The truth is Adam Rippon reinvented himself this season – skating to music with lyrics, takings risks and changing his hair style; and we at Inside Skating are privileged to host the story of this new Adam, as told by himself, with details and emotion, on November 22nd, in Moscow, right after the exhibition practice at Rostelecom Cup. And if we were to find a leitmotif of his story and his programs, this would definitely be the wings – the sparkling wings he carries on his arms during his short program to Queen, when he’s embodying an angel; but mostly the wings of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” in the free skate, with that touching line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly”, which, he says, translates to the story of his career.
One thing is sure though: he’s thoroughly enjoying the transformation, Adam, wanting to dive all the way into the season and its challenges. He’ll tell you loud and clear – and take you with him in his journey: “This season I want to be the U.S. National champion and I really want to have my best skates at World Championships in Boston. Boston was the place where I failed to qualify for the Olympics and I want to go back and have some of my best skates there”.
Interview by Nadia Vasilyeva/Moscow
Nadia Vasilyeva: First of all, congratulations on your amazing performance last night [the free skate at 2015 Rostelecom Cup, on November 21 – Ed.]. The audience really loved it, I think you could hear it from the way they were clapping to the music…
Adam Rippon: Thank you. I had a good time and I think they had a good time too.
So what do you think about your overall performance here, in Moscow, in the short and in the free program? Are you satisfied with it?
Adam: I felt better going into this Grand Prix than I did for the first one [Adam’s first Grand Prix event was Skate Canada – Ed.] and I think overall I got to show that I was in a good shape. I had a little bit of a scare going into the free program because my shoulder was bothering me a lot, and I had to change the program around a bit after my morning practice, just to make sure I wasn’t gonna get hurt. But I think it’s just the name of the game, that’s part of being an athlete, and I’m glad I was able to show a good performance here. I really like coming to Russia. I was really glad to come with my coach who is from Moscow, and I’m glad that I was able to skate well with her being here with me [Vera Arutyunyan accompanied Adam in Moscow – Ed.].
So you are familiar with Russian culture a bit because of your coach…
And you mentioned earlier that you are familiar with some of the Russian food also. Do you like it?
I do like it. It reminds me so much of when I was younger, because when I was younger I used to live with an older coach of mine, who is Russian, and she would prepare a lot of the salads that they prepare for the skaters here. And I go and I see them and I immediately go back to like 10 years ago, when this was what I was eating on a normal basis.
Let’s talk about your programs this season. Who came up with the ideas, who chose the music…?
I was thinking about what I wanted to do, and I think last year, when I was competing at the Grand Prix, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be competing. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but then I had a real turn-around after the Grand Prix.
I started working with a trainer of the ice a lot and I just felt a lot stronger and felt like I wasn’t old. [Back then] I would think how old I was – and I would look and see some of the younger competitors, that they were younger than me, and I would get a little discouraged. But when I started getting stronger and feeling better, I was like – You know, I still feel like I’m improving. So my age is just a number, it doesn’t really matter. And that was a real turn-around for me, and then, at the end of last season, I was thinking: What do I want to do? I want to stand out and want to be a little bit different.
And I remember hearing “Who Wants to Live Forever” and really wanted to do a long program to Queen medley. And I was listening, and I couldn’t find any songs that would go really well with “Who Wants to Live Forever” – and I really wanted to be some sort of a medley. And finally I was playing it one day at the rink and my friend, Ashley Wagner, was like: “Why don’t you just skate to this music for a short program?”. And I was like: “Why did I never think of that?”. So I brought the idea to Tom Dickson, my choreographer, and we didn’t even discuss it, he said: “I love it. When are you coming out? We’ll start”. So we did that right away.
And I wanted to do a more fun free skate, because I think sometimes at these competitions everyone has a dramatic free skate. Everything is drama. And I love drama, but there can be too much drama. And I wanted to stand out. I know in the past at U.S. Nationals a program that people can clap to does really well, and everybody loves it. And I was like: You know what, I really want to be a national champion this year, and World Championships are in Boston, so those are two competitions where I know the audience is gonna be behind it.
