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Emmys 2017
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So You Think You Can Dance mentor blog: Travis Wall on this week's controversial elimination

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Vince Bucci/Invision/AP

The top 18 performed last night, and I was very excited for Derek and Alexia to have an emotional breakthrough. People keep talking about Derek — his facility is incredible, but they say he doesn’t have a personality. I asked him, “Does that suck to hear everyone keep saying that you don’t have a personality? How does that make you feel?” He was like, “I hate it. People are telling you that you’re not a person, that you don’t really exist.” For him to actually connect during the piece was very exciting. I looked at both Derek and Alexia when they came off stage, and I said, “We only go up from here. There’s no backpedaling. We keep digging.” I was very excited for them. And Jaja did so well. I was giving her some tips on her arabesque and trying to help her out, so I was really happy for her as well. I thought the three of them did an amazing job together, and Stacey’s choreography was so beautiful.

Jim, Moises, and Megz: Jim and Moises worked so hard. All week, they never stopped rehearsing with Megz, and they never stopped trying to embrace the style. They would show up to rehearsals in Timberland boots and jeans and hoodies instead of their tight pants and tank tops. It is so far away from anything they’ve ever done in their entire life, so I really thought they did everything they could. They did everything the choreographer asked for and more, and when the judges said they looked like they were backup dancers, I think they were judging the routine and not their execution. So I was upset that they said that about the boys, because I know how hard they worked. This is my overall critique: This year, when I’m with them the entire week, I see how hard they work. I see where the routine is at the very beginning. I see the hours and the dedication. They want to do so well, and then it gets to the live show and the judges come in and critique, and their opinions mean so much to America’s ears. It’s heartbreaking. It would be a different story if the contestants didn’t work hard.

Edson, JJ, and Yorelis: The craziest thing that no one talks about is that Edson got this huge, huge muscle cramp on Friday and was sent to the hospital. He couldn’t move his body. Everything was cramping, from his forearms to his biceps to his quads to his calves. He had to go to the hospital every day for three days, so he didn’t get a lot of rehearsal time. They didn’t talk about that on the show, but that’s something that Edson was battling all week. So it was a good routine. I think Edson did a good job. Was it his best performance? No, it wasn’t. But I thought that his health might have gotten in the way of him really nailing the routine this week.

Marissa and Asaf: Was it the best cha-cha I’ve ever seen? Absolutely not. I thought Marissa was amazing, and Marissa worked so hard with Asaf all week. When you get Asaf, it’s a completely selfless week. You can’t even work on yourself, and the choreographers don’t even really get to work with you. I was giving Marissa tips on her cha-cha steps, and she was like, “Wow, I haven’t heard any of this.” So when the judges said, “You were performing to the audience, and you should have been looking at Asaf,” I think she was looking at Asaf. But then she had to think about herself in this performance. She can’t just ride in the passenger seat into a car crash. They gave her bad comments on that, but if you watched Marissa alone, I thought she was incredible. I was happy with how that routine turned out, because of what it could have been.

Gaby, Ariana, and Burim: African Jazz was great. I really thought the girls were incredible; Ariana and Gaby were both incredible in that. I thought Burim held his own and did everything the choreographer asked him to do. I thought that was a great performance. Again, Gaby can do anything you ask her to do — I have to say, Gaby is really becoming a front-runner in this competition, because she’s unstoppable. That’s one of the greatest qualities in a dancer: to be a chameleon, to mold into any style and execute any piece perfectly, and that’s what she’s doing. And I hope she continues to do so.

Kate and Neptune: First of all, their connection — from the beginning they got each other, they were just working so hard. I really like Neptune. He’s not only the sweetest guy, but he just works so hard. They were really trying to find this connection, and Kate was really trying to have this breakthrough moment. We were all hoping the judges would finally be on their side, and they were. I didn’t know how the critiques were going to go, and then they gave both of them the recognition that they deserved after the week of work they just put in. So we were both really ecstatic about that. A lot of the judges’ comments last night were like, “There weren’t many steps in here.” Not all steps have to be huge lifts and tricks. The simplicity of movement is also very difficult. You don’t have to always have the big moments to be impressed; you can be impressed by simplicity. So I was very happy with Kate and Neptune’s performance last night, and I thought she looked like a movie star.

Hailee and Virgil: That was incredible. Phoenix and Pharside are by far one of my favorite choreographers in this competition, on and off stage. I love those guys so much. They come in with an amazing concept, an amazing song, amazing visuals, and amazing choreography. I really think they’ve figured out the show. And Hailee, let’s talk about her. She’s incredible. I think just because of last night she has moved into a position where she could really be here for a while. I was completely blown away by her performance, by her execution, and by her popping technique, and then afterwards, by the fact that she and Virgil stayed in character and had all of that personality. I loved every single moment of it. I’m really excited for Hailee; she had that moment last night, and we’re going to continue to find more moments like that for her.

And then we had Team Stage’s routine by Jaci Royal. That was her first appearance on the show. I’ve known Jaci for a while, and I’ve watched her choreography, and it’s continued to grow and be extraordinary. I was excited for her and for my dancers. They worked hard. The camaraderie was incredible.

I agreed with the bottom six from the week before, and Twitter definitely got it right by saving Kate and Ariana. And then it came time for the eliminations. Twitter and Instagram and a lot of websites blew up. People were really upset about last night’s results and who the judges saved. On my team, it’s apples and oranges. Who do you like, Edson or Moises? I think Moises’ technique blows Edson out of the water, but Edson has a very likable personality and a likable look. I’m really upset about losing Moises, but I like Edson as well. It depends on what you prefer. I know that Edson is very happy about getting a second chance and is really going to push himself even harder than he thought he could before. That was a nice wake-up call for him.

On the Street side, I cannot answer anyone’s questions about why the judges chose to save Asaf. If you’re looking on ability and performance in the past two weeks, Burim is obviously the better dancer, and he has done the competition ten times better. They didn’t give a reason for saving Asaf. I saw a lot of things saying people weren’t going to watch anymore: “It’s not about So You Think You Can Dance, it’s about So You Think You Can Have Abs.” But Burim had abs too! I just think that a lot of things are going into the equation: how people are backstage and how people are working with other choreographers. Asaf has an amazing personality.

But one thing I can say to all of those people who are really upset about it is this: You should never watch or not watch So You Think You Can Dance based on what the judges say or do. The reason you’re watching is for the talent on the show, the contestants, and the amazing pieces of art that have never been seen before — these brand-new creations on every single episode. And if you’re really upset about someone not being saved, then you should have voted for them. So tune in for next week. Obviously, there will be more upsetting eliminations, but there will also be more fantastic routines.

I’m super stoked about next week—I’m doing another group routine, so I’m excited to choreograph on them again. And this weekend is the Dizzy Feet Foundation Gala. I’m actually heading to rehearsal right now with Jenna Dewan Tatum. We’re dancing a duet. It’s fun dancing with her. She’s incredible. She’s like, “Oh, I haven’t danced for a while,” and we got to rehearsal last week and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I wish I could say that.

As told to Kelly Connolly