When I last attended the set of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance several weeks ago, all ten of this season’s amazing dancers were still in the competition. In my opinion, this has been one of the most talented group of dancers in the show’s 16-season history. And one of the youngest, ranging in age from 18 to 21. Since then, six of the dancers have been eliminated: Stephanie Sosa, Eddie Hoyt, Benjamin Castro, Anna Linstruth, Ezra Sosa, and Madison Jordan. A few of these cuts had me screaming “NOOOOO!” like I was trapped inside an Edvard Munch painting but, alas, that is how the show works — two people have to be eliminated each week until we find out on next week’s season finale who will be crowned America’s Favorite Dancer.
There are four dancers still standing: Bailey Munoz, an 18-year-old hip hop dancer and B-boy from Las Vegas; Gino Cosculluela, an 18-year-old contemporary dancer from Miami; Mariah Russell, a 19-year-old contemporary dancer from Nashville; and Sophie Pittman, an 18-year-old contemporary dancer from Collierville, Tennessee. Happily, no one was eliminated during last night’s show, they were just dancing their hearts out in anticipation of next week’s finale. As of now, the final decision is out of the judges’ hands and “America” will decide the winner, with votes cast by text or on the Fox app. All four of the dancers were so spellbinding last night that I’m glad no one was cut because I might have started shouting from my seat and been forcibly ejected from the soundstage! Following the naming of next week’s winner, the Top Ten dancers will reunite for the 2019 So You Think You Can Dance Live Tour, kicking off on October 12 and stopping in 40 cities across the country through December 6. Click here for more info about the tour including dates, cities, and ticket prices.
Despite the agonizing nature of the competition, I have to say that this is the most positive TV show set I’ve ever been on. The support and love that the dancers feel for each other is palpable, as is the good will aimed at the four judges, host Cat Deeley, the talented crew, and the studio audience. It’s also one of the best-produced shows I’ve ever seen (the set design, lighting, camera work, and costumes are beyond compare) and certainly one of the most riveting. It’s astonishing how many extremely difficult numbers these dancers must learn each week and then perform with confidence in front of millions of viewers. I simply don’t know how they do it. Immediately following last night’s broadcast, I talked to three of the judges and all four of the talented dancers still in the running.
Danny Miller: Nigel, I have to admit that before I started watching this show, I knew absolutely nothing about dance, but now I’m all in!
Nigel Lythgoe: It’s crazy how it gets you, isn’t it?
I just think this is exactly the show that America needs right now.
There are no barriers here. No walls.
All of the dancers this season are fantastic, but I still feel devastated when some of my favorites are eliminated. Seeing people like Madison and Benjamin being voted off was especially hard.
Yes, that’s what the show is, I enjoyed that tension for many years with American Idol [which Lythgoe also produced]. At this point, I’ve learned how to step aside a bit, otherwise I’d be heartbroken every week!
I’m continually surprised by how moved I am by these dancers — their powerful work just brings up a lot of emotions in me. I’m stunned by the vulnerability showed each week by these talented young people.
It’s important, isn’t it? I don’t think a lot of people understand how important it is to show your vulnerability.
How do you think this show prepares them for the real world?
Over a number of weeks, I think it does. As hard as it is for them here, the real world is twice as tough, and as much as a choreographer might love you this week, when you go and audition for the same choreographer next week, he or she may not want you. It’s just a fact of life that you are auditioning for every single job that you go for. Bank managers don’t have to do that, secretaries don’t do have to do that, most people don’t have to go to every single job and say, “Hello, this is my talent. I’m opening up my life for you!” In many ways, it’s a horrible, difficult trade. I’ve advised both of my boys not to go into it, it can be a very ugly business. But if you love it, you cannot stop yourself. That’s why their emotions are on their sleeves.
I have to say I could not be more impressed by this year’s dancers.
Yes, I honestly don’t think we’ve had a Top Four in past seasons that actually compete at this level on every single dance, every single style. We’ve done Tahitian and Indian and hip hop and ballroom, and they’ve all brought themselves up to a level that is just tremendous.
And the growth of some of them has just been incredible. I think of someone like Gino, for instance, who is obviously a remarkably skilled dancer, but he’s been blowing me away for the past few weeks, I cried tonight during his solo.
He’s releasing his emotions now. As we’ve spoken about, it’s so important to show your vulnerability. And America sees that, too. If it’s just a veneer that they’re putting on, people will see right through that.
