After 10 years on the air, the Fox competition series So You Think You Can Dance decided to change things up a bit for its 12th season, with two new judges (Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo have joined Nigel Lythgoe), two All-Star team captains (Travis Wall and Stephen “tWitch” Boss) and a twist in the competition – stage dancers vs. street dancers.
Placing the dancers in rival categories opened things up to some who likely would never have had a chance before, and really pushes everyone to step up their game, in every way. But even though this is a Top 20 of extremely talented and gifted dancers, one performance that doesn’t connect with the viewers can still end up sending one of them home.
Monsters & Critics was invited to the first live performance show of the season, where we got a chance to speak with judges Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo, along with the Team Stage (Travis Wall) and Team Street (tWitch) captains, who all shared what they love about the show and working with the dancers, especially since they all understand what they’re going through, as performers.
Singing superstar Jason Derulo said that, as one of the new judges, being honest with the contestants is a hard thing to do, especially when you know that you’re going to break somebody’s heart. “My intention is never to ruin somebody’s dream, and it’s never to break anybody’s spirit. I only want people to get better, and I want them to know why they might not make it to the next level. Sometimes it doesn’t go down that way. Some people will take this experience and feel like they never should dance again. And on the brighter side, sometimes people take criticism in a positive way, and they come back better and stronger than before. That’s the dope thing about this show. There are so many repeat contestants because they go away and come back stronger.”
Derulo admitted to not always listening to the advice that he’s been given, in his career, and said that you have to know what’s good for you. “I was smart, I took some advice and left some advice where it was at. As a performer, you have to be able to do that. Just ‘cause somebody gives you advice, it doesn’t mean it’s good advice. Even coming from someone that you respect, just ‘cause it worked for that person, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. So, as a performer and as a dancer, in general, you have to decide what works for you.”
As first a choreographer and then a performer herself, Paul Abdul understands exactly what the contestants are going through, and her time as a judge on American Idol proves that she also knows her to give them advice and criticism. “I come from a background that completely understands every step, spirit and psyche of dancers, the structure of how choreographers work with dancers, and just the nature of how frickin’ difficult it is to become a professional in this field. It’s not for the weak. It demands everything from you. It’s not like this big, fat paycheck comes in. These dancers are no different than Olympic athletes. They don’t put in any less hours than Olympic athletes do, or NFL players, or NBA players, or MLB players. They put in just as many hours as those who study medicine to become a doctor, or study law to become a lawyer, yet their talent sometimes is just looked at as a commodity. But if we didn’t have the spirit and psyche of dancers in the entertainment business, it wouldn’t be the same. They are the unsung heroes.”
Abdul went on to say, “This show, just like American Idol, produces superstars in dance. These dancers go on to become the most employed, working dancers that we get to enjoy watching and rooting on, behind Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift or Beyonce. We see these amazing dancers evolve into Emmy Award-winning choreographers. When I was doing that, there was no one else. For me to be able to see how this show has really been able to put a beautiful spotlight on what it takes to make it as a dancer, as a choreographer and as a performer, it’s wonderful. I hope the show continues, and I hope that the blessing continues.”
Both Travis Wall and Stephen “tWitch” Boss started out as contestants, and though neither won their respective seasons (they were both runners-up), they have gone on to tremendous success in the dance industry and can each provide invaluable advice to the dancers on their team.
When asked if he ever imagined he’d be at this point now, when he first auditioned and was on the show in Season 4, tWitch said, “I hoped. I imagined that dancing would take me as far as I could possibly go. Through my imagination, I still feel and hope that this is only the beginning. I’m still going to embark upon more things. I think all dreamers do that. But it’s a surprise and shock that it’s actually happening, and it’s a delight. You sit around and dream about it, all the time, and you aspire and hope. You’re standing in that line being like, ‘Man, I hope I’m gonna to be one of those 20.’ And then, when you’re one of the 20, you’re like, ‘Man, I hope I’m gonna be one of the 10.’ And then, when you’re one of the 10, you’re like, ‘Man, I hope I can be one of the four.’ And then, when you’re one of the four, you’re like, ‘Man, I could be the one, right now.’ The dreams just keep maturing and turning into other things.”
