"So You Think You Can Dance" Winner Nick Lazzarini
DS caught up with Nick while he was in NYC to choreograph for Royal Academy of Dance in Long Island—a job he scheduled pre-SYTYCD. Following an afternoon photo shoot, we conversed over pasta at HK before he caught a train back to Long Island.
Like most freshly anointed reality-TV celebrities, Nick Lazzarini is on the verge of something big: He’s poised to pick the gig of his choice and the dance world is watching. When asked about his future professional plans, he, as if on cue, receives a call from his agency asking for the third time if he’s interested in auditioning for Broadway’s A Chorus Line (set to debut in fall 2006). But Broadway’s not on his agenda just yet. Though his SYTYCD winnings include $100,000 and a year’s stay in a luxury highrise apartment in NYC, Nick has opted to cash out the $5,000-a-month lease and stay put in L.A., hoping for opportunities in TV or film. With the prize money, he plans to repay his parents (they covered his rent and bills during SYTYCD’s three-month-long taping, since he couldn’t work), finish off the payments on his car and trade it in for a new Infiniti FX45 SUV (his “favorite car of all time”), perhaps invest in some L.A. real estate and save the rest.
A self-proclaimed competition kid (he knows all of his significant titles and the years he won them by heart), Nick knew a handful of the show’s contestants from the circuit: Craig DeRosa, Blake McGrath, Melissa Vella and his best friend and real-life roommate Melody Lacayanga. Melody and Nick not only attended the show’s callback together, but ended up head to head as the top two finalists. The pair first danced together in 2003 at a benefit concert in San Francisco. “He and I hit it off right away,” Melody says. “We had chemistry in our dancing right from the get-go.”
DS: Were you really the first person officially auditioned for the show?
NL: I was actually taking Dee [Caspary]’s class at EDGE [Performing Arts Center] and [producers] Bonnie and Nigel [Lythgoe] came in to watch…and after class they said, “We’re doing this untitled project that’s going to be like an American Idol for dancers, and we’d like to do some test auditions here today, so let’s see you, you, you…and the boy with the writing on his butt.”
DS: Was that you?
NL: Yeah, our studio’s dance company had sweats that said “WORK” on the back. They took me into a room, and I was actually the first person they auditioned. I improvised for them, they filmed me and they interviewed me, and Bonnie was like, “I would love to see you come to our callback audition at the Orpheum in downtown L.A. at the end of this month.” So I told Mel, because I was living with her at the time, and I was like—these people auditioned me, and I don’t know what’s going on, but it sounds kinda cool. Then she got a call to audition at EDGE’s private studio auditions, and they loved her and told her to come back. We were up until three in the morning the night before the big callback, doing our solos in our living room. We got up at 6 that morning and we were in line at 7:30. She was number 2423 and I was 2424. We were there from 7:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night and it was brutal.
DS: What impression do you think people got of dance from watching SYTYCD?
NL: I think that people don’t really understand that dance isn’t just back-up dancing for Britney Spears, hip hop, shaking your butt in music videos and ballet dancing. People actually saw another side of dance. I think that dance is now becoming a lot more popular. A couple studios that I teach at have told me that enrollment is going up because of the show, and a lot of people are into ballroom dancing now and they’re asking, “Do you have ballroom classes?” The entertainment industry is looking at the success of dance, too, because there’s dancing in all the Target commercials, there is modern dancing in that new Hummer commercial—dance is finally getting to be really popular again, like in the 1970s, when you’d have the variety shows.
DS: Was there anything in your SYTYCD contract that surprised you?
NL: It’s pretty cut and dry. Our contract says that any work we get in the next year has to be okayed through the production company. They don’t want to hold you back, because that’s what the show is about: giving us opportunities. They just don’t want us going out and you know, being in Playboy or doing porn or anything like that.
DS: Did you know any of the judges before the show?
NL: I’ve met Brian [Friedman] a few times. I’d never really worked with him before, and he turned out to be a really good teacher and what he had to say was really constructive. I’ve known Mia [Michaels] since I was about 16—I’d done the convention circuit with her when I was a kid, but I didn’t really get close to her until I was in her company. I had worked with Dan [Karaty] the last two years on JUMP, because he’s the hip-hop teacher for JUMP. I had never met Mary [Murphy] before. A lot of people didn’t like her, but I thought she was great and I thought what she said was right on the money. She doesn’t come from the hip-hop world or from jazz, and her comments were always kind of outside looking in. I think Dan did the same thing; he broke it down so people who aren’t dancers could understand where they were coming from.
DS: Did you feel the judges’ comments were fair?
NL: The judges were really fair, and you know, sometimes, when you’re frustrated and you’re down on yourself, you’re like, “Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” But you go back and look at the tapes, and they do know what they’re talking about or else they wouldn’t be on this TV show.
DS: What were you thinking when you won?
NL: I didn’t really think at all. Me and Mel were so emotional from the video clip that they had played of the two of us together. And then they announced that I won, and it was kind of like one of those [moments when] you don’t really know what to think, and then I didn’t have time to think about it because they were like—“Go dance!”
DS: How’d you pull yourself together to perform your solo after the announcement?
NL: I was so excited that I had won, and I knew that I couldn’t screw up—I thought, I was just crowned America’s dancer, so if I mess up, I’m going to look like an idiot. So I got through it, and after I was done everyone came up onstage and it was cool to see everybody. But the second the credits were done, I was off to do like 10 different interviews for magazines and TV shows and I got to go to maybe 10 minutes of the after party, and then I was on a plane to New York to do “Live with Regis and Kelly.” I didn’t have the chance to even think about it until that night, when I was hanging out with a bunch of really good friends…and one of them was like, “Do you realize you just won?” And I was like, “Yeah, now I do.”
