Credit: Brooklin Rosenstock/Fox

The top 16 performances were incredible, and the reason why, I believe, is that this was the first time that we had all duets again. It felt like the old format. You get to connect with every contestant, you get to see two people connect onstage, and you’re not fighting to find a third or fourth person. The choreographers brought it this week, the dancers brought it, the judges’ comments were awesome, and with the energy backstage, it just felt like a really good show. I loved every second of it.

Hailee and Jaja: They were amazing. Ray worked so hard getting Jaja to the place that he needed to. Jaja is really a street dancer; there are a lot of people on the Street Team who are trained in contemporary and trained in ballet, but Jaja is really a street dancer, so the things that Jaja is doing are really incredible. Hailee completely stole the routine, though. Hailee’s a star, and I told her that: She’s literally becoming a star right before our eyes. In Vegas, she was great, and in the beginning of the show she was really great, but now you literally can’t take your eyes off of her onstage. Every time she walks on that stage, she just pulls the focus. There’s this energy that radiates from her. Hailee is really becoming one of the favorites in this competition.

Alexia and Neptune: Amazing piece, amazing concept. I thought Alexia did an incredible job. She had so much fun with the character, and Alexia’s personality is really starting to shine. She’s never been in the bottom. America’s really liking Alexia. It’s really great for her.

JJ: She’s not on my team, but oh my God. Was that not incredible? I was really sad that Derek couldn’t dance this week; I would have liked to see how he would have done with the ballroom. There are moments when it seems he kind of got a free pass, but I know he really wanted to do ballroom. But JJ did an incredible job. Wow. That was amazing.

Jim and Ariana: Jim’s so good! Everyone knows how big a fan I am of Jim, and he really affected us with his performance this week. His technique is incredible, and the things he can do with his body are impeccable, but as far as performance goes, he’s really starting to shed some layers of skin and bring out his performance. I thought he did a beautiful job, and Ariana did too. She’s been in the bottom every week — every single week — but she is an incredible dancer. So I have to give her props for that. They both really came together with Sean Cheesman’s choreography, and the lighting in that piece was incredible. Bob, our lighting designer, is one of a kind.

Gaby and Virgil: I really love Gaby. I love Gaby backstage; I love everything about Gaby. She works so hard, and she’s so honest. She’s so real. I’m happy she had that moment this week — I said this in the package, but Gaby’s done every routine amazingly, but she’s never had that standout performance. The routine itself hasn’t been, like, “That’s the most memorable routine of the night.” I think she finally had that moment. She and Virgil together were just a match made in heaven, and Gaby’s the one to beat in this competition. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Kate and Asaf: That was a process this week. Kate had a couple of breakdowns and doubted herself a lot, because she really had to walk Asaf through every single thing. There were moments of frustration and being completely defeated, but I was just trying to stay positive. I worked on her as well, and they pulled it off. Everything the judges had said about wanting Kate to turn it up a notch — I definitely thought she did it. And that might be a huge reason why she was saved this week. Kate’s in the bottom every week. She has the best technique, but there’s something that she’s not doing, and we have to figure that out if she’s going to connect with the audience.

Marissa and Yorelis: I thought they were amazing. Marissa worked so hard on that routine. That routine was so hard with the animation—she’s never done that, and I knew how hard she worked, and I thought she did an amazing job. She did two side somis in a row into two back handsprings, and then the double turn at the end, grabbing her foot onto the floor. That was incredible. Huge round of applause for Marissa last night.

Edson and Megz: I thought they were beautiful. Edson really connected with Megz, and I thought Megz was astounding. I couldn’t believe the things she was doing, and I really thought that was Edson’s best performance on the show yet.

For my Team Stage number, I literally have to give all of the credit to lighting designer Bob, because those were his lights that we used. I came to him with the concept in April, and he worked with me so closely on trying to achieve what we really wanted. And then Marina with wardrobe and Heather with makeup and Sally with hair — everyone came together to help me make this idea, this little image I had in the back of my head, come to life. It was perfectly, 100 percent executed the way I dreamed, and it was incredible. And at the end of the day, my dancers killed it. It was an amazing moment, and the response to the routine has been incredible. I’m just so thankful for how hard everyone worked to make it happen.

And then it came down to eliminations. My opinion on this: I love Derek very, very much, and I think he is incredibly talented, but I completely disagree on who Twitter saved. Derek was injured, yes, but he got a week off. Kate and Marissa killed themselves all week in three numbers. They stayed up and practiced with their partners until 2 a.m. They had to learn a Stage group routine and an opening number. So I thought that America should have left Derek’s fate up to the judges and voted for how hard those two girls worked. They worked so hard, and the person who had a week off got saved, and that made me uncomfortable.

I had no idea who they were going to save. I thought they were going to cut Kate, because she’d been in the bottom before, but they chose to cut Marissa. I think at that point, it could have been either/or, and both situations would have been disappointing. I got a little emotional when Marissa was cut. I felt so sorry for her — being on the show is a huge dream of hers, and she really did work so hard. When I got to Derek, I said, “I’m just letting you know that you are a very, very lucky man. You need to take this opportunity and work so much harder.” Honestly, everyone’s bodies are feeling it. Team Street a little bit more than Team Stage — there are seven contestants left on Team Street, and about five of them have injuries.

And it’s only going to get harder from here. Next week, there are more duets. I love the pairings, and I’m excited to see what the choreographers bring next week. But I was so excited to be part of this week’s show. It just felt like such a good show — you knew we were putting out great pieces of work, and the dancers were working so hard. It was a huge feeling of camaraderie. Team Stage killed it, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

As told to Kelly Connolly

Episode Recaps

So You Think You Can Dance

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.

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