The 17-year-old megastar has a multi-million-dollar deal with Nickelodeon and says she's never done homework. But she tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story that she has good days and bad days like other people her age

If Jojo Siwa hadn't been on Dance Moms, she'd be a senior in high school back in Omaha. She'd be doing homework and playing softball. Maybe, she thinks, she would be preparing to graduate and applying to pre-med programs.

"To this day, I would love to be a surgeon," JoJo tells PEOPLE in one of this week's cover stories, sitting in the foyer of her house in front of a rainbow unicorn the stature of a racehorse. She lingers in the past. "Being surrounded by kids, high school would have been fun."

Listen to more of PEOPLE's cover story interview with JoJo Siwa below on the episode of PEOPLE Every Day!

Then — snap! — the singer and dancer whose YouTube videos have been viewed more than 3.6 billion times is back. "I love being a pop star so much more! I mean, it's the coolest life in the world!" she says as her fizzy enthusiasm sends her trademark bow and blonde ponytail vibrating. "I wouldn't trade it for anything." 

Every inch of her two-story mansion, with a pool and concert stage out back, reflects JoJo's rhinestoned ethos. (Green slime trompe l'oeil detail on the dining room's crown molding reflects her multi-million-dollar deal with Nickelodeon.) Just as Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, this Greek-columned suburban lair is where JoJo retreats to recharge her own superpowers.

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Credit: Michelle Groskopf

There are portraits of JoJo on the walls bearing JoJo maxims ("Hold the DRAMA"). There is a bar stocked with candy — every type you can imagine from Swedish Fish to Mike and Ikes to JoJo's Gummy Bows. ("They're just decoration," JoJo tells me later. "No one in this house eats sugar!")

One dog, Buddy, trots around in a JoJo hoodie. But her mom Jessalyn says the home is not a set — because that would make her daughter a character.  

"This isn't Miley/Hannah Montana," Jessalynn says, whose describes her own job as "momager" and "creative director" of JoJo. (Back in Omaha, they called her Jess Jenner, after Kim Kardashian's mom.) "There is no split. What you see is what you get. She's always like this." 

The minute she heard about Dance Moms in 2012, Jessalynn recalls thinking, "Why are we not on this?!" She sent an audition tape without ever telling her daughter, and JoJo was selected for a spin-off series in 2013.

Two years later, they moved to Dance Moms, and, as they started filming, the pair became the show's interloping villains. (In one memorable scene, infamous teacher Abby Lee Miller wanted JoJo to wear a smaller bow. "Beyoncé," JoJo whispers to her mom, employing their code word for "go harder." An even bigger bow was worn. "You're a greedy little monster!" Miller screamed to Jojo.) 

"We were blinded," Jessalynn remembers. "We were just so happy to be a part of that world. I never thought about the consequences, what bad effects could this have on our mental well-being."

They took the hits — the characterizations on the show, nasty comments on social media — but persevered.

"I was like, 'No, I want her to do this,'" Jessalynn says. "She wants to be famous." 

When she hears JoJo say she wants to be a doctor, "I'm like 'JoJo, please don't tell me we did all this, and you want to go to med school.' If she did, we would a million percent support her. But I would be like, 'Oh my God, we spent so many years doing this,'" she adds.

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: JoJo Siwa on or on the PeopleTV app.

4/19/21 cover of people magazine

You could say the entire empire started with bows. JoJo and Jessalyn would make them with hot glue guns and rhinestones at home in Omaha in between dance competitions and sell them in salons.

In JoJo's platinum-selling single "Boomerang," her iconographic bow became a symbol of standing up to bullies. Since then, the accessory has been copied, parodied, and, in some school districts, banned. It has also sparked rumors about her hairline.

"Every single day I will be like, 'Got to pull that down a little bit. Can we fill it in a little bit?' People were saying that the bow was causing it," she says. "This bow is not doing anything. It's just my hair." She rips the iridescent bow from her head. Like a matryoshka doll, a smaller rhinestoned bow sits beneath. JoJo's real hair, seen rarely on videos, is darker and wavier than her ponytail extension.

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Credit: Jojo Siwa/Instagram

For more from JoJo Siwa, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

"I used to hate my hair down," she says. "But one day, I was like, 'I can't wait to take my hair out and leave it down.' I was like, 'Did I just say that?'" She explains: "I have two humans that live inside this body—rockstar JoJo, which is the crazy costumes. And then I have the most chill, you-would-never-know-it's-me, black pants, black hoodie, hair in a ponytail or two braids or down. I love them both equally."

"I don't like the word 'normal' but I'm a normal teenager," JoJo adds. "Of course I have breakdowns. I throw myself on my bed and cry."

JoJo turns 18 next month, and will have all the freedom to decide what to wear and do next. One thing she's planning is a trip to the bank to withdraw some of her fortune that's been held in trust.

"I cannot wait for that day! My parents are terrified I'm going to move out." She's not, she clarifies. "I'm excited to grow up, but I don't think there's ever going to be a day where I'm like, 'It's time to be an adult.'"