Leigha Sanderson always wanted to dance, but it was never going to be easy for her. Sanderson, 16, was born with spina bifida, a congenital birth defect in which the spinal cord fails to form properly. She spent her early years in and out of the hospital, undergoing dozens of surgeries; she still regularly struggles with pain and bladder infections, and since she was five, has used a catheter to go to the bathroom. “The school nurse was my best friend growing up,” she says.
Around 2013, when Sanderson was six or seven, she started taking classes at the dance studio Beyond Belief, owned by Justin Johnson, perhaps best known as drag queen Alyssa Edwards on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Sanderson became a star, dominating the competitive dance circuit despite her medical condition, appearing on Johnson’s Netflix show Dancing Queen and competing with Beyond Belief in a 2021 episode of America’s Got Talent.
In 2021, when Sanderson was 14, Johnson took her aside and told her that he had submitted her to audition for the upcoming reality TV competition Siwas Dance Pop Revolution, hosted by the powerhouse pop star, dancer, and Gen Z icon JoJo Siwa. As the culmination of the reality show, Siwa and her mother Jessalynn were putting together a pop group.
The band, XOMG Pop!, would be positioned as the next big girl group bound for the charts, a viable competitor to bands like KidzBop. Sanderson was thrilled. She was a huge fan of Jojo, having watched her breakthrough turn on the TV franchise Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition and then Dance Moms, where JoJo quickly became a fan favorite with her spunky Midwestern personality and her omnipresent bows.
Jojo parlayed her fame from the show into a career as an actor, influencer, and pop star, signing with Nickelodeon, embarking on a global tour, and rolling out her own merchandise, including JoJo-branded books, dolls, accessories, and clothing. Her candy-colored aesthetic, combined with her cheery, frenetic persona, earned her a devoted following among young girls in particular, who referred to themselves as “Siwanatorz.”
In 2021, Siwa came out as queer, and the now-20-year-old has since become a prominent Gen Z LGBTQ activist and social media influencer, with more than 45.5 million followers on TikTok. On social media, she appears to be entering a more mature phase of her career, garnering tabloid attention for her relationships with influencer exes Avery Cyrus and Kylie Prew, and debuting a more monochromatic, punk-influenced aesthetic; this January, she was announced as a judge for the panel on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.
JoJo’s mother, Jessalynn, a former dance studio owner from Omaha, Nebraska, has played an integral part in crafting her lore. On Dance Moms, Jessalyn leaned into the role of cutthroat stage mother — bleaching her daughter’s hair, crafting her trademark handmade bows, and often getting into intense confrontations with dance instructor Abby Lee Miller. After JoJo signed with Nickelodeon in 2017, Jessalyn continued to work closely with her to help fulfill her dream of becoming, as Jessalyn told Rolling Stone, “the next Hannah Montana.”
Sanderson, to an extent, shared that dream. She was a longtime fan of JoJo’s, having watched her on Dance Moms: “She was definitely someone I looked up to,” she says. Because she had previously appeared on Dancing Queen, she was somewhat familiar with the rigors of reality television. Shooting it had been a positive experience, and Leigha believed that if she won a spot in the Siwas’ pop group, it could help her achieve dreams of global superstardom.
Sanderson’s mother, Anjie, had some reservations: because Leigha was a minor, Anjie would have to leave her other three older kids behind in Texas to accompany Leigha to Los Angeles. She’d also have to shut down the day care center she owned. But she and her husband, Cody, talked it over, and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “A person with spina bidifa shouldn’t be able to do the things that she’s doing,” Cody says. “We never know, from day to day, if this may be her last time to step on stage. So we have to take every opportunity we can.“
In the early spring of 2021, Anjie and Leigha flew to L.A. to appear in the series. The two years that followed, according to the Sandersons, were the exact opposite of what Leigha had dreamed about as a little girl.
