Earlier this year, Charli D’Amelio headed to the French Riviera. She was there to attend, among other events, the amFAR Gala—a party reserved for the world’s most influential athletes, artists, and, in D’Amelio’s case, teenagers whose TikTok following alone (151 Million) surpasses the population of New Zealand some 30 times over. Also in the Côte d’Azur was 18-year-old actor and Stranger Things alum, Noah Schnapp, who seems to have eschewed fame and fortune for a more traditional route: college. It got Charli D’Amelio thinking.
In the four years it took to reach internet superstardom, Charli D’Amelio’s rise has eclipsed far beyond what she could have daydreamed as a pre-teen in Connecticut. The destination was the same—Hollywood—but in her imagination, the journey looked very different. She foresaw an undergrad degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas—even losing sleep as to whether she’d make Rebel Girls & Company, UNLV’s intercollegiate dance team. But, as they so often do, the entertainment gods had other plans. TikTok was launched in the US, and D’Amelio started dancing.
Ask any agent, publicist, or manager their dream client and they’ll describe D’Amelio: a well-mannered, all-American beauty with smattered freckles and a glowing white smile, who has talent and indisputable likeability to boot. As such, it felt inevitable that after years of popularizing TikTok choreography, Charli D’Amelio would win Dancing with the Stars. It was ‘I told you so’ vindication for anyone questioning her capacity to perform offline, but that’s not why the experience meant so much to D’Amelio. The famously grueling show is most unique in that its participants are forced to exist in a vacuum during their DWTS tenure. There is no outside world—just dance. For Charli D’Amelio, that’s about as good as it gets.
Now, like many 19-year-olds, she has some decisions to make. In a post-DWTS universe, she rejoined the influencer circuit: debuting D’Amelio Footwear, and more endorsement deals. There’s been a reality show, The D’Amelio Show, which features her parents and sister Dixie (a well-known creator in her own right), and even a recording career. Still, every day is either fevered and frenetic or totally silent—until another offer appears in an email inbox somewhere. It’s this lack of structure that has now become a sticking point.
In a recent interview, Marc D’Amelio (co-founder of the D’Amelio brands) revealed he hoped to cement an empire for sisters Dixie and Charli, specifically, “If Charli decides tomorrow that she wants to go back to school and she doesn’t want to do this.” It would be a confronting reality for the combined 200 million people watching her every move, but a powerful message to child stars everywhere: you can believe in life after (online) love. As to whether D’Amelio will renegade against reality stardom in favor of a realer life, read on.
I could list out your achievements over the past four years. But I really want to know what means the most to you. When did you feel like you could take a step back and feel really proud of yourself?
I feel like there have been a couple of those moments, especially in the past year. I think Dancing with the Stars was definitely one of the biggest accomplishments on so many levels: to prove to everyone, but also to myself, what I can do. I put in the work to make this happen and it wasn’t something that anyone could take away from me. It was the most physically and mentally exhausting thing I think I’ve ever done. The environment, my partner Mark and I just never wanted to leave. We would have to stop and be like, ‘Okay, our bodies need breaks. We’ve seen the chiropractor three times this week.’ We never wanted to stop.
How do you compare the pressure of going up against judges, experts in the field, vs. an online audience?
Honestly, no one was harder on me than myself. I think that I wanted everything to be perfect and that’s why we put so much time into training. As far as judges’ comments or live audience, that was so different than online and comments or people making videos, whatever it is, because you really get to see the reaction from the people. You get to see their faces, you get to see who they are.
Is there a route in which you could do something like this full-time?
I mean, I think that’s what I’m kind of figuring out right now. Is there a world where I could do this in a more focused way in the future? So I’m taking steps to figure out if that’s possible. It’s a little nerve-wracking too to put yourself out there like that, and I wasn’t on the show as a professional—I was on there as someone who was learning all of these new styles of dance and hadn’t trained in a very long time. It’s just so many new things all at one time that I’m still figuring out how to bridge the two.