Mary, I’ve never seen such a loving environment at a TV show, it’s just remarkable. I’ve been near tears all night long.
Mary Murphy: Awesome. You’re gonna get me going in a second. (Laughs.)
Is it hard to see certain dancers go each season that you think have something really special?
Oh, during the first few years that was very difficult. You break through that eventually and just hope for the best for each of them. We never know how it’s going to end. I thought they were all tremendous dancers this season and I was sad when some of them left, but then the next show comes along and everyone does such a great job and you move on. I think the fans at home love this show so much, they really support these dancers. It’s a hard life but such an enriching one.
Do you think after being here they are in a better position to go out into the dance world?
It’s different, however I do think this show is one of the best preparations. I don’t think there’s anything as hard as So You Think You Can Dance out there, to be honest with you. In the real world, you don’t have to learn so many new things in such a short period of time. And most dance gigs out there are not on live TV in front of millions of people. This show forces dancers to face their fears flat on, look them in the eye and annihilate them, and not listen to that chatter in your head that says there’s no way you can do five or six numbers in one week. They only get five hours to learn those duets, my brain explodes just watching them. I forget sometimes that the dancers have such a short period of time because it looks so good. Some of them have chemistry and it looks so well-rehearsed, it looks like they’ve been dancing together for months and months.
Dominic, you were a contestant in Season 3, a choreographer, and now you’re a judge. What do you think these dancers will gain from this experience?
Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval: I’m so happy you asked that because I feel like for myself and so many of the dancers who have gone on to become household names in the dance world, this show really birthed our careers. So You Think You Can Dance is the first show that really set off dance in the mainstream media and gave dancers the ability to make an income and support themselves at a time when it was hard to imagine having an actual career as a dancer. This show has done more for the dance world than anything I can think of.
I knew nothing about dancing before this show, to be honest, and now I’m completely riveted by these dancers and the different dance styles, I’ve learned so much.
I mean, has there ever been a time when dancers like the ones we showcase are seen as artists in their own right to this degree? Before this show, the best many dancers could hope for was to be featured behind a star, this kind of attention was unheard of. It’s really cool to know that dancers are finally able to stand at the forefront of their craft.
How do you think the show helps them as they move on in their lives and careers?
You learn so much and you have a chance to work on many different routines with literally the greatest choreographers in the world. People like Mandy Moore and Travis Wall, all of them, it’s such an unbelievable honor. I think this show helps dancers learn what they can actually do, not just in dance but in life.
Gino and Sophie, I talked to you several weeks ago when you had both just lost your partners and were paired together for the following week. We’ve seen the results of your amazing partnership since then. Was it just like you thought it would be then?
Gino Cosculluela: From the second we got into rehearsal, I knew it was going to be an amazing partnership and it hasn’t failed.
Sophie Pittman: I wasn’t sure how the judges were going to respond to us together. I was hoping for this kind of partnership and I’m so grateful.
I couldn’t even believe my eyes when I saw what you were both doing tonight. Are you always in pain the next day?
Gino Cosculluela: For sure, but at this point we know how to get over it. That’s probably the hardest challenge, doing so many things back to back.
Sophie Pittman: Yeah, it’s like dance boot camp.
Do you already know what you’ll be doing next week?
No idea. We get a day off and then we start all over again!
Mariah and Bailey, I can’t believe what you did tonight, one extraordinary routine after the other. Are you exhausted?
Mariah Russell: It’s definitely challenging but I’m just so grateful to be here and soak up every moment. Doing that many dances in one week gets stressful, but at the same time it gives us more chances to prove ourselves to America and to just have more fun on stage. I’m glad we do that many each week.
Bailey Munoz: Yeah, no pain, no gain, right? This has been a dream for all of us and we’ve worked so hard to get to this point. So we all have to put it on the line every single time we step on that stage.
What’s it like getting that much attention from the public? That has to be way more than you’ve ever experienced, right?
Mariah Russell: Absolutely. I’m definitely not used to it but it’s a great feeling. I’m just so thankful to have such a great support system. It can be a little scary sometimes because it’s like, “Oh my gosh, someone is actually obsessed with me!” But overall it’s a great feeling to know that people love what I do and that I can actually inspire people.
Bailey Munoz: The fact that we can have an impact on people’s lives is just insane. And just being part of the history of the great dancers I’ve seen on this show for most of my life is really incredible.
Be sure to tune in to the live season finale of So You Think You Can Dance on Monday, September 16 on Fox.