SYTYCD Travis Wall

SYTYCD's Travis Wall Talks Street vs. Stage Struggles — Plus: Who Is His Pick to Win Season 12?

If So You Think You Can Dance‘s performance finale last Monday left you feeling like Gaby Diaz had already been crowned the winner, rest assured that her coach, Travis Wall, felt much the same way.

“Everybody feels it for her,” Wall tells TVLine. “She’s so funny off-camera and so easy to work with, and everybody really likes Gaby. It has a lot to do with not just how you look on TV, but what you have to deal with behind the scenes. She knows she’s going to be welcome back next year as an All-Star, hands-down.”

Wall — who competed on Season 2 of the Fox reality series and has since choreographed countless routines for the show — has been something of a guinea pig for Season 12’s Street vs. Stage theme, which found Wall going head-to-head with Stephen “Twitch” Boss as they coached separate teams of dancers. (Diaz is one of two Stage contestants who made it to the finale, along with jazz dancer Hailee Payne.)

Ahead of tonight’s season ender (8/7c), TVLine caught up with Wall to discuss the highs and lows of Street vs. Stage, what he would change about the theme if Season 13 is greenlit and the upcoming finale routine that he considers his best work on the show.

TVLINE | When the “Street vs. Stage” idea was initially pitched, what were your and Twitch’s reactions?
It was pitched to us as “Travis and Twitch.” They wanted to use us more and find out what America likes more — if they like a ballet dancer or a hip-hop dancer. We didn’t know how the format was going to go until we actually got onto the show. It’s brought out a lot of talent that wouldn’t necessarily ever make it onto the show. There’s been some highs, there’s been some lows, but overall, it’s really opened the door for surprises and not knowing people could do certain things. With [ballet dancer] Jim [Nowakowski], I don’t necessarily think he would have gone all the way through Vegas with the highest praise, because he would have had to do hip-hop and all these things which he wasn’t great at doing. It’s vice versa for both teams.

SYTYCD Gaby DiazTVLINE | In terms of mentoring, we’re only seeing you in the rehearsals for a short amount of time with your dancers. What part of your coaching is left on the cutting room floor?
My honesty [with the contestants] is on camera for about 10 seconds, but I spend so much time with them. I’m hands-on in every aspect, and not just with the mentoring. I’ve also choreographed a lot this season, so I was responsible for a lot of their routines. I’m very attached to my contestants. I get upset when they get a bad routine, and I sometimes have to work with the costuming and say, “This doesn’t look the best on them. They’re not going to get voted for it.” I took it very personally this year, and that was a change for me, because I realized how much I cared about the contestants being represented the best way they possibly could.

TVLINE | Assuming the show comes back for Season 13 and uses this theme again, what would you like to see change, whether or not you’re a mentor?
We should be involved from the very beginning. We didn’t come in until Vegas this year, and we had say, but we didn’t really have that much say. When it’s coming down to who I want on my team, I want to be there from the very beginning. I think that’s what’s going to happen. I want to have control of who gets what [dancing style] every week, and not [have] the producers pick. I just want a little bit more control of my own team. The producers feel the same way, too. They want us more involved, which is great. If we get picked up next year, I think that will happen.

TVLINE | Nigel Lythgoe has often said that it doesn’t really matter whether a street dancer or stage dancer wins. Does it matter to you and Twitch?
It did in the beginning, but now it’s about who’s the best dancer. For me, if I could choose, it would definitely be Gaby. She is a dream to work with — in the room, on stage, she works so hard. So does Hailee, of course, but Gaby is a star when it comes to doing every single style perfectly.

TVLINE | What can you tease about the finale?
I just choreographed a duet for Jim and Alex Wong, and it is by far one of the best pieces I’ve ever done on the show. And I’m also dancing with Jenna Dewan-Tatum. We’re doing a duet. There’s a couple of new numbers, which never [happens] usually. It’s always rewinding. But we created a couple of special performances.