Do you have a mentor in entertainment? Someone to help you navigate such a cut-throat industry?
Absolutely. From the very beginning, Bebe Rexha has always been someone who has had my back and is looking out for the best in me. She knows this world, and she’ll sit me down and have those talks that are like, ‘Okay, maybe it’s not the most exciting thing to hear, that there’s going to be so many ups and downs and different personalities of people to deal with.’ She’ll tell me what I need to hear to be able to do this. Honestly, Mark, my dancing partner, and his wife too, because every time I call them, it’s like a three-hour-long conversation.
Bebe Rexha, in particular, is a celebrity who has been so vocal about body shaming—how has your relationship to your body changed, while mediating that kind of criticism? You are the societal ideal of ‘perfect,’ but I’m wondering if you’ve had to sit yourself down and figure out what’s real in terms of how you perceive yourself.
Yeah, I forget that it’s been literally four years since I started. It feels like yesterday, and I still feel like that same 15-year-old. I am at a point now where I kind of separate myself in person from the person that I am online. To me, there’s Charli D’Amelio, which is who everyone online knows me as, and then there’s the Charli that my friends hang out with, who I feel is my truest self. As long as I am comfortable and feeling good about myself, it’s a lot easier to not let people online get to me. It helps you differentiate the two. As far as figuring out who I am and if I like the way I look or anything, I think it’s a good time to remind people that I’m still a 19-year-old girl figuring out what do I want to do with my life. Who do I want to be? How do I want to dress? How should I do my makeup? I think what confuses people is the fact that they think of me as a teen and it’s hard to accept that I’m not 15 anymore.
Is there a game plan for when you’re feeling out of control? Are you talking to a therapist?
I definitely go to therapy. I think that if you have the means to, it’s incredibly important to have someone to talk to that’s outside of your life and that you can be truly honest with. I also don’t really look at what people say about me anymore. I’ve said that a lot in the past, but normally I’m lying and I do actually look, but I haven’t been for a while.
No DMs, nothing? Just cold turkey?
I do from the people that actually love me for me and have supported me for a long time. But as far as hatefulness, even if I see it, it doesn’t register in my brain to have that bring me down anymore.
Your online presence is a true avatar.
It’s definitely an odd thing to feel like I live two separate lives. Sometimes I see the stuff that I’ve done and it’s so weird. I feel like I know myself as the person that I see when I wake up in the morning, not the person that’s glammed on red carpets. It’s very weird to think of those two as the same person.
I can only imagine when you’ve had so much of your youth documented, that it must feel like such a massive disconnect between who that person was and who you are now.
Yeah, it’s very hard to connect. Honestly, it’s better that way. Sometimes I look back at things that I’ve done in the past, amazing things, and what I really sit and think about is the number of people that watched that or saw it.
Do you ever cringe?
I cannot look at a video of me talking or old TikToks from when I was 15. It is the most embarrassing thing in the world, and that’s just on the internet forever. My voice!
A content creator friend of mine said to me, “If I stop, it all goes away.” Do you feel similarly, like, what happens if I get off the treadmill?
I probably should think a little bit more that way. Sometimes I just go a long time without posting or using the Internet at all, and I forget that. Definitely, in the back of my mind, I know one day this could all go away, but I feel like that’s why it’s important to be more in the moment and not worry about what’s to come. I have no idea. 10 years ago, I thought my life would be completely different.
What would you tell the 14-year-old Charli knowing what you know now?
Well, I mean, I was in eighth grade and had planned the rest of my life out. I would tell myself to calm down. I was stressing out if I was going to make a dance team four years before I could audition. My dream was to be a backup dancer for someone. That wasn’t what ended up happening, but I still love what I do, and I caused myself a lot of stress that I didn’t need for no reason because then this happened.
