From the moment she dazzled the judges with her audition on the Season 8 premiere of So You Think You Can Dance, Melanie Moore looked like a serious contender for the title of America’s Favorite Dancer. And over the next four months, the 19-year-old Georgia pixie maintained that front-runner status, eventually taking home the crown on the Aug. 11 season finale, and scoring promises of job offers from Lady Gaga and movie director Kenny Ortega along the way. TVLine caught up with Melanie to talk about her memorable “Return to Stone” dance with Marko Germar, her “leap of faith” with SYTYCD All-Star Neil Haskell, and the whereabouts of a certain pair of enormous red platform boots.
TVLINE | Your incredible solo at the Atlanta auditions made you an immediate front-runner. I’m curious how much prep and rehearsal went into that piece, especially knowing that later in the season, you were so last-minute creating a solo that it was still a work in progress backstage on the night of the show.
I had had my audition solo since the year before, and I won some national [competitions] with it. So I was like, “Maybe this is the one I should bring in front of the judges.” It was just comfortable in my body, so I knew that once the nerves hit, I wouldn’t be too scared and I wouldn’t forget anything. A lot of preparation definitely went into it, and it’s by far my favorite solo that I’ve ever done.
TVLINE | So you were worried about nerves? How did auditioning for SYTYCD compare to, say, performing in a national dance competition?
Definitely more pressure. The first time I got up in front of the judges, I had already started crying. I didn’t know what they were gonna ask me, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. And they were like “Are you really nervous right now?” and I was like, “Yeah.” And they were like, “Okay.” And I was like, “I’m sorry, can you just let me dance? We can maybe talk afterwards. I need to just dance for a minute.” I was probably more nervous about hearing what they had to say than I was about actually dancing.
TVLINE | Let’s talk about the statue piece, “Return to Stone,” which was our first time seeing you dance with Marko. What was the process like with the body paint you were wearing? Was it hard to dance coated in that stuff?
The body paint was interesting because it was all airbrushed on, and it was definitely a process. When we first came out in the beginning of the episode and did the “one-two-threes” — where they say “It’s Melanie!” or “It’s Sasha!” — I had to have a full jumper on because my whole legs and torso had already been painted. There wouldn’t have been enough time during the show to get my body paint done. It was kind of crazy. Altogether it took maybe 45 minutes to an hour to get it the way they wanted it — and that’s with three people working on us at the same time. It was weird, though, because it really took the piece to a completely different level. I finally saw the piece on YouTube and I was like “Oh my gosh, we actually look like statues! We look kind of creepy!”
TVLINE | So does the paint affect the way you move?
They had us do it with half body paint for the dress rehearsal, and I remember being worried because Marko sweats so much I was afraid it would come off and we’d go slipping and sliding across the floor. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Is it the choreographer who makes the decision about things like the body paint?
Yes, it was Travis [Wall]‘s decision. He wanted us to look completely “statued-out” — the costumes, the hair, everything.
TVLINE | Your NappyTabs routine to Leona Lewis’ “I Got You,” where you play a close friend comforting Marko’s jilted groom, required you to really get into a character while also memorizing brand new choreography. Where does your mind go when you’re performing? How do you juggle those two aspects?
We definitely talk about the intention. For me, it was a little bit easier than it was for Marko. He had to be crying and I just had to be the supportive best friend, and I think I can probably play that pretty well. But you have to have such a strong connection with the person you’re dancing with in order to get through it, in order to really make it look like the story is actually happening. Marko and I were always really talkative, and made sure we were attentive to each other’s needs.
TVLINE | Let’s talk about the Viennese Waltz you did with Pasha, because it was your one ballroom moment. I thought it was interesting how the judges pointed out the high degree of difficulty in transitioning into and out of all the lifts, and the way the two of you maintained the fluidity of the motion from beginning to end.
I was so relieved [about the feedback] because Pasha basically put me through boot camp. He had me carrying Gatorade bottles, and if he could see the bottle moving on my hand, then I wasn’t doing it right. Because it’s the Viennese Waltz, it has to be so smooth, so pretty, and so light on your feet, and I had to dance without a partner for half [of our rehearsals], carrying the Gatorade bottle in my hand, and making it look like it wasn’t moving. If Pasha saw it move, he’d be like, “No, no, no. Do it again, Melanie!” I was like “Pasha, are you serious?” It was really hard. I was glad the judges pointed it out, but on the other hand, it’s my job to make it look easy.
