It’s been a big year for Monica Aldama.
The coach of the Navarro College cheerleading team became an overnight sensation in January after the documentary series, "Cheer," which profiles her highly successful program, premiered on Netflix.
Since then, the University of Texas graduate and mom of two has become an international celebrity, appearing everywhere from as a guest on "Ellen" to a cast member of "Dancing with the Stars," which premieres Monday on ABC.
"I’ve been practicing for a week and a half, and to be honest, I’ve never worked this hard in my life. I’ve learned so much in such little time, although I’m still working on that technique," Aldama posted as an update on her "Dancing with the Stars" involvement on Instagram last week. "I’m thankful for the opportunity to have this journey and I’m soaking in every bit of it."
We chatted with Aldama, who grew up in and lives in Corsicana, where Navarro College is located, just before the pandemic hit Texas in March. Below is an edited version of that interview.
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You all worked on the documentary, "Cheer," for a year before it appeared on Netflix. Did you expect the reaction you received?
I just assumed that because it’s a cheerleading documentary that people in the cheer community would watch it and that would be about it. We were definitely caught off guard and not prepared for the success of the show. It’s been a blessing. We’re super excited about it.
"Cheer" is shot at Navarro College in Corsicana. (Before the pandemic), did you see an increase in tourism to Corsicana as a result of the show?
We have people I feel like every day coming to see the campus to try to find us, to see where we practice. We don’t normally show our routine until we do our first public appearance, so it is important for us to be able to practice and work on the things we need to. We covered the windows in the gym where we practice; a lot of people were looking through the windows, which is great, but it’s not great when you’re trying to keep a routine under wraps. There’s a lot of people every day taking pictures out in front of the college. Hopefully they’re interacting with Corsicana on top of that.
What do you like about living in Corsicana?
I grew up here. It’s a small town, but it’s not too terribly small. We’re really close to Dallas, so you don’t feel like you’re not able to experience the big city. You can be there in 50 minutes. It’s the best of both worlds. I just love being in a small town because you know everyone. It takes a village to raise your kids. We all look after each other’s kids as they’re growing up. I live in the country a little bit and I love being outside and being able to hear the birds and sit on my porch.
How has the show raised awareness for cheerleading?
We didn’t know it would be on such a big platform. These kids, they’re tough and they’re more athletic in my opinion than many other people in other sports. A lot of guys who did football in high school say this is much tougher than the things they did.
Is it true you wouldn’t allow Navarro cheerleading shirts to be sold until the show was released?
I’m always protective of the name. I’ve always felt like if you see someone wearing a Navarro football shirt, or a UT football shirt, you don’t assume they play football. Normally when you see someone in a cheer shirt, you assume they cheer at that place. (Before the show), if someone had on a Navarro cheer shirt and they weren’t acting right, I was going to get calls. I didn’t want them to think they’re representing my program. Then the show came out and it went nuts and people were selling stuff all over the United States. I was like, OK, we need to get a handle on this.
Can you say if there will be a second season of the show?
Obviously everyone wants a season two. Keep an eye out.
The show has made you a celebrity. A year ago, did you ever dream you’d appear on shows like "Ellen"?
I would have said there’s no way. I think the show came out on a Wednesday, and the following week we did interviews with Dallas news stations. I was like, "Oh my gosh, we have made it, we are on the Kidd Kraddick show. This is big time!" I had no idea what was to come. Two days later, we’re invited to be on "Ellen." We didn’t expect the whole world to watch the show.
How have you adjusted to your fame?
We’re just grateful for this opportunity to highlight our program. I’m starting my 26th year. I love this program. It’s like my baby. I’ve built it. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Corsicana has been so supportive, and our cheerleaders have always been little celebrities in our town. It’s a great place, a great community, and we’re lucky.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained a photo of a shirt with the message "Be a Jerry," referring to "Cheer" cast member Jerry Harris. On Monday, USA Today reported that Harris is under investigation for allegedly soliciting sex from minors. Out of sensitivity, we have removed the photo from the story.