I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of you becoming a backup dancer, leaving everything behind to go on tour with Taylor Swift.
That was the dream for a very, very long time.
When TikTok was taking off, did you feel like you had to let go of that idea? Was there a moment that felt like a shift?
Everything was so out of control for such a long time. I don’t even think I could register, ‘What do I want to do? What will be my career?’ Post-DWTS is the most confusing thing in the world. You spend three months with somebody every single day, seven days a week. There’s not a day off, not one single day off. You’re training all day, and then it’s just over. After the finale, I felt like I was missing something. Like there was somewhere I had to be and I’m late. I missed it more than anything, I still do.
You miss the structure?
Especially with everything that I’m doing now, every day is so different and there’s absolutely zero structure in my life. That’s the hardest thing to adjust to.
What’s it like when you’re out in public? Are you able to go under the radar?
It depends where I am, but honestly, my new thing has just been telling people I’m Dixie, which is super fun to watch happen. I could go somewhere and not one person knows who I am, or a lot of people will, so I never really know what to expect.
What’s it been like to have a sister going through something so similar at the same time? Is it tough to hold each other up when you’re both in need of support?
Dixie and I actually have this really, really weird thing that we’ve recently discovered that if we have a shoot or something and I’m having a great day, she’s either injured or she has a migraine. Then the second she starts to feel better, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m tired.’ We’re never on the same page. It’s honestly good because one of us can carry whatever we’re doing, while the other person is doing their best. It’s nice to have someone to take the weight off of you. Whenever one is feeling a certain way, the other can balance it out.
It must also feel like it must prevent that feeling of, ‘I’m so special.’
It’s very humbling to spend so much time with your older sister because, well, no one in my family will hesitate to put me in my place. It’s a lot less pressure to have everything balanced between four people.
I can only imagine now that you’re spending so much time around the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, it must be nice to see up close that there’s a sense of longevity in this business when you stay together as a family unit.
When you have so many people talking about who you are as people, that family structure is so important. With them all, I think they’ve been nothing but sweet to my family and so inviting and welcoming. It’s nice to have other people that understand what it is. We’ve all been very lucky to spend time together and really get to hear that [no matter what’s happening], it doesn’t have to ruin who you are or the family unit. Obviously, Dixie and I will fight because we’re sisters and that’s just inevitable. No matter what, we will have each other’s backs, so it’s nice to know that both can happen at the same time.
You’ve had two public relationships now. How has that been in the sense of maintaining your privacy, protecting yourself, protecting this partnership?
It’s one of those things where I don’t have to post about my relationships with anyone to prove that they are still in my life. It’s not giving [the public] everything. And then the opportunity for them to dictate what happens in the relationship. Personally, it is not fair to let people online cause issues because of speculation.
It’s like the studies that say the less you post your partner generally the healthier the relationship is. There’s a correlation.
In our situation, it’s kind of like we won’t post together, and then we’ll do a photoshoot together, so we’ve got a little of both sides. Then again, there’s so much that the internet doesn’t see. That’s just so special for us.
Do you feel like you’ve had to grow up faster than if you’d just gone to Nevada?
I think I’m at a point now where so much of the unexpected has happened to me that I feel like anything could happen. I was a very anxiety-filled child, always trying to be a million steps ahead. I feel like now that’s why I try to do as much as I can without responsibility, because not having to worry about anything is very refreshing. In theory, I would love to be hands-off. In reality, it’s so much more stressful to be hands-off. I want to know everything. I want to know exactly what I’m getting myself into and exactly what needs to be done at all times.
What a hectic four years.
Very, very wild to me too.
Photographed by Fabien Montique
Styled by Mui-Hai Chu
Written by Beatrice Hazlehurst
Nails: Brittney Boyce
Retouching: Sam Retouch
Flaunt Film: Isaac Dektor
Photo Assistant: Philip Skoczkowski
Production Assistant: Khami Auerbach
Location: Hubble Studio