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August 04, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

I think the top 16 performances gave us one of the strongest shows of the season so far. I didn’t realize how much I actually missed it until we had a full show of duets. I think everyone did a really fantastic job with them.

Hailee and Jaja: It was really awesome to see them both work together and to see two really strong females from both teams come together on what seemed like a really empowering piece. Both Hailee and Jaja are incredibly strong at the styles that they do, and both have a strong personality and presence as well. Jaja was outside of her style again; she’s really thrown herself into these things, which is great.

Alexia and Neptune: This was one of my favorite routines of the night, not only because you can’t get the song (“Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” by Rich Homie Quan) out of your head, but also because it was a really special pairing. I feel like for both Alexia and Neptune, as the competition has been going on, they’ve both been slowly blossoming. It’s so great that they were paired together, because they both share a similar story in that for the first few weeks, you didn’t get a feel for who they were as individual contestants. But now, each week they’re really starting to come out of their shells, and each piece they’ve been given has had little seeds of opportunities to show their personalities, giving America a little bit more to fall in love with. Even with their video packages this week: Neptune’s daughter is so cute. He’s a father—that’s amazing. And we all had a soft spot for the blind dog.

JJ: JJ was so fantastic. This was probably the furthest outside of her style that she could get, and she really transformed herself, which should speak volumes on the work ethic and focus that she can put forth. An Argentine Tango is not easy, and then to have the mental strength to switch partners — the Argentine Tango is also heavily reliant on your partner, the tension between you two, and the counterbalance of weight. You really have to develop a relationship with the person you’re dancing with, and to switch your partner mid-week is a huge thing. It didn’t throw her. We’re all sad for Derek, but it did not deter her performance quality. That was an incredible, standout moment for JJ this week.

Jim and Ariana: This is very exciting, because it’s the first standing ovation from the judges for Ariana. It’s a challenge finding the element in Ariana that’s going to connect with the people watching her through the television, because when you see her dance live, it’s like there’s no question — she deserves to be there. She’s been in the bottom every week, because she’s missing that connection, but obviously her caliber of dance is incredible, and she can take on everything. Honestly, this week was her best performance of the season so far, for me. The commitment and the character that she brought to this number — it finally clicked. Even in dress rehearsal, it was a good number, but at show time, both she and Jim dialed in and did exactly what they were supposed to do. 

Gaby and Virgil: They’re two stars onstage together. Their performance was brilliant. I have so much love for Virgil; he’s just a born entertainer. Anything we throw at him, he’s all about it, and it just so happens that he’s the most talented dude on the earth wrapped up in a four-foot-something package. He can sing; he can dance; he can act. He’s the complete package. I’m so happy for his journey so far. We just have to keep Virgil’s momentum going the way that it has been.

Kate and Asaf: This is the triumph story of the week. That was a work in progress the entire time, and they pulled it off. Asaf, even though he was eliminated, worked incredibly hard, and the elimination was actually quite honorable, to me. There was no devastation. We all knew it was coming and knew why it was happening, but at the same time, he earned his way into your heart. We really got to see the full spectrum — from Asaf having no clue what was going on when he got involved in the competition, not being able to pick up steps or knowing how to conduct himself in a rehearsal space, to watching him really dial in to the kind of focus he needs. We got to see that happen.

Marissa and Yorelis: This is another one that I wish I would have been in. That’s probably a secret dream of mine, to hypnotize all of the Stage dancers and take them all onto my team, so the subliminal message in that one was deep for me. But I thought it was fantastic, and I have to say that even in the midst of her elimination, Marissa did incredibly, taking on a routine where Chris Scott was (a) choreographing to Dubstep, and (b) choreographing for a Street dancer who’s able to do animation. That is probably one of the most difficult street styles that you’ll ever witness, and Marissa took it on like a champ. And it was a great comeback from last week.

Megz and Edson: After that performance, Megz could be on any team, to be quite honest. I’m so proud of her — she’s one of the chameleons for our team. Each contemporary routine she’s done, each hip-hop routine that she’s done, has been excellent. I’m so proud of her, because she’s another one of those who give 100 percent commitment no matter what.

The energy that Team Street put forth in that group routine was supreme. We call ourselves a squad, but that was like squad dreams supreme right there. They were so hyped, and coming off of the duets, there was a big weight lifted off of their shoulders. They were able to release all of that in the group routine. It was a very East Coast feel of hip-hop. Hip-hop is hip-hop, period, but of course it has its influences regionally, and New York is heavy in the groove of things. While to the untrained eye it may look easy and effortless, that’s because they have so much skill that they make it look easy and effortless.

At this point in time, every single vote counts, especially with the top 10 coming up. If you want your favorite dancers to stay, it’s imperative that you vote and also get creative in finding ways to vote. Start fan pages. Have viewing parties, because it’s really getting down to the wire. Every single vote counts, and at this point, with how hard Team Street is working, each loss is going to be a little devastating. I really need America to dial in and get those votes in for their favorites. And also, let’s please beat Team Stage. We came very close this week. Let’s go ahead and push it over next week. 

As told to Kelly Connolly


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