The Sandersons, as well as multiple sources close to the production, allege that the Siwas subjected the children to grueling rehearsals, sometimes foregoing school breaks, with meager compensation. They also allege Sanderson was forced to work under intense physical duress, with Jessalyn encouraging her to attend a video shoot just a few weeks after she underwent spinal cord surgery. In one instance, just days before the surgery, they allege, Leigha started bleeding through her belly button during a rehearsal for a performance at the Children’s and Family Emmys, which was hosted by JoJo. Rather than encourage her to take a break, the Sandersons say, Jessalyn told her to put a maxi pad on it, so it wouldn’t leak onto her costume.
For the first time, Anjie and Leigha Sanderson are speaking out, talking exclusively to Rolling Stone about their almost two-year stint in XOMG Pop. They allege that Jessalyn was overtly cruel to their young charges, calling them names and, in one instance, shaming them for having a disability. (The contestant who was the target of the alleged verbal abuse did not return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.) JoJo, meanwhile, could also be nasty and domineering, according to sources, a sharp contrast from her upbeat on-screen persona. At one point, they allege, she screamed insults at the girls during a performance; they also allege that she played a role in helping to build a cutthroat environment long after the cameras were gone, playing favorites and pitting members against each other.
In addition to the Sandersons, Rolling Stone spoke with multiple sources close to the production of Dance Pop Revolution and the Siwas; we also reviewed more than two dozen documents related to XOMG Pop! and Siwas Dance Pop Revolution, including contractual agreements, text messages, and emails. The sources allege that the Siwas and the producers dangled the carrot of stardom in front of the young XOMG Pop! members, only to berate them and encourage them to cry on camera. The moms and kids would “come home and have a candy basket and a Nintendo Switch in their hotel room after being (messed) with all day,” a source close to production told Rolling Stone. “The highs were high, and the lows were low.” (A representative for the production company behind Siwas Dance Pop Revolution, disputes this, saying the children were not given gifts, nor were they encouraged to cry.”)
When Anjie raised her concerns about XOMG Pop! with the other mothers and a studio teacher, the Sandersons say, they told Jessalyn, and Leigha was abruptly fired from the group.
“Leigha and I were in a dark, dark place for months and months that I don’t think we were healthy enough to speak out about,” Anjie says. “Now that we’ve had time to recover and heal from it, we’re in a place where we are ready to share and tell people about everything.”
In response to a list of detailed questions, the Siwas denied the allegations via their counsel, entertainment attorney Bryan Freedman, saying the abuse came from Anjie. “These allegations are 100 percent provably false,” the statement reads. “Voluminous and irrefutable evidence (will) tell you all you need to know — that a disgruntled momager’s own abusive behavior caused for her daughter to be asked not to return to the group.” (His full statement is shared at the end of the article.)
Freedman referred to Leigha Sanderson’s termination as “Jess Siwa (protecting) the staff, the other girls and their families which she will continue to do vociferously and unapologetically.” They did not respond to allegations unrelated to the Sandersons, or questions regarding why so many former members of the group had left.
THROUGH TREACLY POP SONGS like “Party Like a Pop Star,” “Candy Hearts,” and “Disco Believer,” XOMG Pop! developed a loyal fan base of tweens and young teens, garnering more than 15 million followers across social platforms and 50 million views on TikTok. In November 2023, they released a Christmas EP with Meghan Trainor, giving the group more mainstream industry cache.
Like Siwa, XOMG Pop! has also benefited from an enormous merchandising rollout targeted at the tween market, including XOMG Pop! clothing, accessories, and bedding sold on Amazon and at Target. The seven members, all of whom were between the ages of eight and 14 — Sanderson, Brooklynn Pitts, Kinley Cunningham, Bella Llerena, Dallas Skye, Kiya Barczyszyn, and Tamara Andreasyan, also known as Tinie T — were posited as heirs apparent to Jojo Siwa’s candy-colored, multi-million dollar empire, touring malls, appearing on America’s Got Talent, and even marketing their very own cruise.
Yet the band has also attracted online scrutiny, in part because of its habit of hemorrhaging members. Four of the original winners of the competition — Barczyszyn, Cunningham, Sanderson, and Llerena — left under obscure circumstances over the past year and a half, with little if any comment from the Siwas. (The mothers of the other girls who left declined to comment to Rolling Stone; Anjie says she was the only one who didn’t sign a nondisclosure agreement.)
