America doesn’t get that many things right, but the 21.6 million voters that put Jeanine Mason in the American’s Favorite Dancer slot on the FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance did just fine. Mason wowed the judges, her fellow contestants, and voters with her winning smile, a killer arabesque and uncanny ability to look good in any dance style. The So You Think You Can Dance tour comes to Houston’s Reliant Arena tonight. Mason, 18, took a break from her grueling tour schedule to chat.
29-95: When I told people I was interviewing you, they hoped I would get the inside scoop on the show. I just want to know what you eat for lunch.
Jeanine Mason: Ha! I try to eat healthy because we dance all day and it can take a toll on your body. I am a cereal freak, so I have lots of those kinds of snacks. Otherwise, I stick to salads with chicken. I am a pretty healthy eater, but I need a tiny little treat at the end.
29-95: You all seemed like best buds, but you were in competition. Was that an act, for real, or what?
JM: It’s not an act; we honestly get along really well. We are so lucky to be such a close-knit group. True, we do get a little worked up, loud and crazy. You might not want to be sitting next to us at a restaurant, but it’s always fun to ask for a table for 12.
29-95: Was there a moment when you thought I could do this thing?
JM: Not really; I never thought it was possible. I didn’t aim to win, but to learn a lot and have an amazing time, and that’s exactly what I did. It’s so easy to cherish every single minute of this experience when you are around people who love what you love.
29-95: Was there one piece on the show that you felt was made exactly for your considerable set of skills?
JM:Travis Wall’s contemporary piece that I danced with Jason, set to Jason Mraz’s If it Kills Me would be the one. Travis was like a mentor to us; he told us that he was secretly praying he would get us. It was also his choreographic debut on the show.
29-95: As a former member of the contemporary dancer tribe, I have always found ballroom dance a mystery. So I am always amazed at how well the SYT dancers pick up ballroom styles, with the exception of the dreaded quick-step, which should be banned. You were especially natural in your ballroom numbers. Did you sneak out at night for lessons?
JM: No, but that would have helped. I did get a lot of the Latin dances, and as a Cuban-American, I grew up listening to those rhythms.
29-95: The tour hits Houston tonight. Are you ready for thousands of kids wearing I love Jeanine T-shirts?
JM: I’m not ready for that at all; it still feels kind of surreal to me.
29-95: Phillip Chbeeb, your former partner, is our Houston son. Will you be dancing with Phillip at all for the tour? Houston wants to know.
JM: Yes, Phillip is an incredible dancer and the most amazing mover I have ever met. Because he didn’t have a technical base, we had to work really hard to perfect our pieces. There was so much learning going on. We will be dancing our Hip-Hop number to Ne-Yo’s Mad.
29-95: Are you still planning to major in communications at UCLA after the tour? Why not dance?
JM: The show has opened so many doors, so I will be doing my dancing outside of school. I will be taking three classes a semester, so hopefully there will be time to do it all.
29-95: You are Dance Spirit’s cover girl this November. (I should disclose that I’m also a proud contributor to DS.) Every young studio darling gets that magazine. How does it feel to be in the role model seat?
JM: I am so honored to be on the cover and can’t wait to read the story. I hope I sound good in my quotes. I had so much fun in the shoot, the staff was so wonderful to work with. I know it will turn out great. I have been reading Dance Spirit forever, it’s my bible.
29-95: I understand you have two mentors at your home studio, Focal Points Dance Studio in Pinecrest, FL.
JM: Yes, Amanda Tae, my choreographer, has been pushing me since I was nine by making great pieces for me to grow in. Ingrid Houvenaeghel, my ballet teacher, is a stickler for technique. Both made me the dancer I am today.
29-95: How was it for them watching you on network television?
JM: They were freaking out.
29-95: In your mind has the show brought concert and commercial dance closer together or further apart?
JM: That’s a good question. I would say closer, in its own funny way. Prior to these shows, dancing wasn’t as highly regarded as it should be. It’s such a difficult art form in that it’s a mesh between athleticism and artistry; it’s a beautiful mix. The show brought dance right into America’s living room. It’s both advertising and lifting dance and that’s all we were hoping to do.
29-95: What’s your ideal dance job?
JM: I would love to be a movie musical.
29-95: Do you know there’s never been a SYTYCD audition in Houston?
JM: No way, I will try to pull some strings.
Reprinted from 29-95.com.