So You Think You Can Dancers, who are you rooting for in tonight’s finale? What routines are you hoping to see performed again? Hit the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Alex Boyce says:

    oh yes.. Do the Jim and Alex Wong duet AFTER voting ends.

    this is exactly why I hate this year. I really really dislike Gaby’s personality. I feel it comes off so fake. Yes, she is a good dancer but if we were giving it on technical merit.. it would be Jim hands down and if it is more on personality then I feel it should be Jaja.

    • bern says:

      Gaby doesn’t come off fake – and, if you read the article – the person who worked with her a Lot – clearly said what a great person she is to work with – so I think he’d know. And she’s a Great Dancer, not just good.

    • Namju says:

      I voted for Jim and JaJa most improved.

  2. Jan says:

    Love that he said the producers have say over the dance style the contestants are assigned. We never bought that “picked out of hat” line!

  3. Barbara W. says:

    I hated the Stage vs. Street concept. It seemed cumbersome, forced and less variety because of having so many untrained dancers. Also the odd groupings instead of couples made it harder to get to know the dancers. If it is Stage vs. Street next year, I won’t watch.

    • Rafael says:

      It’s only this season for Stage vs. Street. This show is refreshing after being part of the badly setup FOX teen entertainment marketing system. This system caused a bad broadening technique more on latin-ballroom dancing than the other dances of this show.

    • Diane Eifert says:

      They have all been amazing this year. I love Gabby and find her to be an outstanding all around dancer. I also loved watching Jim. He was by far one of the most talented and technical dancers I have ever seen on SYTYCD. Who ever wins will not matter in the long run because they are all winners as far as I’m concerned. Watching Jim and Alex tonight will be heart pounding. I hope next year the judges, outside of Nigel who is so eloquent, will be better then this year. I do not listen to anyone but him. This is why I record the show. Nigel is perfection in his critiquing. He’s truthful and kind at the same time. Always professional. Good luck to the winner.

  4. kjmorse says:

    Bring back Mary Murphy & the revolving 3rd judge.

    Much preferred that to Paula & Jason.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing a truly international season- get contestants from all over the world, not just 2 or 3.

    • I love you Travis but have always wondered why Benji Schwimmer is not involved in any of the dance shows such as SYTYCD or DWTS. He is so fabulous and I think the shows are missing out by not using him.

      • Aly says:

        It’s possible he chose not to be involved. He did ultimately reject his prize, too, so the show may not have been where his passion was.

    • Namju says:

      Mary gave me a head ache. That is why I stopped watching the show. Throw away Jason, love Paula, bring someone else more firey than jason.

  5. Rhonda Carr says:

    I do not like the changes made this season to the format of So You Think You Can Dance. The concept of Stage vs. Street is not really applied as the show still requires all of the dancers to perform all types of dances. This is the original show concept anyway but now we have more street dancers who haven’t been trained or exposed to as many types of dance genres, so they are at even more of a disadvantage thank he usual contestants.Then they got rid of Mary Murphy in exchange for Jason Derullo?! I like Paula so why couldn’t they just add her & keep Mary? She brought so much flavor & humor & excitement to the show! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Hopefully, next season goes back to just a true Dance Competition!

  6. Aly says:

    I don’t get why he singled out Jim, especially since he actually nailed his hip hop routine.

    • S says:

      I agree. I feel like Jim got singled out a lot for “imperfections” or not quite mastering the style. I think it had to do with all the focus on the street dancers-and really wanting them to pull ahead. I fast forwarded through a lot of this season. Hate Derulo and Abdul as judges-neither has any insight. How about bringing on some real dancers to judge. Sorry, Paula hasn’t danced since the 80’s and her comments are gibberish. I fast forward through their comments EVERY WEEK.

  7. Namju says:

    Love, love , love Jim. Is there a booby price for the best overall dancer which is him. Jim was my favorite

  8. canadian ninja says:

    The whole stage vs. street thing was much ado about nothing. Essentially all they did was abandon the one boy and one girl goes home with one stage and one street goes home. Instead of guaranteeing two boys and two girls in the final four they guarantee two ‘street’ dancers and two ‘stage’ dancers. Wow…

  9. Ann Benson says:

    I totally agree with Alex Boyce. I am NOT a fan of Gaby, who I felt had NO personality. I enjoyed Jim and Ja Ja. Jim was the best dancer on the show I have ever seen. Ja Ja has a personality like I have never seen. So diverse. I do not understand why Gaby was even in the top 10.

