Image via YouTube

Yesterday—or possibly today, I seriously don’t understand how these time zones work—Adam Rippon became the most popular figure skater in the U.S. by absolutely crushing his long program during the team competition and becoming a key contributor to Team USA’s bronze medal win.

It was his best performance to date in competition. But back in December, he turned in what might be considered his second best. Or, anyway, most unexpected. Rippon was one of six male skaters to qualify to the Grand Prix Final; he wound up placing fifth in the event. All the major competitions feature gala performances for the audience where the programs are more fun and less difficult and the competitive stakes are nonexistent. For the gala portion of the Grand Prix Final in Japan, Rippon did more than wear a cute costume and skate to a Top 40 pop hit; he also sang the pop hit.

The song was Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” Rippon took the to ice, mic in hand, wearing head to toe black, and then he started singing. His voice was sweet and pleasant. It didn’t have much power behind it, but power is what he brings to his spins and jumps. Then Rippon stripped off the black jacket, dropped the mic, and started to skate.

When I spoke to him back in December, just over a week after that performance, I asked him how much live singing experience he had. “Car experience,” he replied. “So my own experience of singing in front of people was like I had none. But I always like to hear myself in the car, which I know is like that telltale sign of somebody who’s like fucking awful, where you like hear yourself in the car and you’re like ‘I’m amazing’ but like you really you have the music turned up so loud that you’re just like hearing Whitney Houston sing but it’s covering up your own flat notes.”

But despite a lack of live singing experience, Rippon had spent some time working on his singing in a recording studio; he had some indication that he didn’t totally suck. At the start of the 2017-18 skating season, he had gone into a studio to record a cover of “Diamonds.” His plan had actually been to skate to it for his competitive short program.

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“Since I had this recorded version before and I went into a studio, I, like, sang in front of the producer for the first time and he was like ‘Oh this is fine,’” Rippon recalled. “I know am delusional at times, but I’m not completely out of touch delusional.”

Rippon ended up doing his short program to Ida Corr vs. Fedde Le Grand’s “Let Me Think About It,” which he described to me as one of his favorite songs. “I will never get sick of it. I’ll have them play it at my wedding. I’ll have them play it at my funeral. It’s just the best,” he said.

In Japan, he had approached the competition organizers about performing “Diamonds” live for the gala show and they gave him the go-ahead. He practiced with his recorded version to prepare. “The first time I ever sang in front of a crow of people was like 10,000 people in Japan at a skating exhibition.”

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“I’m having a boy band moment,” he added.

I asked him if he planned to perform “Diamonds” for the gala in Pyeongchang should he make the Olympic team. He said that he’d do it if asked but did want to put together different exhibition possibilities.

“You know, I’m always kind of changing it up,” he said. “Always trying to keep these bitches on their toes.”

Rippon singing “Diamonds” in Nagoya, Japan.