so weird sometimes. Like, I don't even like watching videos of me dancing, and dancing is what I love. Like, if somebody shares something or tags me something, like, I'll just, like, hit tag or share or whatever and just be done with it. And obviously going through the rollercoaster of emotions and experience and everything like that ... I was like, "I don't know how things would be painted, and I know that it would be painted in the most powerful and positive light, but also I'm also my worst critic at times as well." So I think that I'm intrigued to see how everything looks in my eyes from what I've already experienced, because obviously, we walk through that path together. Yeah, I think — I'm gonna watch it.
You endured, you killed it and you made it all the way to Lizzo's show in Minneapolis (and were ultimately chosen to be a Big Grrrl). What was it like performing with Lizzo on stage for the first time? Take us back to that moment. Do you remember it?
It was a moment that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. The power that you feel on that stage dancing with the other girls and with her ... you can't even put into words. Like it just — it just radiates heat and energy and passion and because we're all doing what we love. You get a group of all these women that, again, have heard "No" over and over again, and we're all getting a "Yes." And we're all doing this, [it's] amazing. The one moment is — it was one of her slow songs — and she was singing "Jerome," and I just looked into the audience and it's all lighters and lights from the camera from, like, the iPhones and everything like that. And I started crying because I think there [were], like, 16,000 people there. And I never thought this would've been my reality and [to] actually be there and to experience that was so surreal.
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What was your reaction when you found out that you were chosen as a Big Grrrl?
Shock. I think that there was a lot of the beep, beep, beep, beep going on, like all the cuss words were coming out because, like, I was just like, "Oh my god, like, this is real!" Like, I thought I was being punked for a second. Like, I was just like, "Are you sure?" Like, it was more than I could have ever dreamed it to be.
What is coming next? Are you guys going on tour? Do you know anything yet? Can you tell us anything?
I have no idea. I know that [there are] some rumblings of some talks, but as far as I know, once I hear something, then I'll be excited about it. But as of now, I'm just kind of going to see what happens.
Last question, you all went to SXSW with Lizzo. What was that like? Lizzo ripped Texas' anti-trans legislation and their abortion ban, how does it feel to be a dancer for an artist who is an advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community as well as for women of all shapes and sizes?
It means everything to me because we're all voices that don't necessarily get to be heard. Our voices are often suppressed in the LGBTQ+ community, women of color, women of bigger bodies. We're not seen as being as valid or appreciated as other women. And to be able to dance and work side-by-side with an artist that appreciates — and not only appreciates but advocates and speaks up and speaks out for what she doesn't agree with — is something that I don't ever think that I would get used to because you don't necessarily expect everyone to just kind of rally behind you, but somebody like her to rally behind who you are and what you stand for and what she stands for, that's the power behind the message is the fact that she's willing to advocate for somebody like me.
Season 1 of "Watch Out for the Big Grrrls" is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.