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So You Think You Can Dance mentor blog: Travis Wall reveals the question he asked his top 5 dancers

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Tonya Wise/Invision for the Television Academy/AP

This entire week, we had our stomachs in knots thinking about who was in the bottom, because we knew that at the end of the top 14’s performances, we were losing four amazing dancers. We tried not to think about it, but that was the elephant in the room.

Jim and Yorelis: Jim hurt himself on, I think, Friday. He couldn’t dance on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but we were hoping he’d be cleared, because he definitely did justice to Sonya’s routine. It was her first routine back, which was incredible. Plus, I knew how good Jim was in this routine, and I wanted America to see it. We were on the edge of our seats waiting to hear from the doctor. He was cleared first thing Monday morning, and then he went right back to rehearsal, rehearsed it — honestly — twice, and then did the routine without having done it in three days. It was really extraordinary what he did. Jim’s technique is incredible. He is by far one of the best dancers not only of this season, but who’ve ever been on this show, and I think he showed himself this week. He is definitely a possible contender to win. And then Yorelis — we knew that she was a contemporary dancer as well, but the two of them together, it was like: If we’re opening the show with this, that’s a pretty big statement. 

Jaja and Edson: This choreography by Misha Gabriel — I love this routine so much. When it comes to style and execution, I think Jaja and Edson fell a little short, but as far as performance goes, it felt like they were having a good time with each other, and that’s what I really wanted them to do. About Jason Derulo saying that it felt basic: I think that’s the craziest comment I’ve ever heard him say on the show. I would have a hard time doing that routine. It’s so fast and so intricate, and the steps demand such a level of style and sleekness. There’s nothing basic about it. tWitch and I were saying backstage that we’d love to see him pick up that choreography and then tell us it’s basic. I’m sure he could do it, but it’s not basic. So I was fully on Paula’s side. Was it the best performance of the night? No. If two other dancers in the competition did that routine, could it have been the best performance of the night? Possibly. But I thought they did a great job.

Virgil and Hailee: This was an amazing contemporary routine by Tyce. Hailee, again, is just blowing us away. It’s hard to look at anyone else on stage while she’s dancing, but I definitely thought Virgil held his own. The judges said that Virgil was kind of exposed during this, but I don’t agree with that. He didn’t pull my focus — I was watching Hailee — but I don’t think that he fell short in performance or technique. His jumps were high, and I think he was doing everything he was asked to do with this piece. 

Alexia and Ariana: Then there was the fish number, which obviously has caused a lot of stir on social media. First of all, Nigel called Ariana by a different name, which was just — backstage, we just looked around. These kids are trying every week, and they stand in front of the judges, and they get their names wrong. It’s disheartening. If I were ever standing up there and someone called me Trevor, I’d be like, “Do you not know who I am? You’ve been dealing with me since March, since I first auditioned, and you called me by the wrong name.” And then Nigel said that she looked like a dead fish on a slab. That is not the nicest thing you can say to somebody. It’s not constructive criticism. It’s literally just a stab; it’s words that are hurtful. They were really trying to sell that routine. Those two dancers did everything they could to pull off that routine. When Ariana said, “I was the sexiest fish I could’ve ever been,” that’s true. I don’t think they deserved the comments that they got from the judges, because at the end of the day, I think that the judges were talking about the overall concept, which the dancers are not in control of. 

Megz and Derek: To be honest, this was not my favorite performance of the night. I had nothing to grab onto. I definitely thought that Megz was killing it. I thought Megz was doing everything she could. I just don’t think Derek was believable in this style, and it sometimes was slightly uncomfortable. But I thought that he did a really good job doing everything to the best of his ability. I just don’t think he has it in him, but I definitely thought he gave the effort that he needed. I can’t really put a nail on it, but after I think about the night’s other numbers, I think that was the least memorable for me.

Gaby and Neptune: Stacey’s number was incredible. The storytelling was gorgeous — the way they let the characters drive the movement and drive their connection to each other, it felt like we were witnessing something we shouldn’t. I was really emotional backstage watching that. When Neptune talked about his daughter and how he’s felt this, thinking about the world we live in today, I literally started crying backstage. And Gaby — she’s a star. She is by far one of my favorite stage dancers on this show this year, and ever. I love everything about her, and I could not be more proud that she had another moment. If she keeps having these moments, she’s a contender to win this show. And my love for Stacey Tookey is so obvious at times, but she’s an important friend in my life, and I was very happy to see her have this huge success last night.

Kate and JJ: Watching Brian Friedman’s number in the studio, it was cute and fun, and it had lots of personality. Do I think it was a competitive number for So You Think You Can Dance? No. I think it was a great number, but I just don’t think it was going to make me pick up the phone for either of those contestants. It was amazing choreography and a cute concept, but there were no moments for me. I agree with Nigel: It would be an incredible stage number with 20 of those girls behind an artist, but I didn’t feel that either girl was a star in that number. But again, the dancers did everything that they were asked to do. I was very pleased with what they did. They did their job.

And then we revealed the bottom, which for Team Stage was Derek, Alexia, and Kate. I made the decision backstage, because it’s such an important decision for Twitter to make, to put out who I thought should be saved. For my reasons, I chose to save Neptune from Street and Alexia from Stage. Alexia had never been in the bottom before, and I felt that she had never had a performance come up short. Her performances got better and better every week. I know Derek has a huge following on Twitter and Instagram, and Alexia does not, so I just wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and help her out. I felt that Alexia had a lot more to share, and I felt that Kate and Derek had been getting the same notes over and over again. But Twitter just looks at Derek and goes, “That’s the better dancer.” And you know what? I agree. Derek is the better dancer. I was just thinking about Alexia’s journey in this competition. But I would’ve been devastated if any of those three went home, and I’m proud of Derek. I really want him to have redemption from that hip-hop number; I’m glad that’s not the last thing people saw of him on the show, because I know he’s such a better dancer than that.

It was really sad to lose Kate and Alexia, and on top of that, to lose Ariana and Yorelis. We lost four girls. It was the girls’ competition for a little bit, and now, on my team, I only have two girls and three guys. Just a week ago, in my group routine, I had two guys and five girls. We were calling them the Spice Girls. But now there are only two girls left: Hailee and Gaby. Every week, you have to vote. And I think you need to stop splitting votes; you need to start believing in one person, and I think you should start putting all of your votes toward, at least, one or two people you want to win the show. 

I looked my contestants in the eyes after the show, and I said, “I know at the beginning of the competition, you were trying to feel out what would make America like you. You’re now in the top 10. You know America has put you here. You know the judges have put you here. Do you want to win this competition?” And I made every contestant answer me face to face. If you’re here, you have to want to win. They all said yes, and I felt it. Now we’re going to start to be competitive. Now we’re going to start sizing each other up, because next week, the All-Stars come in. The dancing is going to be completely explosive — and we get to see them do their solos. 

Next week has some of the best choreography and some of the most memorable routines yet. It’s something about when those All-Stars come in for the first time. Everyone just ups their game.

As told to Kelly Connolly 

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