After a brief Olympic hiatus, “So You Think You Can Dance” is returning to the air tonight. I got a chance to talk to some of the competitors during the TCAs and discovered not everyone is thrilled with the new, shorter format, though everyone’s thrilled to be doing what they love best — dancing. Here’s what Will Thomas, George Lawrence II, Amelia Lowe, Chehon Wespi-Tschop had to say about being accepted, the toughest genre, and why they aren’t reading their critics.
HitFix: So, you guys are the first dancers to face the new, one-day-a-week format. What do you think about it?
Will Thomas: I think it was kind of cool in the beginning. Because of the new format, we all got to stay in the top twenty for a longer period of time. For three weeks, we were in the top twenty. Now I don’t think it’s that cool, because people are starting to leave. In past seasons, people got to do their show show, where they showed all the duets, and have fun the next day and be happy and be like that went great. Then Thursday would come and they’d be upset. But we pretty much get a show, yay yay, and then at the end of the show we’re all sad again. So I was really happy for all of us to be really excited that we moved on, but knowing that four of us went home… it’s bittersweet. We’re excited and we’re thankful for whatever the outcome is if it’s in our favor, but at the same time it sucks.
Dareian Kujawa: It seems like it’s going by so fast; we learn a dance and we do it and by the time it’s done, it’s like wow, did that really just happen? So it seems like we’re being rushed a little on the show, so you’ve got to really take it all in and live in the moment, because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so live it to the fullest.
HitFix: Given how little time we now have to get to know you off-stage, how do you stand out?
Amelia Lowe: It’s a lot of pressure on us, because we do all these interviews all the time, and you don’t know what they’re going to use for you, so you hope that what they decide for you is something America is going to connect with. So they don’t get much time to connect with you, but they find their ways to discover who they like, and we hope they like us.
HitFix: I heard you only get to spend five hours with the choreographer to learn your routine. That’s not much, is it?
George Lawrence II: Basically we have one day, like an hour and a half to learn the choreography, like the style of it. The next day we do five hours. It’s really intense, the pressure’s on to get the steps with your partner and make sure it’s very clean. Then we show it on Tuesday and Wednesday and then the show happens. There’s a lot of pressure going on backstage.
HitFIx: Do you read about yourselves online?
Will: We’re told not to, and sometimes we’ll sneak off and we’ll catch ourselves doing it until we see something bad, and then we’re like, oh! And we slam the computer shut. Unless it’s tweeted directly toward us, then yeah, we’ll read that. Hopefully we try to respond to as many as we can but for the most part, we try to stay away from the blogs and all that, to keep our feelings safe. We’re sensitive.
Amelia: It’s like a Pandora’s box, because you’re so tempted to look and you’ll look for a while, and there’s lots of positive things that make you feel good, but then you’ll run into some negative things and you’re like, I don’t know if I should be doing this anymore. It’s all trying to find some balance to it. Some of the fans are really awesome and reach out to us personally and we really appreciate that, but it’s tough the stuff on YouTube that’s blanketed out there and it’s not specifically targeted us, especially if it’s negative. But most of the stuff is positive. So it’s awesome.
HitFix: Still, that must be difficult, since you have to get online to reach out to your fans.
Will: It’s so hard! We just try to keep busy.
George: Of course you’re gonna do it. It’s like Will says. Come on! We’re on TV now, so let’s see what people are saying about us. Then after a couple of times you’re like, oh wow, somebody said something bad. You’re like maybe I should not look. Because you get a little depressed.
HitFix: What’s the hardest part of the show for you?
Will: The hardest part, besides the long rehearsals, besides the ripped up feet, besides the sore muscles, is seeing our friends go, for me. That’s the hardest part. It trumps everything. I would lose a toe, well, I don’t know. But almost there. That’s the hardest part for me is seeing my best friends go.
George: I’m so far away from home and I’ve been gone for so long, you kind of miss your friends. But you form a whole new family on the show, so that’s not that bad. But again, it’s seeing the people leave you just got to know, you just learned to love. And now they’re all leaving, week by week.
HitFix: Do you feel that this national exposure has been helpful in showing your friends and family what it is you do all day?
George: My friends are a little, where are you? I never got to talk to you! I’m like, now, I’m busy. It’s not like I’m busy having fun. I’m busy working and getting all my routines together so I can look nice. But sometimes they don’t really understand it. But my family is very supportive and they keep me on the right track.
Will: Absolutely. My family, I always say, and this is just me, I always say I have the best family ever. They are so supportive. And we all say that about our own families, but… That’s always the hardest part, your friend or your family or people who are envious of you for whatever reason growing up, they always give you crap. I’m a male dancer… until they see you perform for the first time. I had a recital my senior year. It wasn’t about my dancing personally or my talent, it was just they understood how many dances we had to learn and the show we had to put on and how much work that all took to get to that spot, then they went and saw it again and they’re like, oh, I get it now. And it also helps being on national television. That’s awesome, too.