In response to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment, each of the mothers of the current members of XOMG Pop! sent statements to Rolling Stone via a representative for the Siwas, attesting to their positive experiences with the group. The mothers requested not to be individually identified. “Jess has taken care of the girls as her own. Jojo has played an older sister role and supportive mentor to the girls. We value the time, energy, attention and financial commitment the Siwas have given us,” wrote one. Another wrote: “Since we have joined, (we) ONLY have had an amazing and positive experience. I find it very hard to believe the Siwas could have done anything wrong.” Another XOMG POP! mother wrote: “My daughter has been part of the group since Day One and I can attest to it being a healthy, positive environment.” And another said she was “sadden(ed)” by the allegations, writing: “I hope for our kids’ sake that their dreams and hard work won’t be hurt by this story of disgruntled parents.”
The allegations against the Siwas highlight growing concern within the entertainment industry regarding the lack of protections extended to minors in Hollywood, particularly within the social media space, which is subject to very little oversight or regulation. In light of such concerns, numerous states, including California, are considering passing legislation that would require adult guardians to set aside a percentage of minors’ social media revenue to put in a trust.
Though such legislation — widely known as the “Coogan Law,” named after 1920s child actor Jackie Coogan — exists for minors in the traditional entertainment industry, the law has not kept pace with the growth of social media, making kids and families vulnerable to financial exploitation, says Ed Howard, senior counsel at the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.
“For kids who are posting online content, there is nothing comparable to the kind of very specific protections against being commercially exploited, that are similar to what are afforded to actors doing the identical things in traditional media,” says Howard.
Because XOMG Pop! was formed as the result of a reality TV show on a mainstream network, there are elements of the girls’ experience that make it “unambiguously a commercial enterprise” subject to traditional regulation, says Howard. And it does seem that the Siwas attempted to adhere to such regulations, as evidenced by the fact that an on-set teacher was made available to the girls and that a portion of their earnings was set aside in a Coogan trust, according to bank statements reviewed by Rolling Stone.
But because much of their work, such as brand deals or shooting content for social media, did not fall into this category, the Sandersons allege the Siwas failed to compensate Leigha for such labor or provide her with the standard on-set protections afforded to minor talent, highlighting the absence of a safety net for children looking to achieve wealth and fame on the internet in the 2020s.
Anjie says her and Leigha’s story is an admonition for parents of children working in Hollywood to not get “starstruck.” “Do your research,” she says. “Don’t assume you know someone because of their public persona.” To Jessalyn Siwa, she says: “You’re a mom. And the way that you hurt these kids is not okay.”
SIWAS DANCE POP REVOLUTION DEBUTED on Peacock in November 2021, with promos for the show advertising it as a successor to Dance Moms. JoJo was to act as choreographer, as well as the co-manager of the group, along with her mother, Jessalyn. On the show, the two are presented as firm yet generous benefactors, with the Siwas introducing themselves to their young progeny atop the staircase of a lavish, marble-floored mansion festooned with rainbows, gumball machines, and a life-sized unicorn.
“You think you’re gonna be able to handle my mom? I thought the same thing when I was nine. And look where I am now, so it may have worked!,” Jojo says in the opening moments of the first episode, standing next to her mom. Jessalyn promises to make the group a “phenomenon,” as the girls shriek and cheer.
From the start, the Siwas and the producers framed the show and the group as a joint business venture between mother and daughter, who have continued to work closely together even as JoJo has entered adulthood. “One thing that’s really worked out for us well is there actually is no line,” JoJo told E! News in 2021 after Dance Pop Revolution premiered. “There’s no, ‘This is when we’re working,’ and, ‘This is when you’re my mom.’”
According to Sanderson and three sources close to production, the cast was under the impression that XOMG Pop! was intended to give Jessalyn a project while JoJo launched the next, more mature phase of her career. “(It was like), ‘Let me give my mommy new little dolls to play with so I can stop wearing the bows and have a life,’” one source suggests.