And then I asked myself: What’s going to translate anywhere in the world? And I told Jeff [choreographer Jeffrey Buttle] that I wanted to do something that no matter where I was in the world people would know what I was skating to. And, no matter where I was, they would still see it as sort of pokey and fun, that there was still some sort of sophistication and class, but it was also new and young. And he said: “The Beatles”. And I was like: “The Beatles are perfect”. Because the judges would know who it is, the younger people would know who it is, because they’re “The Beatles”, and they’ll always be great music. And then I was thinking: Oh, my God, there are so many Beatles songs, I don’t know what to choose. And Jeff said: “Why don’t you listen to this edit?”. He sent me the edit about 6 or 7 minutes long, and I was like: I love it, this is what we’re gonna do, this is perfect. So we played around with some different songs, and then we set on some.
Up until my last competition, I was skating to “Yesterday” as my middle section of music – but I decided to change it, because the whole program for me felt very happy and lighthearted; and when I would get to “Yesterday”, it felt a little sad, a little bit longing. And I would listen to the words, and they say: “Yesterday, all my troubles felt so far away, and now they’re here to stay”. And I was thinking to myself that my troubles are far way, but they’re not here to stay, it’s not the story of the program, it’s not fitting.
And “Blackbird” was always my favorite “Beatles” song… I think that translates better to the story of my own career, and to what I want the program to be.
And “Blackbird” was always my favorite “Beatles” song and, originally, I asked Jeff if we could use it; and he said yes, but we never made it work. When we tried it though, all the other edits were different. So I told Jeff that I really wanted to skate to “Blackbird”, and we switched it out, and it just makes so much more sense for me, because they say in the song: “Take these broken wings and learn to fly”; and for me that’s like: You’re not perfect, but you can take our mistakes and you can still soar.
And I think that translates better to the story of my own career, and to what I want the program to be. Because that’s a joyful, beautiful song, and it was written at the time of war. And I love that song so much – and I was glad I was able to switch that music out so seamlessly [into the program]. And I texted with Jeff, and we were re-choreographing little pieces here and there via texts: I would send him a clip and he would tell me what he thought, so we ended up working really well, and I’m really glad I decided to change it.
That’s kind of how we got the theme. I got the idea in my head of what I wanted to do, and then I saw that I had two rock & roll programs, and I was like: I should make this a theme. I’m just gonna be a badass this year. I’m just gonna go for it, dive all the way in.
I was training in Colorado for a little bit, and I went to Tom Dickson, and I was like: Tom, I wanna do another program with you, for an exhibition. And I want this one to be over the top. I wanna roll on ice and just to be out there. And he was like: Okay. And the first song he had me listen to was “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, and I was like: This is it, let’s do it. So we did it, and we had a lot of fun.
The first time I performed it, this was the one that was the most challenging one for me, because I was a little uncomfortable at first. But today will be the second or third time that I performed it, and I’m definitely more comfortable with it, and I’m more comfortable skating in that style, and I think as an artist it’s always important to have new genres of music and new characters. I think this is even why I changed my hair style. I wanted to do something edgy, something that people would look at and be like: “He’s crazy!”. Because I want to take those risks – I think sometimes people come to skating competitions and they think they need to be perfect and so polished and everything… And I’m not saying that I’m not polished, I think I’m coming and I’m packaged in a way that I’m packaged, because that’s what I’m putting out there right now. I’m putting out that I want to be young, current, edgy and, like I said before, I wanna dive full into what I do this year.
Speaking of the hair, you changed it a bit for Rostelecom? Because it used to be silver, and now it’s purple-ish?
