By Travis Wall
August 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
  • TV Show

The top 8’s performances were great — we had more amazing routines and more amazing All-Stars. It’s become kind of a thing how tWitch and I exit the stage, so it was really fun to shout out to Instagram and Twitter asking for creative input on what we should be doing to exit the stage. We got a lot of leapfrogs; that was a huge response. We were going to do it, but I went to put my suit on and there was no way. I was going to rip right through it. So we went to plan B: The Rockettes tweeted us that we should do a kickline, so we did a small Rockette kickline off stage. That was the only thing the fabric was going to permit me to do.

First up were Derek and Jaimie with Tyce’s number. I’m very proud of Derek. I’ve known him since he was about 14 years old, and he’s always been an amazing dancer. He’s just always had something missing in his performance: that X-factor that people talk about, that connection. And when he got onto the show, I knew it would push him and help him break down his walls. In the past two weeks, I’ve found that Derek has come into his own and has really broken out of his shell — not just on stage, but off stage, in his interactions with crew and with hair and makeup and wardrobe and all of the contestants. You can definitely tell the difference. 

I could not be more proud of him, and I thought he did an amazing job this week. I was totally on Paula’s side. Jason and Nigel are getting a little hard on everyone — it’s top 8, and they’re trying to direct their comments toward the people they’re thinking will walk away with this competition. At this point, we can’t just say you’re great; we have to expect you to be outstanding. But I really thought Derek was outstanding. His solo was amazing. He just represented himself so well this week with that solo — and the first group routine with Tyce and the last group routine with Cassandra. I felt that he really danced this week. He has become a dancer, not just a technical dancer. He has an opinion when he’s dancing; he has an emotion and an intention. He connects.

Hailee with hip-hop: incredible. So much style. They didn’t need a concept — she had an amazing costume and an amazing connection with Fik-Shun, and she just danced. I have a huge feeling that Hailee could move out to L.A. and dance behind any artist. Not even just behind — she can dance alongside the most amazing dancers in L.A. She can do anything you ask her to do, and she’s really good at hip-hop. She was hand and foot with Fik-Shun last night when they were dancing, and you know how amazing he is. That just speaks so highly of her. Her solo was great. Did I think it had as much of an impact as Jim’s or Gaby’s or Derek’s? No, but I think where she didn’t compete as well as she could have with her solo, she really made up for it in that duet of hers.

There was an extra jumpsuit backstage, so I had to put on my black outfit and ask America who wore it better. I think Hailee beat me a little bit in the tweets. That’s okay — she’s allowed to beat me. But I think I looked pretty damn good in that unitard. 

Then there was Jim with the Medusa piece, with Comfort. He worked so hard. It’s like asking Jaja to put on a tutu and become a ballet dancer. It’s exactly the same when you’re asking a technically trained ballet dancer, who’s never done anything but ballet, to do hip-hop. He gave it 150 percent; he did everything we asked him to. Jim brought so much energy to that piece. He didn’t look like a hip-hop dancer — there’s a posture difference that he just didn’t find this week — but I still think it was an incredible performance. He did everything he was asked to do, and I was very pleased. 

Jim’s solo was incredible. That solo was one of the best solos ever on the show, and it sucks that it was just 30 seconds, because I want to see Jim do a three-minute solo. That’s the difference between some of the Stage and Street dancers. The Street dancers are flashy, and you’re going to want to watch 30 seconds of them, but a Stage dancer — you’re going to want five minutes. You want to see where they can go — the stories they can tell — and you want to see that technique for a long period of time. So I thought it was incredible that he pulled that off in 30 seconds. His technique was flawless. Impeccable. Nobody else could do that, especially on this season, let alone other seasons. So while he lacked in his duet performance compared to Gaby and Hailee, I really do believe that that solo should walk him into the finale.

Gaby was stunning. I was almost tearing up backstage during the performance. From Mandy Moore’s choreography to Robert’s dancing and partner work with Gaby, it was one of my favorite pieces of the season — probably my favorite performance of the season. And then she goes and puts on her tap shoes for the solo and it’s like, “Oh yeah, you’re a tapper.” She has become one of my favorite dancers ever on this show, because she can do anything you ask her to do, and she knocks it out of the park. Regardless of whether she wins this show or not, she will be asked back as an All-Star in multiple styles, and what a great quality to have as a dancer.

We saw that Derek and Hailee were in the bottom, and I had a feeling that Derek was going home, because Hailee’s never been in the bottom and Derek’s been in the bottom five times. But Derek has had an amazing journey on this show. He changed. He evolved. And he really has found himself. You can’t ask for anything more, and I can’t wait to see what he does next and how much he continues to grow and flourish.

Now we have Hailee, we have Jim, and we have Gaby. If you’d asked me week one who I thought my top 3 would be, I probably would have said those three. I think I did say those three, but I didn’t know how the journey was going to go, how healthy they would be, if America would really fall in love with them, if they’d pick good routines week on week. Sometimes on this show, you pull a certain routine and your journey is cut a little short. But I couldn’t be more proud of the three of them, and I can’t pick who’s in the finale. I can see all three of them being in the finale, and that’s incredible. I have a great team.

As told to Kelly Connolly

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
  • TV Show
  • 07/20/05
  • In Season
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