The icing on the cake: the “Stars on Ice” tour offers American figure skaters a special way to cap off an Olympic season
It’s been 12 years since Jason Brown first came to Spokane and won a junior title at the US Figure Skating Championships.
Since 2010, the Illinois-raised skater has won numerous national and international metals, won the U.S. Men’s Championship in 2015, competed in two Olympics, won team bronze at one of them, and become a favorite fans on the circuit for his style of figure skating.
Brown will return to Spokane on Friday night, along with other skating luminaries such as defending Olympic champion Nathan Chen, bronze medal-winning ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, as well as Vincent Zhou, Alysa Liu, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and Mirai Nagasu for “Stars on Ice”.
For Brown, nothing beats celebrating the end of an Olympic season with a “Stars on Ice” tour.
“There’s nothing more special than ‘Stars on Ice’ in an Olympic year,” Brown said from his home in Chicago. “You have all this excitement among the actors. We’ve traveled the world, we’re coming out of the most stressful year, and “Stars on Ice” is an opportunity where we can just let our guard down and play in such a light and stress-free environment. We can all hang out and bond and share our love of the sport with fans across the country.
And after missing the past two years due to COVID-19, the return of “Stars on Ice” in 2022 is even more enticing.
“This tour this year is especially special because for the past two years we’ve played and competed in empty arenas in front of real cardboard cutouts,” Brown said. “The fact that we’re going to be touring the country and seeing these 24 shows over these six weeks in front of real people, we’re just over the moon and so excited to do this together.”
The show features a mix of choreographed numbers created especially for the show skated to songs by artists such as AC/DC, The Weeknd and Jon Batiste, along with some of the skaters’ competition pieces. Chen, for example, adapted his “Rocketman” free skate, which won him his gold medal in Beijing, and he’s kicking off a final that Brown calls spectacular. Brown does a version of his short program, “Sinnerman”, by Nina Simone.
“For me, that was one of the highlights of this tour,” Brown said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to play it for people as much as I would have liked to. … So the fact that I have this opportunity to be in front of a crowd every weekend doing this program on which I worked so hard, to be able to share that with people is the greatest feeling.
Ice dancers Jean-Luc Baker and Kaitlin Hawayek, who finished 11th overall at their first Olympic Games, will perform in the final seven shows of the tour as special guest skaters. The winners of four consecutive bronze medals at the U.S. Nationals will perform a more recent number they debuted in Japan on their “Stars on Ice” tour, Sam Sparro’s “Black and Gold.”
“It’s upbeat, and we brought in something fun with our costumes to keep things interesting and in line with our level of entertainment when it comes to gala numbers,” Haweyek said.
For Baker, the trip to the Northwest is a homecoming. While he and Hawayek have been based in Montreal for four years, Baker grew up in Edmonds and grew up at the Seattle Skating Club. After Friday’s show in Spokane, they will continue their tour in Seattle and Portland.
“I have so many of my friends coming to this show, it’s going to be a riot,” he said.
For them, part of the joy of joining “Stars on Ice” is spending time with their fellow skaters. The skaters spend years competing against each other, but that doesn’t stop them from forming deep friendships. Baker said one of the highlights of his first trip to the Olympics was watching one of his best friends, Chen, win an Olympic title.
“It was so, so cool. He and I had lived together so many times. Just watching him grow and strive for excellence that he does, accepting only the best, was so cool,” said Baker said “Kaitlin and I had practice 20 minutes later, and we were trying so hard to stay focused for our practice because of the emotions we were having. We had tears in our eyes, we were screaming, I lost my mind. just to see him achieve all that he deserves was truly phenomenal.
Brown also spoke about the closeness of the particular group of skaters. They have a level of respect for each other that has translated into admiration and appreciation.
“I think there’s a great camaraderie, appreciation and support for each other,” Brown said. “I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve all been in it for so long. This particular group of athletes, many of us, this is our second Olympics, many of us have achieved what we wanted in sport, or at the end of our careers, and this is an opportunity to celebrate.
Baker and Hawayek agreed.
“It’s really exciting to be able to see everyone we’ve been able to share our experiences with at the Olympics,” Baker said. “I think it’s going to be really fun to catch them all, knowing that some of them are retiring and others are moving on to the next chapter of their lives. I think it’s going to be fun to celebrate the latest performances that I’m sure some of them will have individual shows, but all of us together, realistically, will be really, really exciting.
Ice dancers Hubble and Donohue, who won bronze in Beijing and silver at the world championships a few weeks later, have announced plans to retire at the end of this season. And while there has been speculation that Brown, now 27, will soon retire from competitive skating, he is not thinking about it at the moment.
He knows he’ll continue to work toward a college degree — he’s a junior at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs — he also plans to stay on the ice.
“Right now I’m in this mode where I’m going month by month. Obviously I’ve always planned four years ahead and looked to the next steps,” he said. For now, it’s about being open to different opportunities and options, but planning things as they come up. For now, I’ve been planning for the summer, doing a bunch of different shows, still playing and really loving doing it. I’m going to do a few tours in Japan, and that’s really the main thing.
“That’s a great question,” he added. “But maybe ask me in a few months.”
In the meantime, he is looking forward to returning to Spokane, where he won that first national title and competed in the Team Challenge Cup in 2016.
“I had the best experiences in Spokane,” he said. “For me, it’s also the public. So receptive, so supportive. I just had the best time performing in front of such an amazing crowd.