Meet The Willis Clan, a family of 14 – mom, dad and 12 multi-talented kids – in our latest special, The Willis Clan, premiering Thursday, December 29 at 9/8 c. The special will chronicle the Willis family’s unique and somewhat unconventional way of raising their family, while remaining dedicated to living country.
“I think my kids are capable of nothing short of excellence, but getting there comes from a lifetime of hard work,” father Toby Willis says. Residing in a home in a rural part of middle Tennessee, the Willis family leads a fast-paced life, focusing on full-time homeschooling, coaching, choreography and all the chores involved in running a large household.
The Willis siblings range from ages 1 to 19. They are multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, singers and the six eldest children are nationally-ranked competitive dancers. During the special, four of them are preparing for a dance competition in Florida that is just five days away. The family band must write and record an original piece of music for the competition. Jessica,19, must write lyrics to a melody created by Jeremiah, 18. “The pressure is very real,” says Jessica. “Pressure is what makes me cry, I guess. You think you know your task and it grows on you.”
While not a dancer himself, Toby pushes Jeremiah/Jennifer and Jackson/Jasmine, the four children competing in the dance competition, during endless rehearsals. “Dad’s our toughest critic,” Jeremiah says. “My dad’s not going to tell us anything that’s not the truth.”
“Sometimes it’s more nerve wracking dancing for my dad than dancing for an audience because the audience isn’t going to tell you what you did wrong,” Jennifer says. In addition to school work and rehearsals, The Willis Clan also creates the costumes worn during competitions and each child is responsible for making their bed and doing their laundry every day.
Toby and the older boys are wrestlers. While the boys compete, dad uses the sport for something else. “Our goal as parents was to have our girls ready to marry at 18,” says Toby, “and the number one criteria for even dating my daughter? They have to wrestle me,” he says. Cameras were rolling when one potential suitor for Jessica, a young man named Michael, literally hit the mat to win Toby’s approval.
During the special, Toby and the six oldest children load up a van and make the 15-hour drive to Tampa. During the competition, Toby stays in the back of the room doing his own judging. “Perfection is just the cruelest master in the world,” he tells his kids after the competition. “I’m really proud of them,” mom Brenda says. “Sometimes Toby has more confidence in us than we all do.”