Champion On Tap: SYTYCD Season 12 Finale

It’s nearly two weeks later and I’ve come up for air from the whirlwind of new premieres (Dancing With The Stars, The Voice, the HAMILTON soundtrack). With well-meant intentions this was scheduled to drop on time the week after….but this in itself left me with so many feels I needed to take a moment with this as well.

Tap wins.

Tap. Wins. (By now y’all have to have seen the finale, so this spoiler shouldn’t mean anything.) Out of 10 years, 12 seasons and 12 tap dancers, one stands at the the top, and her name is Gaby Diaz.  Team Stage takes the final victory in this season’s So You Think You Can Dance as Gaby beats out fellow Stage finalist Hailee Payne and Street finalists Jana “JaJa” Jankova and Virgil Gadson for the title of America’s Favorite Dancer.

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But before this historic decision is delivered, we celebrate the entire season with reprises and a collaboration with all of the Top 10 dancers and the All-Stars.

Top 10 + 10 – Contemporary
Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Flores (Two Steps From Hell, Archangel)

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Cat introduced it as “celestial,” so either the dancers were the gods and titans having an intergalactic battle or their namesake constellations dancing around the cosmos. Either way the costuming obscured any chance of picking out all of the dancers successfully.

Emmy result announcements are made–lighting and costume got theirs; choreographer Tessandra Chavez got one (the Alzheimer’s themed piece with JaJa and Alex was one of hers), as well as this up and coming fellow named Travis Wall, who snagged his first win after five nominations….and Cat got to present it to him. He and Tessandra Chavez shared their win with Dancing With The Stars choreographers Derek and Julianne Hough.

The reprises come from the judges’, coaches’, and Final Four’s picks….and you know Cat’s gonna get a pick, too. There are also a few highlight moments from the audition tour.

Judges’ choice – Jason
Virgil (with All-Star Joshua Allen) Hip-Hop
Choreographer Pharcyde and Phoenix (Song: Let’s Go, Trick Daddy featuring Twista and Lil Jon)

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Run The World aside, given the crazed reaction Nigel and Jason had, a second night reprise was pretty much expected.

Audition Hero moment
Ladia Yates

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Ladia Yates, the Memphis jooker with the bubbly personality and the youth dance team that got to perform for and with Jason Derulo at the Memphis auditions. She got to Green Mile this year so hopefully we’ll see her on next season.

Judges’ choice – Paula
Edson and Megz – Contemporary
Choreographer Talia Favia (Song, You There, Aquilo)

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Paula’s first choice, fondly known as the “t-shirt dance.” I’m surprised by its choice only in that the intricate timing and placement required to work with those shirts could be an issue, but Edson and Megz both danced effortlessly through the choreography again.

JaJa (with All-Star Ricky Ubeda) – Broadway
Choreographer Al Blackstone (Song: Let’s Face The Music And Dance, Nat King Cole)

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Another of Paula’s choices, it features JaJa in full Hollywood glam getting her Ginger Rogers on with Ricky Ubeda as gangster and moll. One of her more stellar acting jobs and a really fun routine.

Cat’s pick
Team Street – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo (Song: Ready Or Not Here I Come, District 78 featuring Cheesa)

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The first time in the season Team Street threw down the gauntlet at Team Stage and said, in the manner of Sandman Sims, “CHALLANGE!!!!!!” More than likely it was a playback made to look live, but a repeat was definitely in order.

Captain’s pick – tWitch
Neptune and Gaby – Contemporary Choreographer Stacey Tookey (Song : Take My Hand, Precious Lord, Ledisi [from the Selma soundtrack])

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An emotionally moving piece that gave Neptune and Gaby breakout performances, this was well received and due an encore.

Nigel announces a Dizzyfeet Gala special….a young lady named Lil Phoenix gets to do some animation with Cyrus. This little girl can’t be more than 9 or 10 years old–we might as well call this baby Lil JaJa, because she is KILLING it! (Song: Emergency, District 78)

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Ugh! All of these extras–the season’s sexy moments hosted by a swim trunk wearing, shirtless Asaf. After he finishes stunting and Kate pushes him into the pool, we segue to Hailee describing the sexiness of her jazz duet with Robert Roldan, so Hailee’s “contestant pick” is Haunted, Beyoncé, by choreographer Ray Leeper. (We know that’s not the one she picked in last week’s interview but she and Virgil couldn’t very well pick the same dance.)

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Audition Hero moment
Cody Carlson

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The freestyle hip-hop dancer who just happens to have Down syndrome was one of the more entertaining and inspirational auditions of the season. His appearance impressed his idol, Jason DeRulo, and garnered Cody a spot on the Special Olympics dance team.

