Maddie Ziegler joins judges on new season of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ |
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Professional actress, dancer and model Maddie Ziegler is known for her role on Lifetime's 'Dance Moms.'

Fox’s hit reality show “So You Think You Can Dance” has kicked off its 13th season with a youthful twist: All of the aspiring dancers and even one of the judges are children.

The young judge in this season, dubbed “The Next Generation,” is a familiar face to Pittsburghers and around the world: Murrysville resident Maddie Ziegler, a popular alumna of the Pittsburgh-based reality show “Dance Moms.” Maddie, 13, is joining the adult judging panel — Paula Abdul, Jason Derulo and Nigel Lythgoe — starting with the June 20 episode to give the young auditioners the perspective of one of their peers, she says.

The dancers, who range from age 8 to 13, show great talent, Maddie says. They have skills in dance styles ranging from hip-hop to tap, contemporary and ballroom.

“It’s kids that I can definitely relate to,” says Maddie, who is homeschooled and will be entering the eighth grade in the fall.

She and her mother, Melissa Gisoni, and younger sister, Mackenzie Ziegler, starred on the Lifetime show “Dance Moms” from its beginning in 2011 and just ended their run with the sixth season. Maddie also has starred in four of singer-songwriter Sia’s music videos.

Maddie, who won the Seriously Popular Award at the People’s Choice Awards this year, has performed contemporary dances on television shows, including “Saturday Night Live,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Dancing With the Stars.” Maddie also is making a name for herself as an actress who has had roles in shows, including “Pretty Little Liars,” and she is making her big-screen debut in the upcoming movie “The Book of Henry,” set for release in September.

For “The Next Generation,” hundreds of young dancers in the winter auditioned in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City, according to the Fox website. The first three episodes featured highlights from these preliminary rounds. When Maddie joins the panel on Monday’s episode, the fourth of the season, she will be evaluating the kids who made it past the first round of cuts and into what the show calls “The Academy.”

After this new round, the Top 10 dancers each will pair with an all-star from previous seasons. Each pair will work in the studio with prominent choreographers. One contestant will go home each week until the season finale, when the judges will crown one child “America’s favorite dancer.”

Maddie is getting excited thinking about sitting next to Abdul, and performing the same judging job the famous singer, dancer and television personality does.

“I never thought that would ever happen,” Maddie says. “It’s really crazy and really, really fun.

“I’ve always watched the show my whole life,” she says. Being invited by show producers to join “meant a lot to me.”

“It’s really going to be an amazing experience,” Maddie says.

Guardians accompany Maddie and see to her home-schooling in her travels across the country. The past few years, in pursuing her career, she has mostly divided her time between Murrysville and Los Angeles. Maddie says her local friends have been supportive of her fame, and it’s just like old times when they hang out in Pittsburgh and do regular kid stuff.

“I just do everything that they do,” Maddie says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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