Before the confetti and the metallic streamers came raining down, two final contestants were left on the stage standing hand in hand, barely breathing. “After traveling across America and auditioning thousands of dancers, America’s favorite dancer is Gaby!” announced So You Think You Can Dance host Cat Deeley.
The Fox variety show aired its Season 12 finale last week and crowned its latest winner: 19-year-old Miami native Gaby Diaz.
“Honestly, I was confused at first because I wasn’t sure if Cat was saying that I was the runnerup or that I was the winner,” the Cuban-American says over the phone from her hometown. Naturally, her initial reaction was shock and then genuine happiness. Before the show aired, Diaz confesses, she had mentally prepared herself to take fourth runnerup. “I kind of put myself in fourth place just in case, I mean you never know. You can have an incredible week one week, but you never know what America is voting for or how you’ll be perceived.
“All I could do was cry,” she adds with a laugh, “and my heart was beating really fast — but it was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”
Diaz began her dancing career at the Roxy Performing Arts Center and has been training with the same teacher her entire life. She graduated from the New World School of the Arts high school in 2014, and after attending a semester of college, she realized more schooling was not the path for her. “I begged my parents to let me take a semester off to prepare for my So You Think You Can Dance audition, and the show is all I’ve done since.”
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Ironically, Diaz almost didn’t make it onto the show. She initially auditioned in Dallas but didn’t make the cut — the judges called her solo dance too busy — but she didn’t let that setback stop her. After Dallas, “there were three cities left, and my parents and I agreed that that meant I had three more chances left and I was going to take all three of them.” So in three days, she prepared a new routine, flew to Detroit, and wowed the judges with her tap dancing.
After weeks of various one-and-a-half-minute routines, it seems as if America was also blown away by her talent. But perhaps the happiest and proudest viewers were Diaz’s cadre of Cuban relatives, who cheered her backstage at the Microsoft Theater and at home in Miami last Monday. “My family probably reacted louder than anyone on the show,” she says with an audible grin. “Everyone backstage was pretty loud, and it was pretty loud onstage too, but I know my family was ten times louder.” (And if pots and pans would have been allowed backstage, it’s possible the Diaz family would been clamoring away joyously in true Miami fashion.)
As part of her winnings, including a $250,000 cash prize, Diaz will join Jennifer Lopez onstage during her Planet Hollywood residency in Las Vegas. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to dance with JLo,” Diaz says, pausing after the word “thrilled” as if realizing the reality of the moment. “I’m a huge fan of hers, and I’ve been vocal about that on social media, so the fact that that was part of the prize is incredible.”
The Miami dancer will join Jenny From the Block in Nevada in spring 2016. Now, though, Diaz will head back to Los Angeles to begin rehearsals for the So You Think You Can Dance tour, which runs from October 13 through the end of January 2016.