Anjie says that upon arriving in Los Angeles, she was surprised to learn that Dance Pop Revolution would be a competition show, not a Making the Band-style reality show. (A representative for the production company denied this, saying, “to our knowledge this was always pitched as a competition show.”) Two sources close to the production who spoke with Rolling Stone on the condition of anonymity confirmed the production team had sold Dance Pop Revolution as being a kinder, gentler version of Dance Moms. “With what Jess and Jojo went through on Dance Moms, we thought they wouldn’t want to do anything that would make a child feel a certain way or paint them in a certain light,” one said.
But there were tensions within the cast, and between the Siwas and some of the cast members, almost immediately. Some of this, two sources close to the production say, was due to the inherent premise of the show, which involved children being pitted against each other in a competitive setting. Two of the contestants were frequently compared to each other by Jessalyn because they both had blond hair, prompting one of them to dye their hair mid-season; two sources close to production allege that, in a deleted elimination sequence, the girls who were cut from the show would be asked by producers to look into the mirror, watching themselves become visibly upset during their exit interviews. (A representative for the production company denies they were ever asked to sit in front of a mirror as a part of the exit interview.)
According to one of the sources close to the production, an adage among some of the producers on set was, “It’s not a good day unless you make a kid cry.” Anjie Sanderson confirmed she had heard such a comment from a producer as well; another source who spoke to Rolling Stone said they had not heard this specifically, but such a remark was consistent with the atmosphere on set. When asked whether any producers had made such a comment, a representative for the production company said, “not to my knowledge,” adding such a remark “is counter to everything JoJo Siwa stands for.”
Producers encouraged drama and tension between castmates, according to those who spoke with Rolling Stone. Though manipulating reality show contestants for the sake of maximizing drama is fairly standard reality television procedure, the stakes were heightened by the fact that the contestants in question were children, including one who was only eight years old at the time.
Anjie alleges that the show was edited to make her look ruthless and self-aggrandizing, and that one scene in particular, in which Leigha performs a song with a ukulele to curry favor with the Siwas, was in fact staged by producers and edited to make her look like Leigha was taking advantage of a rival contestant’s illness. (Two sources close to production confirmed that the moment was in fact staged by producers; the representative for the production company said the producers did encourage Leigha to audition for the Siwas at that moment, but that the show “never intended to paint (her) in a bad light.”)
The environment was one of constant fear, the Sandersons say. “You’re kind of taught from the beginning you need to act grateful and thankful at all times, and thank Jojo and Jess for every little thing,” Anjie says. “They would say, ‘Look, we can make your kids a star. Look at the opportunities that we’re giving you.’”
Jessalyn was also allegedly verbally abusive during rehearsals, the Sandersons and two sources close to the production allege, with Jessalyn berating a contestant with hypotonia, a disorder that causes low muscle tone, by mocking her for being unable to move her arms and legs; she also allegedly made fun of her speech, at one point mimicking her. (Neither of the alleged scenes made it to air, and the contestant in question did not respond to a request for comment; the Siwas did not respond to a question about the alleged incidents.)
THINGS GOT SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE once production for the show ended in summer of 2021, and the winners, including Leigha, transitioned to being a full-time musical act, according to multiple sources. The Sandersons allege, and another source close to the situation confirms, they largely had to pay out of pocket for food and transportation, often without being reimbursed, and were not paid for individual music video, photo, or social media content shoots.
California child labor law dictates that minors are entitled to a minimum hourly wage for every hour they are on set. But, according to Eugene Lee, an attorney who specializes in labor law in the state of California, child labor laws as they stand do not entitle children to compensation for, say, shooting social media content, and Lee says he is “not aware of any case law” pertaining to such compensation. The ambiguity surrounding the laws protecting minors, he said, combined with Leigha’s non-employee status (as evidenced by a 1099 tax form provided to Rolling Stone), would make the case difficult, yet worthwhile, in his estimation: “I’d take that case,” he said.
Also according to Anjie, and a copy of the recording contract provided to Rolling Stone, the girls were promised $10,000 upon recording their first album, yet the Sandersons only received a little more than $4,000 because Jess said she had to pay for the Airbnb where they would stay. (A deposit for $4,250 provided to Rolling Stone appears to confirm this.)