  10. Dexraylius says:

    Great Finale..I think Neptune and Yorelis could have gone farther..JJ got injured as a top 10 member which was unfortunate and a bit of a waste…I love JJ but Yorelis should have been in that spot. At least WE WOULD GET TO SEE A ROUTINE from a contestant instead of some all star.

    Gaby was under the radar for me most of the season until that ninja routine. She never had a bad routine…which made her in some ways like a chameleon. Hailee and Virgil I knew would be in the finale from the robot thing they did…Does anyone find it odd that Nigel basically predicted the top 4 LONG before they were the top 4…Travis predicted Gaby would “walk right into the finale” I think he nailed the difference between the 2 (her and Hailee) pretty accurately except I like watching Hailee more…she basically makes love to the camera if you watch her eyes when she dances. The brown spot on the nose though is a deal breaker lol. Gaby is a slightly stronger dancer and basically had no visible weakness. I like Jaja’s personality but I don’t think she was so much more amazing then Yorelis or JJ…whom both got weak choreographer routines (hynosis and pinup sailor) before they got axed.

    I think in the future hip hop dancers are gonna have to start taking contemporary dance more seriously if they want to win…some of my most favourite hip hop routines this year were done by…stage dancers lol.

    They need to come up with a fair method of choosing routines for people. Gaby really only did 1 hip hop (I’m not counting lyrical hip hop because ummm…what? I’m sure she would kill it but still) Megs and Derek were in in the competition WAY longer than they should have been. The Stage/Street thing creates a bad balance for sorting out top tier dancers…which is the only reason I can see why lesser dancers made it further than greater dancers. (Example 10 crappy hip hop dancers vs 10 amazing stage dancers….if they have to eliminate one from each team regardless then you will have an unbalanced and poorly represented ranking of america’s “favourite” dancers. I hate to say it but to me (and I am a team street fan) the finale should really have just been between Hailee and Gaby. 5 seasons ago Virgil and Jaja would have better chances at winning. It’s not so much as America’s fav dancer as it is america’s most balanced dancer.

    To summarize, I think Gaby deserved to win, but I would have been happy if Hailee won, if jaja won I would be ok with that because of what she represents…and I think Virgil would really have to be lucky to beat out those girls…even if neptune (the hip hop version of hailee as they both are consistent and work hard) was there I’d say the same thing.

    It seems that “stage” dancers can do “street” easier than vice versa…I think the show will have to address this somehow otherwise “Gabys” will always win.

    Would have like to see the “commas” routine instead that crunk nonsense. Hailee’s final choice was my fav of hers too so extra points to her.

    I hate to say it but I think everybody (contestants) ALREADY knew Gaby would win. You can tell. Take out the Stage/Street and I bet the top votes went like this 1.) Gaby 2.) Hailee 3.) Jaja 4.) Virgil

    Kinda feel bad for Joshua…that dude has to keep dancing in finales even though he won so many years back lol. Him and Robert had to dance in 2 routines each.


    Congrats to all 4 contestants! And Gaby is gonna have her hands full wif dat money cuz it looks like she has a BIG family.

    And Asaf was (I don’t know if it was intentional) hilarious in his segment!

  11. Susan says:

    Gaby has absolutely no personality and when she attempts a smile, it appears false and insincere. Sure, she is an amazing dancer and it appears there is nothing she can’t do, but personality should count for something. Unfortunately, she won tonight over the talented and charming Jaja. Have given up on this show for good!

  12. Bobby says:

    We loved Jaja and Gabby so either of them winning was fine with us. I hate the subtle homophobia from Nigel and even Jason this year about the male dancers who are gay and how they don’t “connect” with their partners. What they’re not connecting to is the judges being able to get over the fact that those guys are obviously gay and don’t care who knows it because they are incredible dancers.

    I say get rid of Nigel and Jason, bring back Paula and introduce a new male judge from the world of dance or another famous choreographer and let do a revolving third judge.