Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Joanna's a big hit Down Under 

Posted by Sasha at 6:08 PM ET

Linda Summerhayes
Fri 11 May 2007

Tall, pretty and with a sparkling personality, fitness instructor Joanna Workticked all the judges' boxes when she auditioned for a place on the cheerleading squad of a top rugby team.

vercoming fierce competition, the Edinburgh woman found herself not only performing in front of 25,000 enthusiastic rugby supporters, but also taking a starring role in a reality television series.

The Cheerleaders has become a television phenomenon in New Zealand, showcasing the progress of Joanna and her team mates as they endure gruelling training sessions and tough criticism.

It has also meant the 27-year-old has been thrust into the spotlight, as she attends numerous red carpet events where she rubs shoulders with top sporting and media personalities.

"When you get recognised by rugby fans and their kids in a big city like Auckland, it's just bizarre," says the former Standard Life receptionist.

"It also feels like a privilege, too, because I'm the only one on the squad who is not a Kiwi."

The former Broughton High pupil describes the two-day audition in front of the TV cameras as a gruelling experience where she had to exude personality as well as prove she had the moves.

"The pressure was really full on," she says. "It was really quite nerve-wracking and you just got ripped to pieces.

"The judges asked me how I would react if people thought I was a bimbo because I was tall, tanned and blonde, but I think I got through because I told them I wasn't bothered and that people could think what they wanted to.

"I think what it came down to was they wanted strong people with strong personalities."

While filming is now over, training remains tough and the cheerleaders are expected to rehearse three times a week.

Not all the girls will be chosen to dance on the day of a game and, as they are only paid if they perform, competition is fierce.

"It's very intense," admits Joanna, who was once a "Rockette" cheerleader for the Scottish Rocks basketball team.

"It's not quite pom poms and nails flying, but it can lead to tension because everyone is fighting for a place on the squad."

Having a cheerleading squad has certainly been fortuitous for the Warriors who, this season, have not lost a home game at the 25,000 capacity Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland.

"The cheerleaders are a vital part of what we offer fans," says Warriors media manager Richard Becht. "They add a critical layer to the total package for every home game."

He adds: "Joanna has a huge personality that can't be missed the first time anyone meets her. She was certainly a standout performer when auditions were held."

Before arriving in Auckland to take a job at a gym, Joanna, who has also posed for a cheerleaders calendar, was backpacking her way across the world.

Before the high-profile launch of the television show, she had to ask her mum Issie to put a glamorous dress in the post because all she had with her were travelling clothes.

The six-part Cheerleaders programme was originally broadcast on a Sky channel but is set to reach a wider audience when it is repeated on a mainstream station next month. Joanna is uncertain as to what lies ahead after that.

"It's been like a whirlwind - there have been tears, heartache, rain, sunshine and joy - the whole range of emotions," she says. "Doing all this crazy stuff has just been amazing. I don't know what the future will hold but I'm happy just to take it as it comes."

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