By Travis Wall
Updated September 08, 2015 at 09:43 PM EDT
Credit: Vince Bucci/Invision/AP
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The top four dancers worked so hard for this week’s performance round. They were up at 5 a.m. every day, rehearsing from 6:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. straight. It was a very intense week for their bodies and their brains, and I thought they did an incredible job all the way around. We were just hoping that the judges were going to celebrate them because of how much hard work they put into the week — getting every single routine up to the level it needed to reach was not an easy job. I thought all four threw themselves into it 100 percent and performed extremely well.

Jaja and Hailee: Nick and Misha’s hip-hop number was incredible. The energy was explosive, and there were so many levels. I felt like Hailee killed it. She was girly at times, and she hit extremely hard. She looked like a hip-hop dancer to me; she looked like she could be in any music video in two seconds, and I was super proud of her and how she attacked the number. I think that was one of the better performances of the night.

Gaby and Virgil: I loved Phillip’s collaboration of lyrical and hip-hop. Those lifts were extremely hard, and I felt like Virgil executed the lifts as well as he could. I thought they were extremely connected, and the transitions were smooth. Those are the things we were looking for, since the music was so smooth. Again, Gaby knocked it out of the park. I thought she was amazing.

Jaja and Gaby: This was a great number from Nick and RJ — really powerful. I couldn’t take my eyes off Gaby; of course, we’re in a stage style with this jazz dance, but I thought Gaby pulled all of the attention away.

Jaja and Virgil: I don’t think they would have been able to do that number in the beginning of the show. I said to both of them, “You guys have to be so proud. You’ve taken in so much knowledge; you’ve observed. You’ve become sponges. You’re really stretching your bodies and starting to figure out how to move through the space in this way.” They wouldn’t have been able to do that in the beginning of the competition, and I felt like those two have come a long way when it comes to doing contemporary.

Virgil and Hailee: Then there was the Broadway number, and the judges were right: It just showed off their personalities so well. Those two have a great connection — they’ve had some of their best numbers this season when they’ve danced together. I thought this number was a lot of fun. It was a huge play on character, and I thought they nailed it.

Hailee and Gaby: My contemporary number was really special to my heart — I came to the producers about it, and I sat them down and told them what it was about. I wanted everyone to take this piece for what they want to believe it is. What this piece is for me — if I were dancing it, how I would portray this piece is that it’s about the feelings I was having as a teenager, being afraid to come out of the closet and to be myself. I was afraid of what people were going to think of me, if I was going to be treated differently. This was all in my head for about two years before I finally got the courage to be myself. Thank God I had a supportive family and some friends, but there was a little bit of discrimination and some people who didn’t accept it. But I was fortunate enough to have an accepting family — some people don’t have that. I hope that this piece inspires people to know that just because you’re different, it doesn’t mean you’re any less. That’s what makes you unique.

It was beautiful to watch these two women look at each other and fall in love onstage and have so much support. To see two women dance like that on television, without screaming exactly what it is — you don’t have to say what it is. You look at it and you know exactly what it is and who it speaks to, because the connection and the movement speaks for itself. I was so proud of them. And they were so, so beautiful. I was emotional backstage, and they were emotional. And it was a moment that we’ll be able to share forever. I’ll never forget it.

I thought the All-Star numbers were incredible all the way around — I thought they were the best numbers of the night. Virgil with Joshua: The audience gasped. You heard this huge roar in the audience when he jumped on his back and flew even higher. There was so much energy in that number, and I loved the judges’ reactions. It was awesome to see them animated with each other. It was great.

I loved Hailee and Marko. Again with these jazz numbers — what else do the judges want from her? She’s throwing herself in all these splits and all of these jumps and one of the highest tour jetes I’ve ever seen. And these triple pirouettes! She’s killing the musicality and the connection with her partner. She’s doing every single thing you’re asking someone to do in a jazz number, and then the judges are like, “I was expecting a little bit more from you.” So I didn’t agree with those comments. I thought she was a star onstage. She got backstage and I just said, “Hailee, you’re incredible. You have to be so proud of that.”

I loved Jaja and Cyrus‘ performance. I thought it was amazing. Regardless of whether the concept is a sequel, prequel, or whatever, I thought the routine itself was original — nothing was repeated in the steps. I loved it.

For me, the best performance of the night was Anthony Morigerato’s number. He is my favorite tap dancer in the world currently, and Zack and Gaby — the level of difficulty and training that it takes to be able to do what they did is intense. And on top of that, in that short amount of time, they had to be able to trust those boxes. There were so many different ways they hit their feet on the boxes to create different sounds — the choreography was spectacular; the performance was spectacular; it was groundbreaking. I was screaming backstage. When I first saw it in the rehearsal room, I thought this was going to be one of the best numbers ever on So You Think You Can Dance. And it was.

I felt like last night was a very strong show — the judges were throwing out a lot of love, which makes us feel good backstage, because we’re there to fight for our contestants. We’re there to stand up for our contestants. We see the work that they put in. We’ll see what happens next week.

I think Hailee has had an incredible journey on this show. I told her, “All the choreographers are talking about you. We notice every single thing you do. You are going to be called up so much after you get off tour; you’re going to work your butt off” — because of her work ethic. I said, “It’s so admirable to see someone like you and how hard you work. You never make excuses. You never tell us you’re tired. You always go for it 150 percent. That’s all we can ask. If you keep that work ethic, you’re going to have the longest and greatest dance career ever.”

And Gaby is so versatile. Gaby’s a star. If it comes down to last night’s performances, I think Gaby should win. Now you have to look at the journey and see what America really thinks, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say Gaby takes it home.

As told to Kelly Connolly

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