Though the Siwas rented a house in the San Fernando Valley in 2022 that would become known as the XOMG Pop! content house, which was furnished with brightly colored walls and a claw grab machine, the kids did not sleep there, according to the Sandersons and a source close to the group. Anjie alleges that after leaving the Airbnb, she and Leigha would spend several months sleeping on blow-up mattresses on the floor of Kinley’s dance studio.
This was, Anjie says, a dire financial situation for her family, as she had shut down her day care center in order to live with Leigha in California. Yet she lived in fear that if she said anything, she would endanger Leigha’s position in the group, or they would be sued for breach of contract — something she and two sources close to the production of Dance Pop Revolution allege the mothers were threatened with on multiple occasions. The fact that one member, Kiya Barczyszyn, had already been abruptly fired in the fall of 2022 further solidified that no one’s standing within XOMG Pop! was guaranteed. (Kira’s mother declined to comment to Rolling Stone.)
“You have to understand the atmosphere,” Sanderson says. “You’re not allowed to say anything. You can’t question anything. You’re living in fear that you’re going to cost your child their opportunity, that they’ll get fired, or that we’re gonna have to get a lawyer. And none of us had the money.” The mothers were so short on funds, Anjie alleges, that at one point she and Bella’s mother, started working directly for Jessalyn herself, organizing JoJo’s closet and scrubbing toilets in her home for $20 an hour, according to PayPal receipts and a schedule provided to Rolling Stone. (Bella’s mother did not respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone.)
Additionally, rehearsals would last hours, with little time available for school, the Sandersons and a source close to the group allege. According to a calendar shared with Rolling Stone, shoots for music videos like “Disco Believer” could extend up to nine hours, with rehearsal call times sometimes being sent to the girls well after midnight the night before. “We would end up working a nine-hour day with no school,” says Leigha. “Every single day it put us so far behind.” (Calendars provided to Rolling Stone, as well as a source close to the situation, confirmed that such a schedule was not unusual; according to California labor law, nine hours is the maximum amount of time 9-to-16-year-olds in the entertainment industry can spend on a work site while school is in session.)
As the months stretched on, Leigha would only sporadically do schoolwork, she alleges, logging 6.6 hours of class time for the entire calendar month of December 2022, according to the remote coursework website Acellus. (A teacher on set who spoke with Rolling Stone said that Acellus records are not representative of the entirety of the XOMG POP! members’ schoolwork, and that they only worked with the girls for three school days that month regardless.)
The legal requirement in the state of California is for minors to attend school for at least three hours for every full day they are on set. Multiple sources close to the group told Rolling Stone, however, that schooling for the girls was inconsistent, and that it was not uncommon for the girls to fall behind in their academic work. The teacher on set denied this, saying that during their tenure, none of the parents had ever complained to them about the girls being overworked or falling behind on school: “My overall experience working for Team Siwa has been one of professionalism with a child-centered focus,” they said in a statement. “While working for Team Siwa I have only observed the enforcement of CA’s Labor Laws and a nurturing and professional working environment.”
After the show ended, the Sandersons and other sources close to the group allege, the competitive aspect did not end. XOMG Pop! members were required to put in endless hours making Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube content. There was no direct compensation for that labor, but according to the Sandersons and two sources close to the situation, the girls were promised a $500 prize if their TikTok got the most views in a given week. At first, Leigha says, she enjoyed making the videos, but they quickly took on a more cutthroat bent. “Everyone was still pitted against each other the entire time,” she says. “There was still a divide.”
During rehearsals for the group, Leigha alleges, Jojo would often encourage the girls to compare themselves to each other, breeding an atmosphere of constant contention and presenting a stark contrast to her sunny public persona. “We’re supposed to be a group and supposed to be unified,” says Leigha. “It was like the show all over again.” During one performance at the Mall of America in Minnesota, she alleges, Jojo was shouting at them in their headsets, screaming, “‘You’re sucking, bring it up, the energy is low, you look sloppy. This isn’t good enough.’ We had thousands of people watching this, and then we have somebody in our ear screaming at us telling us we suck.” (A source close to the situation also confirmed this happened; the representative for the Siwas did not address this specific allegation.)
