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'So You Think You Can Dance' exit interview: Ashleigh Di Lello on dancing with her husband, favorite numbers, and her controversial injury

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She may not have won the competition on So You Think You Can Dance, but Ashleigh Di Lello won a chance to do something she’d been hoping to do all season: dance with her husband, Ryan. Shortly after learning of her fifth-place finish, the ballroom dancer — who met with controversy one week ago after being allowed to stay in the competition following an injury — talked to EW about dancing with her hubby on national television, operating outside of her comfort zone, and the frustration of getting sidelined.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, fifth place. Not too shabby, right? Is that how you expected to place?

ASHLEIGH DI LELLO: I didn’t go in with any expectations, to be honest. All six of us had talked about how it could go any way and every week it was always a surprise. We were expecting the unexpected. Up until that week, I had never been in the bottom and every week depends on so many factors, the numbers that you do, really anything. I just went in and danced the best I could in the finale. Making the finale was the greatest thing that Ryan and I could have done together and after that everything would have been just icing on the cake. I made the finale, that’s all I could have asked for.

Was everyone happy for Russell?

Oh, sure. The six of us were a very tight family. We felt really blessed to be in that situation together, and we all talked about how if anyone had won, they’d deserve it. We’re thrilled for him. We couldn’t be more happy. Had anyone won, we all would have felt the same. We really were a tight, close group. He’s in quite a whirlwind right now, it’s pretty amazing.

Though you didn’t win this week, you still got to dance with your husband twice. How did that feel for you?

That’s the greatest victory of all, to go through this whole journey together, and every step of the way to continue to be here, was just an incredible blessing. We’re so grateful to just be able to dance together. That contemporary number was an amazing moment for us because we were able to communicate our relationship and how we felt through the dance. And to finally to be able to do our style together on the last night was absolutely amazing. I had only done my style once this whole season. I was excited just to put on my heels. Then to be able to do it together was just incredible. It was the perfect ending for us this season.

Has the competition affected your relationship at all?

I think only for the better. Every experience adds something and this one has been incredible. Going through the whole journey and watching each other, we definitely appreciate each other’s talent more and we’ve grown closer. This was an amazing, tough experience in so many ways, and I think that our marriage is even stronger than it ever has been. I guess that’s the goal: Every year to improve a little more, and this experience has definitely done that for us.

It was so emotional to perform that number. It has been quite a journey for the two of us to share together, and to communicate that onstage…. There was this one moment I had to refocus because it was so overwhelming I just wanted to sit on the stage and cry “happy tears” but I had to keep dancing! For us, it couldn’t have been a more perfect ending.

If we trust editing, you almost didn’t make the top 20 this year, until Paula decided to drop out of the competition. Did you know that Paula had not accepted an offer to be in the show? Or did you think you hadn’t made the top 20 after the judges offered Karen a spot?

I have my own personal feelings of how I was feeling inside. They took us up last, me and Karen, and Ryan had already gone through, so I hadn’t even known a few people before me whether they’d gone through or gotten cut.  It was just a lot of emotions. The hardest thing, actually, for me was when I knew I had gone through and Ryan didn’t.  Knowing that he was going through hard emotions thinking I hadn’t when I had but I couldn’t see him yet, that was the hardest moment for me. I was more concerned for how he was feeling!

You couldn’t dance with Ryan, but you landed one of the most technically gifted dancers of the season, Jakob. Were you happy to be paired with him?

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect partner. It was hard for us to say goodbye last night. I feel extremely fortunate. I love him as a person so much. We became instant kindred spirits. We got along so well. We worked a lot, we sweated a lot, but now we’re life-long friends. I couldn’t imagine going through this without him. One of the best partnerships I’ve ever experienced.

The judges constantly talked about your rapid improvement. Did you feel you were improving quickly as well?

I’ve definitely grown from this experience, for sure. We all came into this competition, obviously, with certain abilities already, but definitely I have improved. That was the goal every day, to improve somewhere in some aspect. Especially when you’re doing different styles. Like I said, I only did mine once. I was always having to push myself, definitely, because I was always out of my comfort zone and always in an area that was very foreign to me.  It was an opportunity to grow in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve grown a lot as a dancer in general, and I know that it will improve my ballroom dancing.

What was your favorite dance of the season? Was it one of those outside of your comfort zone?

That’s a hard one because there’s so many to pick from! Being able to share the stage with Ryan the last two days was incredible, but one that definitely affected me and was very memorable was the “Time Flies By” piece that Jakob and I did during our last week together. That number was about that moment in your life where everything is perfect. For me, every time I get to dance, especially on that stage, life was perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything more. So to be able to express how I felt through a dance was just a really incredible moment for me.

You got injured and were sidelined during top 8 week. Did you think you were a goner?

That was one of the most frustrating moments of my whole life because I wanted to dance so badly and I felt I could, but the doctors wanted to take every precaution. Russell and I had two amazing numbers that we had worked so hard on and they were solid. That was actually one of my most exciting weeks for me to dance, so it was extremely rough and sad. I thought it was going to be a great night for me, but I couldn’t dance, so of course it was tough!

Weeks before they had given people who had gotten injured a free pass, which I didn’t want, and I didn’t expect going into the finale. So I was voted on, but voted on not dancing that night. I just had no idea what would happen, and the outpouring of support I received was absolutely amazing and very humbling. People saying that they were voting based on the entire season, and what they thought I would have done that night, and for that I was just very grateful. It was a hard moment for sure, I had to put my shoulder back in right away. Fortunately it happened on stage with everyone watching so there was no hiding required. I just wish I had an opportunity to do those dances. That’s my only sadness of this season.

Will you get to do them on tour?

I don’t know but I hope so! Russell and I have both talked about it a lot, and we’d both love to, so hopefully we’ll get to do at least one of them.

Photo Credit: Joe Viles/Fox