HitFix: What’s your ultimate goal?
Will: Top 10.
HitFix: Yes, but after the show ends. What do you want to do then?
George: I just want to have a successful dance job. I know I’m gonna be dancing wherever I go. It’s just nice to get paid for something you love to do. Whether I have my own studio whether I’m in movies, I just want to dance, basically.
Will: Absolutely. It’s awesome to get paid for what you do. I’ll never have to work a day in my life, because it’s not working to be dancing. My dream down the road, I want to do it all> I want to try a little bit of Broadway, I want to try a little bit of musical theater, I want to tour with an artist, I want to be in a movie, I’m an actor, so I’d love to get a role without even dancing.
HitFix: What’s the best or hardest criticism you’ve received thus far on the show?
Will: My body. I’ve never gotten so much! I know I’m tall and everyone tells me I’m tall, but I’ve never in my life had so many choreographers and people out there, Nigel, everyone saying you’ve gotta be bigger, you’ve gotta keep up with the rest of the group. I’ve never gotten that so much in my life. That’s probably the hardest. The best criticism is probably the same thing. Knowing you can get lower to the ground is something you can fix easily. I don’t see your heart while you’re dancing? If hat was one of my comments, I’d be like crap, I don’t know what to do. But getting lower, I can do that, I’ll work my ass off to get that. I just swore. Hopefully you don’t put that in.
HitFix: What is the toughest genre?
Chehon Wespi-Tschop: Ballroom. I think it’s because you have to be loose any step you do, you have to move your hips and loose the training that I had ever since I was, I’ve only ever trained in ballet, so to always hold your core, to always be upright. So trying to do ballroom, I was stiff. And dancing in high heels was hard, too. That and maybe hip hop might be the hardest for me.
HitFix: Alex Wong, who did extremely well on the show before he was injured, is a ballet dancer who seemed to take to hip hop. Is that an inspiration for you, Chehon?
Chehon: He’s a little rounder, and he trained in tap and jazz. I feel that sort of routine, “Out of My Mind,” was really fun to do. If it was something more intricate, that would be hard for me.
HitFix: Do you want to return to ballet after the show, or explore other paths?
Chehon: The reason why I chose to do this show was so I could kind of break out of what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve only been with ballet companies and last year with Twyla Tharp’s touring company. I would just like to work more commercially and not just have to do ballet jobs. I hope this will help me to grow as a dancer. In the short time I’ve been on the show this has helped me to grow so much already, I choreograph a lot, which is a big passion of mind and I want to get into acting, so I just want to bring everything together, branch out.
HitFix: Perhaps follow in Travis Wall’s footsteps?
Chehon: Yes, his journey really inspired me too. I love dancing, but at some point you have to move on to something else. The first time I did choreograph something in London while I was a student, it was a real eye opener because you get to see something you created, and it’s such a different experience once you see what you’ve done. I want to go through that experience.
HitFix: Do you have a favorite choreographer, Chehon?
Chehon: My favorite choreographer is Sonya Tayeh. Mandy Moore, Stacey Tookey, Travis and Mia are definitely amongst those I really look up to and are the reason I watched the show in the past. I just hope to get a chance to do all their routines, yeah.
HitFix: Amelia, how do you feel about being called the quirky girl?
Amelia: It seems like they’ll never stop calling me quirky. They seem to dub me as the quirky girl, which I don’t mind, because Melanie last year was very quirky, and she went on to win. So, hopefully I’ll follow in her footsteps.
HitFix: And Dareian, you’ve gotten a lot of praise for personality.
Dareian: My audition, they said when I dance it’s really heartfelt, and that’s what dance is for me. It’s an outlet to express your emotion, you know? That’s what I think about every time I go out on stage, whether it’s hip hop or I’m proposing to somebody, I want to make sure it comes from the heart. Awww. Yeah.
HitFix: What genres do you want to do next?
Dareian: I’m excited for contemporary, because that’s my stuff right there, I haven’t gotten to do it yet.
Amelia: I haven’t had the chance to do ballroom yet, and that seems really fun to me. I’m not too experienced in ballroom but it looks like so much fun and it looks like something would really challenge me to dance it. The shoes are rough. We had to wear heels for the Christopher Scott opening number, and all of us were feeling the pressure on our heels. We were dying and taping up our feet and blisters and stuff. You’ve got to take one for the team sometimes.
HitFix: And you and Dareian have both gotten stuck with some of the last choices, too, haven’t you?
Dareian: We actually got last pick for African jazz
Amelia: I got hip hop second to last pick, but it turned out well.
Dareian: African hip hop was awesome, too. I loved that Sean Cheeseman number. And hip hop, even though the judges said I was too weak or whatever, I really enjoyed it, and Scott’s a genius. I loved it.
HitFix: By the way, Amelia, you have amazing skin. How do you stay so perfectly pale?
Amelia: This just happens. Everyone thinks I’m being a narcissist, but this is just me.