I started with the silver and I saw it on the ice, and sometimes on the ice it’s hard to see the silver. It blends in with the ice and it kind of makes me look all white. And to maintain the silver color is a bit challenging, and here’s what ended up happening. To make the silver hair, they have to add a purple dye, and I did it myself and I left it in a little bit too long, and it was purple, it was like lavender.
And I went it into the rink next day, and Tom Dickson came up to me and he was like: “I like this a lot more. I actually really like this, I think it really reads loud and clear”. And I was like: Hmm, you know what? I’m gonna go for it. Because I was thinking that silver is edgy, but I wouldn’t do a color, because color is scary. But I love it. I like the color on the ice. I’m not gonna have it forever, but for now I think people see it right away and they’re like: That’s Adam. The purple one down there, that’s him. I’m definitely having a lot of fun with it this year.
It’s awesome, I love it too. Which color are you gonna go for next?
Thank you. Oh, you know, the unnatural colors don’t stay very long. So I actually have to dye it – and I do it myself every few weeks. But underneath it all, I’m platinum blond right now. So I can kind of do anything I want with it. I’ve been blue, I’ve been lavender, and I’ve been mint green, and I made sure my costumes matched my hair. I didn’t realize how important it was until you have this giant color on your head. And every time I go to my hair stylist, I’m like: “Do whatever you want. Just do whatever you think is gonna be fun”. So I don’t know what color I’m gonna be next, but I think I’m really enjoying the lavender right now, I think it’s a lot of fun.
Speaking of the costumes, do you design your own costumes?
I definitely have a big say in how I want them to go. But my friend Braden Overett – we’ve been friends for a while, he lives in Los Angeles – he designs them. He makes them himself and he stones them, and I think he’s one of the most artistic people I’ve ever met. Because I’ll come in for a fitting and it will just be the basic shirt, and I’ll come in next time and it’ll be a work of art.
I kind of just let him do whatever his vision is, I really trust him. I give him a few things that I want in the costume. Like this year… Last season, on the Grand Prix, one of my costumes broke a few days before I left, so I asked my roommate who used to skate if he had a costume I could borrow. And he had this costume that was just mesh with few pieces that covered just my chest and a little bit of my stomach. And I was like: Whatever. But I wore it and I loved it. So I told my friend Braden that I want something that is just mesh and got pieces covering some part, so I don’t get a deduction. And he said: Okay.
For the short program, it was easy, because I told him my story of the program. It’s “Who Wants to Live Forever”, and Tom and I decided that I was like an angel speaking to one of my friends who was still living. And, at the end, I go to heaven, and my friend stays on earth. So Braden said: “Okay, you’re an angel. I think I wanna do a kind of wings on your back that aren’t wings, but some people would see it and some won’t, but everybody would see that it’s beautiful”. And I was like: “Do whatever you need”. And I saw the costume and it was the most beautiful costume I’ve ever had.
And for the long program, I started with a red shirt with some yellow details and I liked it, but I wasn’t really in love with it, and I think we started with that because I wanted to do something that was really “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, really bright – but it just didn’t feel right. So I came back from Skate Canada and I was like: “Braden, I need a new costume. Because I feel like a million dollars in the short program one and I want to want to feel like a million dollars in the long program one”. And he gave it to me few days before I left, and I was like: “This is exactly right. This is perfect”.
Does skating to music with lyrics feel different from skating to instrumental music?
It does. And I actually really like it. But I was really against it at first, when the rule came out. I was like: Oh, it’s silly, people are just going to skate to whatever they want. But I was really inspired when I saw Ashley Wagner’s long program [to music from the soundtrack of the movie “Moulin Rouge!” – Ed.], because I saw that you could really have an idea, and the lyrics didn’t take away from it at all, and it added to the performance.
I love it, I think the rule change is awesome, because you can kind of sing along to it in your mind, and it takes your mind off what you’re doing a bit. But, like I said, I was definitely on the other side last year. I was like: It’s tacky, and it’s not going to be good, programs are not going to be competitive. But then I was like: You know what, I’m gonna try it this year.
