Dancing with the Stars: Juniors is off to a dramatic start!
During Sunday’s premiere, Tripp Palin Johnston — along with partner Hailey Bills and mentor Jenna Johnson — and MasterChef Junior champ Addison Osta Smith — along with partner Lev Khmelev and mentor Keo Motsepe — were eliminated following a full night of epic performances.
“I wanted to do Dancing with the Stars: Juniors because my mom was on the show, and it looked like fun,” Palin Johnston, 9, told PEOPLE exclusively. “I was nervous when my mom showed me clips of young dancers. I have never danced before. I worked past the nerves by just remembering to have fun.”
And while his time on the competition show was short-lived, he walked away with another lesson learned.
“I learned that even if I’m not the best, that I can still try my hardest and have fun,” he added.
Johnson said, “The biggest challenge I faced coaching the Juniors was accepting that I wouldn’t be able to go out on the stage and perform with them and/or help them through the routine if something went wrong. Usually, during the regular season, I am able to help my partner during the live show and count him through the routine! I had to put a lot of trust in my niece, Hailey, to guide Tripp through the live performance.
“I’m so incredibly proud of Tripp and Hailey,” she continued. “Tripp had never performed or danced before and so it was a great accomplishment for him to get the courage to perform in front of millions of people.”
During his time on the show, a shy and more reserved Palin Johnston got plenty of support from his mom, Bristol Palin, and grandmother, Sarah Palin.
“My mom said to try my hardest, and to have fun, my grandma said the same thing,” he said.
And while Osta Smith, the first girl and youngest contestant ever to win MasterChef Junior at the age of 10, didn’t make it through to the next round, the 13-year-old will remain busy as she continues to work on her first cookbook while inspiring kids and adults to do what they love.
DWTS Season 25’s Jordan Fisher and Frankie Muniz are hosting this season, with Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, longtime DWTS pro and two-time Mirror Ball champ Val Chmerkovskiy and Emmy winner and La La Land choreographer Mandy Moore as judges.
“I’ve worked with a lot of young kids for a few years now and I think that I’ve realized that I always get the most when I’m honest, but I can poke fun but in a way where they feel like they’re letting their guard down because then I tell them something serious,” Rippon previously told PEOPLE.
“I’m the kind of judge I am as a coach, where I try to be funny and break the tension but I’m serious,” he added. “Because it’s serious, it doesn’t mean it needs to feel like life and death.”
Dancing with the Stars: Juniors airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.