TVLINE | How exactly did you hold the Gatorade bottles? And were they empty or full?
I had to balance the bottle on my hand. Pasha was so serious. He was not playing around with that. It was the bottle I was drinking out of, so I could stop and take a sip every now and then.
TVLINE | Let’s talk about that “leap of faith” with Neil during Top 8 week, the one set to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Obviously it was a great partnership with a lot of trust, and the end result was really moving, but how the heck do you go about making that kind of huge running leap into someone’s arms for the very first time? It has to be scary!
Mandy [Moore] was the choreographer for that piece, and she told me I was going to run across the room and jump into Neil’s arms. And I started [in our first rehearsal] not very far away from him — me taking two steps and then jumping into him. And I just kept scooting back. Still, in the end it was kind of a surprise. I even surprised myself that I could jump that high at him, and jump that far. I don’t think anybody expected that, but it turned into this leap of faith. It didn’t take long, though, really. It took about three tries before I got as far back as I needed to be. I’m sort of a daredevil. I’ll just do it. I don’t really care. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Did you watch that routine afterward? How did you feel watching the dance build to that spectacular moment?
I know what I’m feeling as I’m dancing, and I’m always so nitpicky: “We could have done this on that one, or we could have done that on that one!” But with that dance, I was just enjoying it as I watched it back. “Oh my gosh, we were really living in this piece! We were so into it!” Lady Gaga was so right when she said it didn’t matter what we did. He could’ve dropped me, he could’ve done anything — because we were in that moment.
TVLINE | That was the night Gaga told you she would hire you to go on tour with her right that minute. It had to be one of the more astonishing critiques of the season. How did that make you feel?
I was sort of thinking, “I hope this isn’t just one of those things where they’re just saying it for TV.” That’s what I was thinking. All of America heard it, so all of you guys can vouch for me. Because I will be calling her. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Absolutely. I mean, you have the SYTYCD Season 8 tour to finish first, but then…
“If you have room for a 5’2″ pixie dancer, you know where I am.”
TVLINE | That was also the night where Gaga threw one of her giant red platform shoes to you and Sasha, and the other one to choreographer Sonya Tayeh, at the end of the “Game On” routine. We saw those shoes again in a package on finale night. Where are they now? Who has possession of the shoes?
[Gaga] gave one to Sasha and one to me, and signed them both. We each have one, and that’s how they came to be in the finale package.
TVLINE | Where are you going to keep the shoe?
Probably as a centerpiece wherever I am. Maybe put flowers in it, or put it in a shadowbox. I don’t know, but it has to go somewhere special.
TVLINE | Tell me about performing “Game On” with Sasha. It was a big moment this season. What was the energy like dancing with another woman for a change?
We were both really excited because it was the first all-girl piece of the season — besides the group pieces. Sonya gave it to us and really let us loose, let us use our own strengths and play off of each other. The energy was so amazing — and Sasha has the best energy out of anybody — and so it was really inspiring to dance with her.
TVLINE | You also did the ’50s housewife number with Sasha at the performance finale, and that one was so much more about restraint and containment than “Game On.” What’s it like dancing with that intention, where what you don’t do is as important as what you do?
It’s another one of those pieces where you really have to understand where the character is coming from. Because if we were just like “Oh, we’re in four walls of a house and we really need to be confined,” then it wouldn’t get through. So Stacey and Sasha and I sat down and had a really long talk: What it means, and what we would feel if we were stuck and couldn’t get out, and there was no way to go anywhere. That’s where the motivation came from. The choreography was so reflective, as if we were talking to each other but we didn’t even need to say it because we felt so confined.
TVLINE | So after you finish the SYTYCD tour, what’s next for you?
Well, they’ve called me the actress of the season, so I feel like I might need to try my hand at that, but dancing has always been first love, so that’s really where I want to go. After the tour, I’m going to see what opportunities come my way and audition as much as I can. I’ve always said I just want to be dancing; I don’t care what else I’m doing.