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In the beginning of the “So You Think You Can Dance” second season, optimistic producers Simon Cowell, Nigel Lythgoe, and others, traveled to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Charleston in search of dancers who represented the rhythm and soul of America. The judges invited over 100 talented dancers who sparked their interest during auditions to call-backs in Las Vegas, where they worked with five of America’s top choreographers, Brian Friedman, Mia Michaels, Shane Sparks, Mary Murphy and Ron Montez. During the “Las Vegas Week,” the judges chose the Top 20, who continued in the competition.

From May 25, 2006 until August 16, the 20 worked hard to learn the one thing they didn’t already know-versatility. As Brian Friedman told Dish, “These kids are really kind of brilliant at what they do. They pick up everything so quick. Every rehearsal I’ve had with them has really shocked me, knowing that they’re out of their element and out of their style and able to grasp something so new in such a short period of time, so they’re all brilliant.”

Contestant Allison adds, “I had a really hard time during the West Coast Swing, actually, which I’m sitting here next to Benji who’s amazing at it. It was kind of hard, knowing that the champion is in the same competition with you when you get to the West Coast Swing.”

And as it turned out, when all was danced and done, the 22-year-old Benji ended up as not only the Western Swing champion but THE champion of this season’s very popular competition. And he claims he’s glad to have won, not only for himself, but as a Mormon, it has allowed him to "erase a lot of stigmas about Mormons. I'm not really normal, but I've been able to show people that we Mormons as a whole are pretty normal people who do love to dance."

As it turns out, Benji told Dish, his interest in dance didn’t make life easy for him as a young man. “It’s surreal,” he says, when asked if he now feels like the coolest kid in school. “I mean, going back into school, high school and junior high, I was made fun of a lot because I was a dancer. And all the time- and [fellow dancers] Ivan and Ryan, we shared the same story. We were pretty much thrown in lockers, that kind of thing. We wanted to punch, and we were just, like, pointing our toes, trying to kick someone.”

He continues, “But, it’s funny now. In fact, I recently just received an e-mail from an old school bully. And he told me that he just wanted to apologize for being so mean to me. He’s really appreciative of the fact that I’ve pursued my dreams in spite of the fact that he used to, like, spit and me and whatever he did to me.”

He concludes, “It’s kind of nice to see that as we pursue our dreams and try to make it on the show, that people are respecting it, even people that were completely against it maybe even a few years ago. And it’s really neat to see how this show can inspire so many people and the depth and levels that this show really brings to the world.”

And of course, this year’s prizes don’t hurt either. Says Nigel Lythgoe,“This season we’re giving a car, an SUV, a hundred thousand dollars, and a year’s contract, should the dancer want it, with the Celine Dion show. It’s already been written.” He adds facetiously, “We’re not sure if that’s a prize or a punishment.”

For the first time ever, “So You Think You Can Dance” will be hitting the road in September. The first date will be Sept. 12 in Seattle. See you favorite dancers in person! Go to the link below for venue and ticket purchase information http://www.fox.com/dance/showinfo/tour.htm.

”American Idol auditions will be beginning soon. And Nigel Lythgoe will be there. Here’s some advice from him for those of you planning to audition, “If they move, it’s always helpful. I don’t think we’ve had such good movers since Season One.”

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 60 - September 8611
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