Photo: Florian Weichelt/Unsplash, edited by Chris Stokel-Walker

Reality TV Turned These Kids into Villains. YouTube Gave Them a Chance to Set the Record Straight

Portrayed as brats on ‘structured reality’ shows, former reality TV kids are changing the narrative on YouTube

Amelia Tait
Published in
8 min readJul 20, 2019

In January 2012, two million Americans watched 14-year-old Payton Ackerman turn into a villain. Looking cherubic with her sleek brunette hair securely scraped back and adorned with a white bow, in an instant Payton’s bright red lips formed into a grimace as she argued with her dance teacher, Abby Lee Miller, on Lifetime’s Dance Moms.

“I thought I was better than most of the people,” the teenager declared, seemingly insulting her fellow stars on the reality TV show, which follows young dancers as they compete for prizes. The audience turned on the teen — and they didn’t forget. “I really hate Payton,” reads the top comment on a clip of the dancer uploaded to YouTube six years after the episode was first broadcast.

Payton Ackerman

For Ackerman, the hate is nothing new. When the teen’s home phone number was leaked during the show’s fourth season, she and her family began receiving death threats.

Viewers would frequently call her home between the hours of 2am and 4am, forcing her father to disconnect the landline. In 2014, Ackerman left the show for good.

Yet just before Christmas in 2018, Dance Moms’ fans performed an abrupt and dramatic pirouette.

Their opinions changed. Suddenly, Payton Ackerman was a hero.

“THE TRUTH: MY JOURNEY ON DANCE MOMS” is a 12-minute YouTube video that has been watched nearly a million times. Ackerman uploaded the video last year to set the record straight. According to her, the line about being “better” than other dancers was fed to her and selectively edited. Ackerman claims she said it about other dance troupes in the competition, not her fellow dancers on the show. Dance Moms’ production company, Collins Avenue, declined to provide comment for this article.

“Everybody believes that reality TV is reality…