And I think there are some programs that work, and there are some programs where skaters are like skating to the radio at a public session. But, at the same time, I think you should stay to what you are comfortable with the most. If you enjoy the music, hopefully that translates, and it will seem like you’re interpreting the music. So I’m sure there’ll always be people who don’t like it, but, at the same time, skating to a piece with lyrics does what skating to a beautiful classical piece does a lot as well. I definitely will skate to another classical piece in the future. But I think it would be silly of me not to explore all the options and try everything once.
Adam, you seem like one of the most devoted, hard-working skaters, always doing the most at practices. Even during this morning practice for the exhibition, you asked to play your music again, and skated your number twice…
I’ve always worked hard to get to where I am. And I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to work hard this season because of the image I’m going for in my programs, and because of the image that I have in my everyday life. The hair and everything. I don’t ever want to come off as a joke, or that, you know, “He’s just a loose cannon”. I work really hard so that the story of my program really works, and everything that I’m telling you – so I could just show it. Instead of just being out there, telling you, but then going and doing some crap.
And I also had to think about why I was skating last season and not making the Olympic team. I realize that I actually really like to work hard, I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, and I enjoy challenging myself. Even today when I was practicing the exhibition program, I remembered the last time I was doing this competition and I was in the exhibition, somebody told me that in Russia the show is always important, people really like it. And I was like: I want to make sure I’m fully ready today. So I just asked them to play it one more time.
At this kind of events, in the Grand Prix circuit, you’ve got few practices that are about 40 minutes each. Is it enough to prepare for the competition?
By the time you get here to the competition, it doesn’t really even matter. I think the practice is not for practice, but just to see where you are in the building, to warm up a few things, and just get out there. I know that there are some times when I get to the rink, and I think it’s just experience, but I get to the rink and I’m like – I don’t even know if I want to do the 6 minute warm-up. I just wanna put my skates on and go, right now. I’m glad we do have the 6 minute warm-up, don’t get me wrong. But by the time you get here you’ve practiced so much, that an extra hour isn’t gonna do anything.
If you could, is there anything you would like to change about the rules of competitions or skating?
The only thing that frustrates me is that I struggle a lot with the quads, and the only thing I wish I could change was that I could have someone invisible who could help me on a harness, like lift me up a little bit. But like I said before, I enjoy practicing and I’m still improving. And I started late, I was 10 when I started, I did my first triple Axel when I was 18, and I landed my first clean quad when I was 23, so I got everything a lot later than everybody else. And I think that’s because I worked hard, and I didn’t really pay attention to what others were doing. If I did, I’d drive myself crazy.
I don’t really know what I would change. I think maybe I would change the GOE spectrum, to have a -5 to +5. I think there’s a lot of difference between an element that is +1 to a +2 and even to a +3. Like I do the triple lutz with two arms over my head and it’ll get me a +2, and someone will just skate fast and do a normal lutz and get a +2 too, and sometimes it’s a little frustrating at first. And I think there’s a big difference in the quality of somebody doing a +2 spin vs. a +1, and there’s no really huge difference in points. But I think we’re always continually evolving and I don’t know if there’s really anything that I would change, because as an athlete you see the rules and you know what you want to do, and you have to go out there do whatever you think is gonna get the most points.
You keep going for the quad lutz. Don’t you want to add any other types of quads?
The thing is I’m not doing a quad lutz to be a hero. I’m only doing a quad lutz because at home it really is my most consistent quad. My toe comes and goes, but lutz – at home, it’s not very consistent, but I do land it way more than my other ones. So I’m literally doing it because it’s the easiest one for me. Obviously it’s not easy because I haven’t landed it this season yet, but I’ve always felt more comfortable doing lutz vs. any of the other jumps, so I think it’s only natural for me to try it.
Have you tried any of the others, like salchow maybe?