In late 2022, Leigha experienced a slew of health problems connected to her disability, including blood leaking out of her bellybutton. That December, she flew back home to Texas to undergo surgery on her spine. The Siwas and the other XOMG Pop! moms were supportive, sending Anjie and Leigha flowers and a get well card. But even though doctors typically instruct children to avoid physical activity for four to six weeks after the surgery, and Anjie says Leigha’s own doctor had only cleared her for light activity, Leigha was told by Jessalynto head back to rehearsal three and a half weeks later, the Sandersons allege, in order to practice for the “Disco Believer” video shoot.
During this time, Anjie says, she started to develop significant reservations about staying in XOMG Pop! Her family was financially underwater, and she was starting to feel her daughter’s health was at risk. Plus, she had started frequently butting heads with Jessalyn and some of the other mothers, to the degree that she was at one point put on “probation,” or barred from attending rehearsals. This caused friction between her and Leigha, though Leigha says she now understands her mother’s behavior better: “She was trying to advocate for me and keep me safe,” she says.
Anjie’s decision to keep Leigha in the group was difficult for many to understand. To this day, Anjie has trouble explaining it. “I’m sure people would say, ‘Why were they doing all this? Why, as a mom, would you let her do that?’” she says. “For one, my child was determined not to lose her parts, not to miss out on anything. And she didn’t want to get kicked out of the group and all these promises at the time that we were being promised.” There was a performance in Australia on the horizon; a multimillion-dollar toy deal; a Christmas movie. So much time had been put into the group and so much had been promised, Anjie says, and she still has regrets about the fact that she did not pull Leigha out earlier. “We just drank the Kool-Aid,” she says.
LEIGHA DID NOT LEAVE XOMG Pop! of her own accord. On May 3, 2023, while the girls were filming a YouTube video making slime at the group’s content house, Anjie, fed up with the allegedly arduous hours and the erratic school schedule, had a verbal confrontation with the other mothers, as well as the girls’ teacher. When Jessalyn caught wind of it, she texted her demanding that she apologize to her and the other mothers for her behavior.
“Angie (sic) I’m really tired of it,” Jessalyn says in the texts, which were reviewed by Rolling Stone. “I work really hard(,) I’ve gone over and above and beyond for you and for your kid. There’s food at the house. (They’re) not overworked….If you’re gonna work for me you cannot act like an asshole(,) end of the story.”
Texts provided by both the Sandersons and the Siwas’ counsel show that Anjie repeatedly pleaded for Leigha to stay in the group. “Please Jess, my daughter will hate me forever,” she wrote in one text message. She even offered to assign on-set guardianship, a requirement for minors in California, to her older daughter or to one of the other mothers so Leigha could stay in the group — a gesture that the Siwas, via their counsel, allege “completely discredit her and these ridiculous allegations,” but which Sanderson characterizes as a last-ditch effort to help a shattered Leigha continue to pursue her dream.
“I blamed myself, because I felt like I was taking something away from Leigha,” she says. “I wasn’t offering to sign my parental rights over — if I was the problem, I was just going to have one of my older daughters come out and be on set with Leigha so she could remain in the group.” Ultimately, her efforts were for naught: Jessalyn fired Leigha via text on May 6, 2023, saying, “We have decided we will not be continuing to invest in Leigha and she is released from the group effective immediately.”
Leigha was devastated. “I had given everything that I had. I had no more friends at home, I had left school,” she says. “I left it all to go be in this group, just for her to take it away from me like that. It was literally the end of the world.” They left for Texas on May 9.
When the Sandersons noticed that Leigha’s image was still being used in merchandise for XOMG Pop!, including branded hairbrushes and costumes, they sent a Dec. 6 letter to the Siwas, provided to Rolling Stone accusing them of using her image without authorization. A screengrab of an Instagram Story from the XOMG Pop! account provided to Rolling Stone, screenshotted July 17, 2023, appears to show a display for group-branded merch at Walmart that prominently features Leigha; XOMG Pop! hairbrushes and charm bracelets for sale on Amazon as of publication also display Leigha’s image.