DS: During the show, one of the judges said you had the “makings of a dance icon.” What do you think about that?
NL: It was Mia [Michaels] who said it, and coming from her, that is probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my entire life. She’s watched so many amazing dancers. It took me aback. A dance icon to me is like Baryshnikov, or Fred Astaire—Desmond Richardson, now. I can’t see myself in that class of dancers, yet, I mean, maybe in years down the road. It makes me want to push myself so that I can look back on that moment and be like, yeah, I achieved something. My biggest goal as a dancer is when I’m older to be able to say I’ve done everything that I wanted to do
DS: Were the judges trying to drive this so-called rivalry between you and Blake?
NL: I think they realized that we’re similar dancers. I think a lot of people would have wanted to see us in the finals, battling or whatever. We’re both good dancers and at the time I was like, “Yeah, bring it on!” because we’re competitors and he wanted to beat me and I wanted to beat him. But you know, it was hard to watch Blake pick good partners every week and lyrical every week, when I ended up with tango and mambo and quickstep and hip hop, none of which are my strengths. I would have loved to pick lyrical every week—I didn’t pull lyrical [out of the hat] once on the show, and it’s my favorite style. I think in the end, it showed America that I can do all of these things and look good doing them.
DS: What was it like to perform so much ballroom?
NL: Ballroom—the footwork, the body positions—is the complete opposite of what I’ve been taught. Your feet are supposed to be parallel, your hips are supposed to be forward and tucked, and you’re supposed to be leaning back, and these crazy things that I’m not used to. At one point, Mary was choreographing Kamilah [Barrett]’s and my tango, and she told me that Nigel was convinced that I cannot dance without turning out my feet, because I’m naturally turned out. I walk like a duck. I have no parallel; it hurts me to do things in parallel.
DS: If you were calling the shots for the next season of SYTYCD, what would you change?
NL: I think that the way they did it is the only fair way to do it, and that is [that] everything [is] random. And yeah, it was unfair to have the same people do the same stuff with the same partners every week, but it was all the luck of the draw. And at the end, it worked in my favor, especially because I got to dance with Melody. It couldn’t have been a better time to dance with her. I think the only thing I would change is to have two winners. You’re dancing with a partner the whole time, and they’re stressing that you have to be a good partner, so it should be a partnership that wins: have a guy and a girl winner. It’s hard to compare a guy and a girl, because we’re so different. When it got down to Melody and me, it was hard but it wasn’t, because either way I would have been happy. And I know she felt the same way, because whatever it came down to, we’re best friends. We had a bet that whoever won had to buy the other one a dog. So, I have to buy her a dog now.
DS: What kind of dog does she want?
NL: She wants a Yorkie. But we’ll see.
DS: How long were you roommates for?
NL: We’ve been roommates for a year and best friends for about three years, but really good friends since I was 15 and she was 17.
DS: What was it like to have your best friend on the show with you?
NL: I think it just made our time there that much better, because when we had a rough day, she would cry on my shoulder and I would cry on her shoulder. It was always support, not a competition, because we’re not like that. Everybody we talked to said, “If you guys never get to dance together, we’re going to be so sad.” And finally, that week when we picked each other…Jamile [McGee] was kind of the one who orchestrated us getting to dance together. Because every week, whoever got the highest votes got to pick someone they didn’t want to dance with, and so Jamile said, “I know how much you want to dance with Mel, I’m gonna hook you up.” And I said, “How are you gonna do that?” And he said, “Just watch.” And he said [on the air], “I don’t want to dance with Melody, because she’s too short.” And then they took Jamile’s name out of the hat and there was just me and Blake left.
DS: I have to ask, were you and Melody ever romantically involved?
NL: Let me ask her if I can say. This is a sensitive subject. [Calls Melody on cell phone, laughing.] Yeah, we dated for a year and a half. We just thought we worked better as friends. We fight too much. She gets mad at me for the dumbest things, and I never get mad at her. We know each other like the backs of our hands. We started dating in January 2003 and broke up last summer. It was kind of weird for like three weeks, and then it was back to normal.
DS: So where do you see yourself going from here?
NL: I don’t really know. [phone rings] Hold on, I have to take this. [Takes call from agent about auditioning for A Chorus Line.] They really, really want me to try out, but I’m just not all about it. If Cabaret or Chicago called me, I’d love to do it. I love to sing. But [with A Chorus Line,] it’s all so sudden; they want me to come in tomorrow or Wednesday, and I don’t want to flake on this studio that I’ve obligated myself to finishing their work. Broadway is something I want to do, just not now. It’s something I want to do later in life when I’m more mature. I don’t think I’m ready.
DS: Then what do you want to do right now?
NL: My agency called me and they said that the head of casting at Fox wants to meet with me, and the comedy and drama departments want to meet with me [to] talk about a possible casting for TV, so I kind of want to wait until I do that, because that’s really exciting. Broadway is [exciting]…but to work on the same show, day after day, for a year or six months even is not something I’m ready to do right now. I’m not big on the same. I like to do different things every day.
DS: Have you ever thought about acting?
NL: I’m a big fan of Saturday Night Live and I’ve always wanted to be on one of those shows.
DS: Why do you want to stay in L.A.?
NL: I just think that I’ve never really given L.A. a chance, and now people are calling my agency and asking for me personally. And if things don’t work out and I’m not really happy after a year or two, then I will try NYC.
DS: Do you have any hesitations about your newfound fame?
NL: Umm, not really. I mean, it’s weird. I got noticed on the train [into NYC] today. And I’ve been noticed on planes by the flight attendants, and in the middle of H&M, I was shopping and this guy came up to me and wanted to take a picture with me. It’s cool. I’m not used to it. And it’s nice to know that people actually appreciate what I do.