Coaches’ pick – Travis
Gaby (with All-Star Joshua Allen) Hip-Hop
Choreographer Pharcyde and Phoenix (Song: I’m Really Hot, Missy Elliott)

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Gaby slayed this dance AND Joshua, both figuratively and literally. Was there any doubt?

Interesting to note that even though the pieces featured one of their team members, each coach picked a piece that was the other’s discipline.

Another special guest, Herman Cornell from the American Ballet Theater, performs a solo (Song: Le Corsaire: Act II: “4. Grand Pas., Var. Ali., Evergreen Symphony Orchestra), giving this new age audience some cultural exposure and some quality ballet appreciation time.

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Judges’ pick – Jason
Team Stage – Contemporary Choreographer Travis Wall (Song: Beautiful Friends, Helen Money)

The ghostlight routine, which I’m surprised got picked for this particular show but I’m getting the feeling more and more playbacks are being employed, as I can’t see how those kids can change in and out of such specific makeup that fast. Still, it was a really good routine and on my personal favorites list.

Audition Hero moment
Thomas “Mr. Hollywood” Condello

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*eye roll* At least he amused the judges….

Contestants’ pick – Virgil
Virgil and Hailee – Hip-Hop Choreographer Dave Scott (Song : Runnin’, Noahplause)

Like we didn’t see THAT choice coming…..

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Apparently forfeiting his reprise choices this season, Nigel now introduces a dream match-up…..Asian ballet boys Alex Wong and Jim Nowakowsi perform a Travis Wall contemporary ballet piece to the song November, by Max Richter and Alexander Balanescu. The piece, about an estranged father and son who meet for the first time years into the young man’s life, gets the expected rousing cheers and fulfills the many fan wishes and requests.

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Now for an elimination–Team Stage is brought out and narrowed to one team finalist…..and it’s Gaby. Hailee is praised and applauded for her journey and her performances.

Audition Hero moment
Eliazer Chapman

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This young Bronx freestyler who danced his way through his struggles while living in a homeless shelter with his dad providing the season’s most shining example of tenacity and perseverance.

Judges’ pick – Nigel
JaJa (with All-Star Alex Wong) – Contemporary
Choreographer Tessandra Chavez (Song: Youth, Daughter)

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OK, so apparently Nigel made ONE choice tonight–JaJa’s acting and dancing tour de force, she portrays the confusion of an Alzheimer’s patient poignantly and displays some strong contemporary dance skills, to boot.

We get a special performance from the whole of Academy of Villains, including this season’s shining star choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde. (Song: Crunk, Noahplause)

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The last guest performance of the night is a duet with Travis Wall and Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Choreographer Travis Wall, Song: Gimme All Your Love, Alabama Snakes) from the Dizzyfeet Gala. While I would have rather seen more of the contestants, I at least now see that Jenna’s credentials as a judge for this show were valid.

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Eliminations for Team Street are up, and it is revealed that JaJa is tops on that team, so we’re now saying goodbye to Virgil.

Contestants’ pick – JaJa
JaJa and Jim – Hip-Hop Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song : No Woman, No Cry (Live Version), Bob Marley and the Wailers)

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JaJa’s most empowering dance, in her opinion….and one of the better laid-back offerings from Christopher Scott.

There’s a video reprise of the Top 20 season opener (I know full well those children weren’t on the stage that night), but it was a perfect selection. Both the intro video and the stage mashup were excellently done, and almost ties with the Season 10 “Puttin’ On The Ritz” one take. Choreographers Christopher Scott and Jessica (Song: Revolt, Nathan Lanier)

More filler…Team Stage and Team Street have a rooftop showdown reading Twitter snaps against each other. It’s really amusing watching some of the Stage dancers try to be tough, especially the really button-nose cute ones.

Contestants’ pick – Gaby
Gaby (with All-Star Robert Roldan) – Contemporary
Choreographer Mandy Moore (Song: Angel, Sarah McLachlan)

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Gaby’s most personally groundbreaking routine–it’s the one that she says made her realize the strength and power she had within her.

And now, after dragging it out with even more montages….we finally, after 12 seasons and only 12 contestants in the specialty, have a tap champion. One of my readers said this was Gaby’s contest to lose, and given her tenacity from being REJECTED at her first audition, then shining and thriving in everyone else’s disciplines, it was pretty much written in the stars. Add that incredible, mind-boggling tap duet Anthony Morigerato gave her for the finale and I think that was a lock.  One of the best balances of technique and popularity in a contestant yet–and that it lies in a tap specialist gives a much-needed spotlight to the dancers in this discipline who struggle for respect and acknowledgment as a “real” dancer in this industry.  A rousing reveillie for Gaby–and for tap!

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