A merchandising contract provided to Rolling Stone, signed in June 2021, entitles the seven members of XOMG Pop! to 20 percent of merchandising revenue, or about 2.8 percent per member; though the entertainment attorney who spoke with Rolling Stone said such a percentage is “shockingly low,” even for a new artist, the Sandersons allege they have not seen any revenue from merchandising, nor have they been compensated for brand deals, photo and music video shoots, or rehearsals.
Since Leigha was terminated from XOMG Pop! last May, two other members of the group have left: Kinley Cunningham, and Bella Llerena. (Kinley’s mother declined to comment.) Only three of the group’s original members remain: Brooklynn Pitts, Tinie T Azaryan, and Dallas Skye. A fourth member, Penelope LeMieux, joined the group in the fall of 2023.
Though the group is still intact, and is embarking on a 10-city U.S. tour this summer, it hasn’t become the pop cultural “phenomenon” that the Siwas had intended it to be. According to the Sandersons, the Australia trip never panned out, nor did a projected Christmas movie deal (the Siwas did not respond to questions regarding failed brand deals or a prospective film project).
Those I spoke to who were involved with the production of Dance Pop Revolution and the formation of XOMG Pop! were largely not surprised that the show has not aired a second season, or that the original band fell apart. For starters, JoJo herself seems to be more focused on segueing into the next stage of her career; over the past year, she has fired her longtime manager and publicist, according to multiple sources, and she has not released new music since 2020.
Those who spoke with Rolling Stone characterized XOMG Pop! as an unsuccessful attempt on Jessalyn Siwa’s part to recreate Jojo’s with a new crop of younger talent. The world did not pick this group. (Jessalyn Siwa) picked the group,” one source close to the production told me. “They’ve pulled every lever. They got Meghan Trainor. It’s been almost two years. They’re not gonna make it. Can you really force-feed it to the world?”
In some respects, the failure of XOMG Pop! in its original incarnation serves as a cautionary tale to aspiring child stars and their mothers, particularly in the digital age. Though the barrier for entry to the entertainment industry has never been lower, there are few protections for minors working in Hollywood, with few guardrails ensuring them a steady stream of income from their content. “These moms think their kids are gonna be handed the world. They’ll be set for life. They’ll be rich,” says one source close to Dance Pop Revolution. “All these promises are made. It’s so easy to get caught up in that.”
Of the Siwas, the source says, “they really messed up some people’s lives in ways I don’t think they even realize.” Those close to the Siwas, such as the set teacher who spoke with Rolling Stone, dispute this. “All the intentions are good and positive,” she says. “(We’re helping) these really, really talented kids make their dreams come true.”
After months of depression, as well as struggles with her health, Leigha says she is on the path toward developing a new perspective about her time in XOMG Pop! She loves that she got to meet and work with some of her favorite celebrities, including Trainor, and she is glad to have made some lifelong friends along the way (she and Kinley are both brand representatives for Dear Hannah Prep, a TikTok-famous, Texas-based tween clothing store). She’s now back enrolled full-time in school; just a few days after we spoke, she started dancing again, appearing in a show for her studio.
But she still harbors resentment toward the Siwas, with whom she spent almost two years of her life — and with whom she says she has not spoken to since her mother received the May 6 text. “It’s like, they use you,” she says. “And then they throw you in the trash.”
Full statement from Bryan Freedman, counsel for Jessalyn Siwa:
“These allegations are 100 percent provably false and this story is created to generate clicks at the expense of the truth. Had actual investigative reporting been done, the voluminous and irrefutable evidence would tell you all you need to know — that a disgruntled momager’s own abusive behavior caused for her daughter to be asked not to return to the group. Her relentless texts begging for forgiveness and for her daughter to be reinstated completely discredit her and these ridiculous allegations. Jess Siwa was protecting the staff, the other girls and their families which she will continue to do vociferously and unapologetically.”