The four "So You Think You Can Dance" finalists with Utah ties are all experiencing something completely new and different.
Chelsie Hightower, Thayne Jasperson, Gev Manoukian and Matt Dorame aren't about to get stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but their twice-weekly appearances on the hit Fox series are getting them recognized.
"Last night, I went to a restaurant and one of the waitresses came up and said, 'I'm sorry. I don't want to bother you. But aren't you Thayne from 'So You Think You Can Dance'? " said Jasperson, 27, from Springville. "It was cute."
"It's funny because it's always little girls and they get so excited," laughed Dorame, 22, an Arizona native who's danced with Odyssey Dance Theatre for the past two years. "It's so funny that you make someone so excited. It's a little weird and it takes some getting used to that people want to take a picture with you, but it's really nice."
Hightower, an 18-year-old ballroom dancer from Orem, hasn't quite adjusted to being recognized.
"I don't feel like I have a very recognizable face, and it's fine with me," she said with a laugh. Of course, the fact that people do recognize her even when she's out with no makeup and her hair pulled back a much different look than they see on TV sort of disputes her theory.
"It's just weird because I feel so normal. I feel like I'm just the same as them," Hightower said. "I mean, it's fun. But it's weird."
"I wasn't really expecting it, but it's definitely fun. It's something I'd love to get used to," laughed Manoukian, 21, a native of Kazakhstan who lives in Centerville and attends the University of Utah. "It means that they're watching and the like what you're doing. It's really cool.
"But the more you stay on the show, the more people recognize you."
Staying on the show is the hard part. The dancers perform on Wednesdays (7 p.m., Ch. 13), viewers cast their votes; on Thursdays (8 p.m., Ch. 13), the six members of the three couples with the fewest votes perform solos and the judges send one boy and one girl home.
In the three weeks since the top 20 were selected, Hightower and Manoukian have never been in the dreaded "bottom three." Dorame and Jasperson, on the other hand, have each been in the bottom three twice. Jasperson has been there two weeks in a row.
All four agree that waiting to be told how the voting went is the worst part of "So You Think You Can Dance."
"How can I put this into words? It is one of the most stressful situations you're ever in the lights and the music and the audience just makes everything magnified tenfold," Dorame said. "It's like you're kind of waiting to have them choose the fate of your life."
"We hate Thursdays," Manoukian said. "Nobody knows how how America votes, so you can do really good and still be in the bottom three."
Last week, for example, the judges lavished praise on Dorame and his partner and yet they ended up facing elimination with two other couples.
Judge/executive producer/director Nigel Lythgoe has been particularly hard on both Jasperson and Dorame.
"Sometimes it is hard when you get kind of slammed for things," Jasperson said. "But you've got to roll with the punches, I guess."
And Dorame has been praised for his dancing but criticized for his personality. Which is perplexing.
"I know I have some personality," he said. "I guess I'm still trying to figure out what piece of my personality they want to see."
The partner dancing is a gift to Hightower "because (ballroom dancers) know how to make that chemistry happen and you know how to work with a partner a little bit better."
But it's a whole new world for a break dancer like Manoukian.
"I've dance with a partner, like, once before," he said. "I'm starting to get used to it. And my partner's really cute, so that helps.
"I'm kind of surprised I'm still here. I'm more confident every week, but the first few weeks I was really intimidated by everybody."
Still, the field has been reduced to 14 and all those with Utah ties remain.
"How cool is it that all of us Utah people are still here? I think it's awesome," Jasperson said. "And it's great for Utah because we get to show that Utah has a lot of great talent."
"I think all four of us are pretty strong competitors," Hightower said.
"At first, we were like, 'Oh, gosh. They're going to start voting us off because they don't want four Utah people," Dorame said. "But for some reason, they seem to keep us and they like us."
Manoukian and Hightower were rooting for Dorame and Jasperson when those two were in the bottom three."Chelsie and I were, like, 'Oh, please. Please keep them in,'" Manoukian said. "And when we found out they were safe, we were very relieved."
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