EXCLUSIVE! Leigha Rose Sanderson talks new music, Dear Hannah Prep and staying positive no matter what

Leigha Rose Sanderson is *so* ready to step out on her own and shine. 

The 16-year-old singer and dancer got her start in JoJo Siwa's XOMG POP! but, after departing the girl group last spring, has been srsly busy making her dreams happen. "I'm focusing on my amazing career ahead—and leaving everything else in the past," spills Leigha. 

From creating fashion content as a Dear Hannah Prep girl to taking the stage in dance competitions to handling health struggles with her ever-positive energy to writing her very first single (it comes out in 2024, FYI, and we're beyond excited), we couldn't wait to get *all* the deets on Leigha's bright future...

Girls' Life: Let's start with the music. Your first single is going to debut next year.

Leigha Rose Sanderson: It's called "Puppet Master", and it's definitely more grown up than what I've done in the past. I wrote it with my cousin, who is an amazing songwriter. I wanted the song to show my journey, everything I've been through. I think it's really good. 

GL: Going out on your own, how did you figure out your sound as an artist?

Leigha: I've really been exploring my sound—the ways I want to sing but also the ways I want to present myself to the world. I have a little bit of a country side but also pop. Of course, Taylor Swift inspires me. So does Miley Cyrus—I love her voice and how her vocals sound, I've been compared to her in the ways I sing. I also love Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves.

Songwriting has also been an amazing outlet to explore. I can really express what I'm going through and show my emotions. It's powerful. I'm just starting to realize how much it's helped me.

GL: Besides recording your single, what's changed the most for you in the past year?

Leigha: My singing voice is evolving. My style. And I'm super excited now that I've gotten back into dance. I've definitely matured more through everything. 

GL: Of course, you've been through your fair share of challenges this year.

Leigha: I have spina bifida. I've had a lot of health complications since May including two surgeries and one major hospital stay. There are times when I'm in so much pain it's hard to do anything—it gets to me, like, I can't do the things I love because I'm in pain.  

GL: How do you get through the tougher times?

Leigha: I have an amazing support system: my mom, my entire family, amazing doctors and friendships so I have people to talk to through everything. My mom is always there by my side. I don't know how I could make it through without those people. 

I also try to stay positive. Butterflies are still my thing. I'm wearing my little butterfly ring today. I always have my saying that butterflies mean something good. Every time I see a little butterfly outside it inspires me. I think "you can do it, be that butterfly and spread your wings." That's kind of what I'm doing right now—branching out, spreading my wings.

GL: I think that's the mindset we all need! And besides butterflies, what's making its way into your personal style rn?

Leigha: I love the preppy style. I'm a preppy queen. Bright colors, pinks, blues, pastels. I want to keep that young, fun vibe without growing up too fast—staying comfortable, having fun and expressing myself in the way I want. 

GL: Sounds like working with Dear Hannah Prep really fits your vibe then. 

Leigha: It's been amazing in helping me find my style. Before working with them, I basically just wore dancewear. 

GL: And how did you get started as a Dear Hannah Prep girl?

Leigha: I actually saw their TikToks and was like "I love this place—I have to go." I DMed them to see if they wanted to collab and they said of course! So I asked my mom, we went to the store and filmed some content and even got a gift card to take home some of my faves. Then they asked me to be a Dear Hannah Prep girl! I was so excited. It's so much fun and I've actually met some really great friends through it, too. 

GL: How do you know when you've found a great friend?

Leigha: It's the people who have stuck by me through everything. Staying loyal, being humble, and just laughing together. I love Kinley [Cunningham], and I'm still best friends with her. 

GL: That's amazing that you two have been able to stay in touch.

Leigha: We talk almost every day. It's hard to make TikToks together far apart but we make it work—I'll literally film her on my iPad screen using my phone. It's a friendship I really love having. And, oh, something exciting! We're actually assisting together at a dance convention this year so I can't wait to reunite in every city that we do together. 

GL: So many exciting things coming up for you. What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?

Leigha: Definitely my music. I cannot wait for everyone to hear it and hopefully to relate to it. I'm also going to be filming a TV show with a major network and doing lots more dance so look out for that! 

GL: Finally, what's the best advice you have for other girls out there?

Leigha: No matter how many times something tries to knock you over, get back up. You can do it. Don't let anything get in the way of following your dreams. 

Check out Leigha on Instagram and stay tuned for her new music in 2024!

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by Katherine Hammer | 10/17/2023