In my career I’ve landed each once, except for axel. I’ve done a flip before, I’ve done a loop before, I’ve done a salchow. Now I’m just lucky to do a triple salchow. Because my sal is just not very big. My toe is not too bad, I can do a toe every now and then. My flip isn’t very good, it’s inconsistent, and my loop is terrible. The flip isn’t too bad, but I just feel more comfortable with the lutz, because the take-offs are relatively the same. But I hope later in the season that I can start adding the quad toe.
Last season you absolutely nailed it at Nationals with that amazing free skate. What do you think it takes for you to skate clean?
I think what it takes for me to skate clean is that I need to know that I’ve done a lot of good work at home. When I went into those Championships, I remember before the free skate I was in 5th, and I felt like I shouldn’t have been in 5th, I should have been higher. I stepped out of a quad lutz, but it was relatively rotated, did a triple axel and a triple-triple, and I was in 5th. And I was like: This is not fair.
And I remember thinking that, but then I also remember thinking that a year before, at Nationals, I skated really badly in the short, and I was like: You know what? Last year you would have done anything to be in 5th. And you can’t let the result take away from all the hard work you did, and from the way you skate tomorrow, you have to be proud. So, okay, I have no idea what’s gonna happen tomorrow, but if I skate my absolute best and I’ll end up 5th – I promise myself I will be the happiest 5th place person ever. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter, the results don’t matter.
But I also felt like the judges at Nationals were like: Good job, you’re skating well, but it’s time to stop skating. And I was like: No one will tell me when it’s time to stop, I will be the one who decides that. I will not be phased out at this event. So I just went out and I was determined. And I had trained those 6 weeks before Nationals the hardest that I ever trained up to that point. And I think that’s what it took. It took me letting go of the result and focusing on all of the work I’ve done prior to the competition.
So what are your goals for this season?
This season I want to be the U.S. National champion and I really want to have my best skates at World Championships in Boston. Boston was the place where I failed to qualify for the Olympics and I wanna go back and have some of my best skates there.
And some revenge?
I wanna have revenge, yeah.
Is there a program among your own that you can call your favorite?
It’s hard, because they all feel like my children. But I would say that these programs that I have this year are my favorite. All three of them. And I think they are my favorite because I’m not listening to what other people told me to do. I’ve listened to what my team has told me, but I haven’t let what other people’s opinions are influence what I thought was best at the end of the day.
People told me not to dye my hair or they told me that it was crazy – and I just didn’t care. I don’t care. Because I like it, and I don’t think it’s disrespectful. I would never do anything disrespectful, or rude, or that wasn’t professional. But I like it, and I don’t care if somebody doesn’t like it. And I think it’s kind of fun, being 26 and still competing and not caring, and I’m just enjoying it. And all of my programs this year – I enjoy them, and I chose them, and I’m doing them because I want to do them. So I think that’s why these programs are my favorite.
You turned 26 recently [on November 11], how did you celebrate?
Actually, I was kind of sad on my birthday. I don’t like my birthday. I don’t like getting older. But the day after my birthday I had a really great day, because I had a moment to realize and be like: I earned this age. And would I wanna be younger if I didn’t know what I know now? Hell, no. A year ago I wasn’t as smart as I am now, I didn’t know what I know now a year ago, even a few months ago. I think the knowledge that I have is just irreplaceable. So I was able to just let go and not be stressed out on my birthday and not be stressed the next day. So my first full day of being 26 was amazing.
What are your plans for the nearest future and for the season?
Well, I have the exhibition today and, actually, after this interview, I might head to the gym, because I have to go to the Golden Spin competition next week [in Zagreb, Croatia]. So I have a few days to that, and then after that it’s just really buckle down and get ready for the U.S. Championships. So I’ll have that [Golden Spin] and then the U.S. Championships, then, possibly, the 4 Continents, and then, hopefully, the World Championships as well.
Good luck with those competitions!
[Interview by Nadia Vasilyeva, Moscow/editing by Florentina Tone]
Other photos from 2015 Rostelecom Cup in Moscow