A little more than nine years ago, the world was introduced to a pint-sized dynamo with pirouettes for days, seemingly flawless extension and enough charisma to captivate some 2 million-plus viewers, with everyone from Derek Hough to Katherine Heigl chiming into the Dance Moms conversation.
Admittedly though, Maddie Ziegler has little to add. "I've probably only seen one entire episode from start to finish," she revealed in 2017, the then-14-year-old releasing her (first) book, The Maddie Diaries.
When her mom Melissa Gisoni signed her and little sister Mackenzie Ziegler up for the Lifetime show that launched Abby Lee Miller and her sextet of tween ballerinas into the public zeitgeist, "It was supposed to be a documentary for six weeks, of them just following the dancers and their moms," Melissa detailed to Cosmopolitan in 2016. "So we signed a contract when it was called Just Dance. But then it morphed into Dance Moms and then [came] Abby Miller and all the craziness."
The unquestioned teacher's pet, Maddie was forced to bear the weight of her front-and-center crown in a world where second place was considered first loser and everyone was scrapping for a spot on the top of the pyramid. "I learned a lot of lessons. I had the craziest time when I was with her and on that team," she shared with People nearly a year after she exited stage left in 2016. Still, she continued, "I was stressed at 11 years old, which shouldn't happen!"
Ultimately, as she put it in her memoir, "I just wanted to dance; I didn't want all the drama."
Though we'd argue it turned out pretty okay for Maddie.
Turning 18 today—an occasion she'll no doubt celebrate by casting her very first presidential vote, something she's been urging her 13.7 million Instagram followers to do for weeks—she's long ago made the grand jeté from her reality roots into bigger and better opportunities.
Discovered by electropop musician Sia when she was 11 ("She watched the show, Dance Moms, and from there she just tweeted me," Maddie told E! News), the Pittsburgh native has starred in seven of her mentor's music videos, racking up billions of YouTube views; joined the Australian singer-songwriter on her 2016-2017 Nostalgic for the Present Tour; and filmed her forthcoming directorial debut, the drama Music, alongside Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr.
Maddie's resume also includes parts in everything from 2017 thriller The Book of Henry to the upcoming West Side Story remake, her New York Times best-selling memoir, a YA trilogy, a Fabletics collection and, with any luck, more fashion lines and a beauty brand. And, yes, the onetime So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation judge can still turn fouettés around most of the competition.
Arguably the biggest star to emerge from Abby's bootcamp, she's certainly not the only one still shining bright. Not in a world where the mere mention of JoJo Siwa is enough to send an army of tweens into convulsions.
And having saved year's worth of tears for their pillows while livin' on the dance floor, these young women deserve every trophy that life sends their way. Here's how they're handling their turns as soloists.