Since his time on Season 2, Wall has returned numerous as a choreographer and created some of the most memorable performances on the show. “I never imagined that we would be on for 12 seasons, coming in at Season 2. It’s incredible that I’m still here. With the opportunities that the show has opened up for me, it’s changed my life. I always said I would be here, no matter what. If the show wasn’t here, I would have eventually gotten here. I just wouldn’t have gotten here as fast. Being an established choreographer at 27 was always my dream, but I don’t think it would have been possible, at this age, without this show. It gave me this huge exposure and this huge platform to be able to put out my work, every week, as a choreographer, and to share a piece of my soul. The pieces that I do mean a lot to me. They have to do with things that are happening in my real life, which is cool.”
Wall went on to say, “When you sign up to be a dancer, you sign up knowing that you’re not going to get paid and you’re going to be behind artists. You’re never going to be the star, but that’s what drives you to do it. You don’t become a dancer to be famous. But then, shows like this came out and opened up an opportunity. On Season 2, we found out that we were doing a tour. We went on the tour, and we didn’t know who was going to go to it. We sold out in 11 minutes, and we walked out to 5,000 people who were shouting our names. Not Janet Jackson, not Britney Spears, and not Justin Timberlake. They came to see us, and they shouted out the dancers names. I’ll never forget that. I was 18. And then, we went outside and literally everyone from the show was outside by our tour buses with huge signs, and they brought us presents and cakes and things. We were just like, ‘What?! What is this?! This is incredible!’ I got so emotional that I cried on the bus. The love that we felt was so emotional. That was never in the cards for us, before that. It inspired me to keep pursuing that. People say that I inspired them to dance. Little boys come up and say, ‘My dad lets me dance because I say that I love you. I let him see you and he said, if that’s what I want to do, then he supports it.’ That just breaks my heart. That makes it worth it.”
When it comes to Team Street, tWitch said that he doesn’t expect the dancers to follow his advice, if they don’t want to or they don’t feel that it’s right for them. “I’m not a very, very competitive person when it comes to winning and losing. Of course, I’m competitive with myself. If I win, great. But if I’ve won and I feel like I didn’t stand up to the plate, then I’m disappointed in myself, no matter what anybody says. For anything, I tell them to be in competition for themselves. Yeah, they’re involved in a competition, so with that, they should take everything that they can and perform to the best of their ability. When you’re able to look back at the playback, and see that you did that, nobody can take that away from you.”
For Team Stage, Wall wasn’t sure how the dancers would feel about having him as their team captain, but is happy with how things are turning out. “The contestants have seen me make something out of nothing. I’ve been through every single position on this show. I’ve seen what’s been good and I’ve seen what’s been bad, and I know what works and how to get through it. They’re definitely looking up to me. And I didn’t know how this was going to feel, at first. I didn’t know if the dancers were going to be excited that I was a mentor, or intimidated that I was a mentor. But they’re definitely coming up to me and they’re like, ‘What do you think about what I’m doing? What’s your opinion?’ It’s been really nice. We’re just scratching the surface of what you can achieve on this show, so I’m really excited for a lot of these contestants.”
Wall also commented on just how much the show has evolved, in the 10 years that it’s been on the air. “Coming in, I knew that I had a strong background in every style, and I knew I could win this show based on dance, but they said it was a personality contest. Especially back then, it was about personality. The dancing wasn’t as hard as what we do now, on the show. What we’ve been able to do has changed. The kids know the show and the show makes them better because they train harder. The capacity of what these kids’ bodies can do now is not what it was in Season 2.”
Since the live performance shows have only just begun, things are sure to heat up, in the coming weeks. When it comes to Team Stage, Wall said, “I think I have a team of growers. There are one or two stars, but I think a lot of them are going to become stars. I think there are a lot of people that are going to grow on you, and there’s a lot of exploring to do. Every week, I think there’s going to be progression, and I think it’s going to get better and better and better.”
For Team Street, tWitch said, “[Viewers] can look forward to getting to really see the will and the gusto of somebody that did not grow up in the studio. They get to see what it’s like to really not know how to do something, and what they do to actually stand up and do it. That’s one of the most encouraging things. That’s what made people fall in love with the show. On top of great dancing, you like to see the underdogs climb to the top, and you like to see the heroes stand up.”
So You Think You Can Dance is celebrating a decade of dance with a two-night live event on Monday, July 20th and Tuesday, July 21st.