Editor’s note • Utahn Alexis Warr Burton was named the winner of “So You Think You Can Dance” in the Season 17 finale.
On Wednesday, Utahn Alexis Warr Burton stands a 50-50 chance of winning $100,000 and the title of America’s Favorite Dancer on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” She is one of two finalists, which comes with no small degree of pressure.
“The butterflies are nonstop,” she said. “I just can’t believe it’s coming to an end. This has been my dream, and this is it!”
She could be the second Utah winner on the show. Sabra Johnson won Season 3 back in 2007. And there have been more than 30 Utah finalists in the show’s 17 seasons, including two this year — Carter Williams, who made it to the top six, in addition to Warr Burton.
The Orem native recalls being “glued to my TV” watching the show when she was just 6 years old and just starting to dance herself. “I was a diehard fan, watching all the seasons,” she said. “I had that dream of, like, I want to be up there next to [host] Cat Deeley and I want to share my love of dance. And a lot of the times when I would train, I would think of that. And that would kind of always be my push when I would train.”
“And then when I came of age to audition, I almost submitted — then I didn’t. I got scared. I was, like, ‘Holy crap, I don’t know if I’m ready. I’ll have to be vulnerable. I don’t think I’m good enough yet. I need to keep working.’”
So, after filling out the online application, her finger hovered over the “submit” button — and she never pushed it. Instead, she booked dance tours. And when applications for the next season opened, the same thing happened. She never clicked the “submit” button.
“The same fear crept in me. I was really scared to hit that submit button.” The following year, she was “finally” feeling it. “I’m, like, ‘This is going to be the year.’ And then that’s when COVID hit.”
At that point, it appeared that the 2019 season of “SYTYCD” would be its last, leaving Warr Burton “completely heartbroken.” And when it was announced that the series would return this summer after a three-year break, “I’m, like, ‘OK no fear.’ I finally hit that submit button, and I’m so glad I did so.”
She’s been on TV before
This isn’t her first time dancing on national TV. Warr Burton appeared on both “World of Dance” and two different seasons of “America’s Got Talent” — but that was different, she said. “So it was easier for me to feel more comfortable and safe because I was a part of a group. Like, if I need to, if I need to take a step back, if I want to hide, I can.”
“SYTYCD” was her “ultimate dream,” but she admits the show intimidated her. “You are solely representing yourself. You are being vulnerable. And you are showing all different parts of you and parts that have hurt in the past. And that’s going out to all of America to see and for people to judge. And so it was really scary for me,” Warr Burton said. “But then at the same time, I’m, like, this could be the most magical experience I’ve ever had.”
After those previous TV experiences, she toured with Utah native/six-time “Dancing with the Stars” champion Derek Hough and appeared in his Las Vegas show. She also toured with Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy (“Dancing with the Stars”), and was part of the “DWTS” tour.
“And I feel like those experiences really helped me. Mostly with the people I met,” she said.
Not the same show
Warr Burton was on the “DWTS” tour when she filled out her final “SYTYCD” application, and her fellow dancers convinced her to click the submit button. “They helped me kind of overcome that fear and believe in myself,” she said. “And I’m so glad I did because this show, every single step of the way and every phase meant so much to me. And I feel like I learned so much about myself, that I grew so much as a dancer. … It was such a magical experience.”
“So You Think You Can Dance” is not, however, the same show it was for the previous 16 seasons. For the first time, viewers at home have no input — there is no viewer voting of any kind. Weekly eliminations have been determined by a vote of the studio audience, which will also choose the winner on Wednesday (8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13).
Warr Burton said that her time on tour “really helped” her on “SYTYCD,” particularly when it came to connecting with the studio audience. “I love performing in front of an audience. There’s no greater feeling than connecting with someone in the audience,” she said. “Really, that’s what really made me fall in love with being a performer and entertainer.”
She said she has been performing for the studio audience and, at the same time, finding “moments when I would have to find a camera and play to [the] whole audience” watching at home. “They may not be voting for me now, but I want to make a connection with them and share their TV screens at home.
“And then I’d also try to, obviously, connect with the judges.”
In addition to the new voting procedure, there has been controversy over the judging this season. Longtime judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy are no longer part of the panel. This season began with JoJo Siwa, Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Matthew Morrison (“Glee”) as judges, but Morrison was dropped midseason after he “failed to follow production protocols” by messaging a contestant, making her uncomfortable. (He said they were friendly messages and said he was a victim of cancel culture.)
Morrison was replaced by actress Leah Remini, who has been criticized because, while she is a self-described fan of dancing, she has no dance background or experience to speak of — although she did finish fifth on Season 17 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
But Warr Burton said she “absolutely loves and adores” all the judges — including Morrison. “I really look up to them. … And so to get their feedback, I just ate it up. I was so eager because I really value the importance of learning from other people,” she said.
It’s clear that “So You Think You Can Dance” is operating under stricter budget constraints than in the past. And not just because the $100,000 prize for Season 17 is $150,000 less than the prize for Season 16. The dancers don’t get the kind of time and attention that they once did.
“It was a crazy rehearsal process,” Warr Burton said. “It’s not like your typical seasons where you had a week to learn a dance and then you perform it. We only had, like, four hours total to learn it and perfect it.”
But she is definitely not complaining. The Utahn has nothing but good things to say about the show.
“It has been the most fun I have ever had,” she said. “It’s flown by way too fast. Honestly, every single part of it is so fun to me.”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.