America's first real introduction to So You Think You Can Dance finalist Tiffany Maher was as the jazz dancer with brown wavy hair who wasn't Audrey Case during the top 20 reveal show in June. The 19-year-old Plantation hoofer flew so under the radar that judge Debbie Allen told her that she was "invisible for most of us" before announcing that Maher, "like a great racehorse, started pulling up from the rear" and made the show.
With that analogy in mind, perhaps Maher should change her nickname from "T-Maher-Star" to "Seabiscuit" -- because she made the SYTYCD season nine finale and has a one-in-two chance of winning America's favorite female dancer. (Only on this show is it a compliment to compare young women to "beasts" and "horses." Cultist doubts that would fly on The Bachelor).
Maher, who trained at Dance FX in Sunrise, took some time during rehearsals Monday to chat about her "crazy" journey, share her post-SYTYCD plans, and even spill a bit of behind-the-scenes gossip. Of course, she also provided a few reasons why you should vote for her. It's a competition, after all.
See Maher, fellow South Floridian Eliana Girard, and the male portion of the top four perform in tonight's final performance episode at 8 p.m. on FOX. Two winners will be crowned next Tuesday night. Need a fall dance fix? Cheer for your hometown girls when the tour comes to town on Wednesday, December 5, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.
Cultist: Congratulations on making the final four!
Tiffany Maher: Thank you! It's crazy. When you say that I just can't even -- you just reminded me. Like, I honestly forget.
When you started this whole process way back when, did you think you'd get to the finale?
Never. Honestly, I never did. I was just hoping to make it to Vegas. And then to the top 20.
When you go to Atlanta to audition you could either be sent to choreography round or straight to Vegas. And I had to go to choreography round.... And then I went to Vegas, and it just didn't seem like the judges are seeing me.... They never showed me at all, like on TV. So I thought for sure I wasn't going to make the top 20. And then when I made the top 20, I was so shocked. And now to be standing here is just absolutely crazy.
And you haven't been in the bottom once.
No. I didn't. It's crazy.
What has your week been like as you gear up for Tuesday night's final performance show? You keep using the word crazy; I assume it probably applies here.
This week has been the craziest week so far, just because at this point, all of our bodies are so exhausted and people are starting to get sick. And so we're all just trying to stay healthy and make it through. Like, the rehearsals, normally we work on one or two dances, but this week we're doing six routines.... It's been a really hard week, but I still don't want it to end, just because this journey has been so incredible and I'm just so grateful. And when it ends and this chapter closes in my life, it's going to be really sad, because I've learned so much.
What are you taking away from this experience?
Well, for sure all the people that I met. Besides that, I have gotten to work with the best choreographers in the nation. And to get to work with them is just such an honor, and they've all taught me so much that have made me grow as a dancer and as a person, and made me do things that I never thought that I could do.
Looking across the season, do you have a favorite dance?
That's honestly so hard to say because at the beginning, I started with such a great partner [in George Lawrence II, who made the top 10], and I've had the most amazing -- the most amazing -- all-stars. But I can say that, it wasn't my favorite, but the one that stuck out was when I did "The Power of Love" with Ade [Obayomi, from season five, during the top eight show] just because it was the first time that the judges ever stood up after I did a performance. So that's just like a time that I'll never forget -- when I turned around and they were standing up -- because that had never happened to me, so it was crazy.
In that dance, and also the disco with Brandon Bryant of season five, there's a lot of diving and jumping and lifting. What's going through your head as you're hurling through the air into another dancer's arms?
"Stay alive, Tiffany. Stay alive." Literally.
In lifting, it's so important, the girl has to do so much of the work. People don't really realize that. So in my head I'm constantly thinking of ways that I can help out my partner, but it's honestly so much fun to have such a strong partner, like Ade and Brandon, because they can just throw you around when you feel like you're flying.
Were there any dances or any parts of the experience that you found particularly challenging?
Yes. For sure ballroom style, just because they're so foreign to me and I've never done them. And the foxtrot was really hard.
Are there any particular styles that you fell in love with throughout the competition that you didn't do much of before the show?
The studio that I grew up at, we had a lyrical class but we didn't really have a contemporary class, so that's a style that I got to do more during the show and I really did fall in love with it.
Can you give our readers a sneak peak of what we're going to see tomorrow night with your six dances?
They're going to be a lot of different styles. (laughs). I can't really say what styles, but they're going to see me out of my element, possibly in it, so they're just going to have to see what we're doing. And the group routine is really fun and funny so they got to check it out.
During the results finale, SYTYCD usually repeats dances from across the season. Which ones do you want to redo?
That's really hard. Let's see. The babysitter dance that I did was a lot of fun. I really loved the first contemporary routine that I did, but I think I would love to do my dances with the all-stars again.
The top 10 tour stops in South Florida. What does it mean to you to perform here?
Oh my God, I'm so excited. Like, all the people that I miss so much being out here in LA on this incredible journey, I get to see them and perform for them, and I know that's like my biggest support base, so I just can't wait to see them all live and get to perform live for them. And I know I'm going to be in tears because it's the last city, and it's my hometown, so it's going to be an emotional one.
Being away from home for this length of time, what about South Florida are you the most homesick for?
My family. I miss my family so much.
Looking forward, tomorrow is big performance finale. Why folks should vote for you?
I think that I've worked so hard to get here. And I've fought to stay here, because I didn't have the TV time and all that. The first weeks literally people were like, "who are you?" People didn't know who I was, so I hope America sees how much I love to dance and how grateful I am to have been here and to have learned and grown with the best dancers and the best choreographers. And I just hope they just know how grateful I am for all of their support. They've kept me here, and I wouldn't still be standing here without all of them.
What plans do you have after the tour ends?
I want to move to California and pursue my dancing career.... And I want to start my own non-profit at some point and go back to school. I have a lot of plans.
What sort of non-profit?
Something incorporating dance because dance has literally saved my life. It has changed my life and made me who I am today and I am so grateful for it. So just like, a non-profit that helps kids that can't dance, gives them the opportunity to, because it can and really just saves you.
Any behind-the-scenes gossip that you can share with us?
There are some relationships within the top 20 that have formed.
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Can you say who they're with?
Noooo. (Laughs). After the show's over. But there's more than one. What other stuff do you want to know?
This is the first year they're doing a winner for guys and girls. Are you throwing your vote behind Chehon Wespi-Tschopp or Cyrus Spencer?
No, I can't do that! They're both so different. That's just so hard. Everyone is just so different, it's honestly just who America believes has the most passion and loves dance the most.
Last question. Hot Tamale Train. Where do you think it goes? What is the end stop if you were to board it?
-- Jordana Mishory