It all came down to this. On Monday night, September 10, after America voted on the last two weeks of performances, the season 15 winner of “So You Think You Can Dance” was revealed. So who was America’s favorite dancer: Jensen Arnold, Hannahlei Cabanilla, Genessy Castillo or Slavik Pustovoytov? Find out below in our live updating blog with all the minute-by-minute developments during the finale.
Jensen was a standout all season, and she already had name-recognition coming into the competition. Not only did she try out for the show last summer in season 14 (she was eliminated at the Academy), she’s also the little sister of “SYTYCD” and “Dancing with the Stars” alum Lindsay Arnold. That kind of association could have hurt her as much as helped her — how would she compare to her sibling? — but she has actually advanced farther than Lindsay, who was eliminated in the Top 8 round in season nine. And Jensen’s performances thus far have brought her out of her sister’s shadow.
Hannahlei has been the judges’ favorite firecracker. In terms of her stature she was the smallest competitor in the Top 4, but she’s undoubtedly one of the biggest performers, impressing the judges in a wide variety of dance styles and making them look easy. In fact, judge Mary Murphy worried that America might not vote for her because her routines look so effortless that the audience might take her for granted.
Genessy and Slavik entered the live shows as underdogs. Genessy initially struggled with her self-confidence, while freestyler Slavik had never learned choreography before appearing on this show. But their chemistry and work ethic made them fan favorites. They were paired for the live shows, and they’re the only couple who made it through to the finale intact. However, in Top 6 night Slavik struggled with his routines more than ever, and those votes were factored into tonight’s results, so even though he made up for it on Top 4 night, was it too little too late?
Find out below starting at 8:00pm (all times listed are Eastern). And watch our recent Emmy interviews with “SYTYCD” choreographers: nominees Christopher Scott and Travis Wall and winner Mandy Moore.
8:00pm — The “SYTYD” finale begins with a group routine for all the top 10 who made it to the live shows. Oh, Evan DeBenedetto and Chelsea Hough, we hardly knew ye! And Jay Jay Dixonbey, you were robbed!
8:02pm — That opening number was choreographed by Mandy Moore, who gets a shout-out from host Cat Deeley about winning Best Choreography at the Creative Arts Emmys last night. They showed a delightful photo of Moore sleeping beside her new Emmy. I hope the Emmy she won last year doesn’t get jealous.
8:05pm — I have a feeling that tonight will be between Jensen and Hannahlei, but I’ll be honest, I won’t be too mad if any of them wins. I don’t think Slavik has quite advanced to the level of the women he’s up against, but he has the charisma and the work ethic, so I can see why voters might pick him.
8:08pm — Tonight’s first encore dance, chosen by Vanessa Hudgens, is the Tahitian dance by Jensen and Jay Jay. This was a terrific number, and it looked just as good the second time, though I was partial to their African jazz number. That was probably my favorite routine they performed together all season.
8:13pm — Tearful flashback to Genessy’s audition. She came on this show to try to prove to her mother than she can make it as a dancer, and she definitely pulled it off. Genessy has chosen as her signature dance to encore the contemporary routine she performed with last year’s champ Lex Ishimoto. Maybe he’ll be a good luck charm.
8:16pm — Mary Murphy is picking the “sexiest cha cha” she’s ever seen as the routine she wants to see reprised: Cole and Hannahlei. Oh, Mary, you just wanted to get Cole’s shirt back off, didn’t you.
8:18pm — Watching that Cole and Hannahlei performance again, I am surprised that Cole was eliminated from the show so soon. He’s got the dance chops (minus that one unfortunate stepping routine), and he has charisma on stage. I wonder why he didn’t connect with viewers.
8:24pm — Slavik flashback to his audition when he gave a shout-out to his inspiration, season 10 winner Fik-Shun. His favorite performance that he’ll be reprising — no surprise here — is the Luther Brown hip-hop routine he performed with Genessy as their very first live dance together. That was definitely the routine the announced them as major contenders. If that hadn’t been their first routine, hooking the judges and audiences immediately, I wonder if they would have made it as far as they have. Genessy was especially impressive in this routine since she’s so natural at hip-hop you’d never know she was a contemporary dancer.
8:28pm — “SYTYCD” outtakes: “We’re about to go down, America!” said Hannahlei. “No, it’s about to go down,” Cole corrected. I kind of wish they’d have left that in actually.
8:31pm — Nigel Lythgoe was disappointed Evan was eliminated so early since he’s such a big fan of tap, so he’s brought Evan back for a brand new tap routine with Lex. I’m surprised he didn’t get Gaby Diaz to come on since she was the one tap specialist who has actually won the show, but Lex is pretty dynamite at tap dancing too, and this routine was a fantastic piece of work. He and Chelsea really did get unlucky in week one of the live shows having to do that top routine that Chelsea wasn’t quite up for.
8:36pm — Jensen flashback: Her sister convinced her to audition for the show again after she was cut in season 14, and the judges thought she was better than ever during that routine. For her encore dance she has chosen her “Cookin'” hip-hop number with Jay Jay. Seeing their encores during the finale tonight, this was definitely the duo I enjoyed the most during the live shows. A jazz dancer and a Latin ballroom dancer doing hip-hop and looking so natural doing it — I’m glad Jay Jay is getting such a nice showcase. And what did they pull from the stove when they were done cookin’ at the end of the number? Mandy Moore’s Emmy! Nice payoff there.
8:42pm — Time for Twitch‘s judge’s pick, and it’s another shout-out to Mandy Moore. He picked her “Fever” number for Magda Fialek and Darius Hickman. I hope we get to see an encore of Darius’s epic Travis Wall routine to “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man” before the night is over.
8:49pm — “You are our little warrior princess this year,” Nigel told Hannahlei during her audition, which made Vanessa proud to be Filipino. Her choice of dance to encore is her “Welcome Home” contemporary routine with all-star Marko Germar. I forgot how fantastic that routine was and how beautiful that song is. It’s by the sensational Joy Williams, formerly of the duo The Civil Wars.
8:56pm — Another Twitch-pick encore routine, and it’s another Genessy/Slavik duet: “House Work” choreographed by Ray Leeper.
8:59pm — Genessy bolts off the stage right after her performance because she needs a wardrobe change for her next appearance. You know, even though these contestants aren’t performing for votes anymore, this seems like it might be the toughest night backstage. These folks are probably spending half the night in wardrobe changes. When they finally announce the results tonight, I hope they let them come out in a t-shirt and jeans. Let these poor kids be comfortable for a change.
9:05pm — Another Luther Brown encore coming up: “Bump” featuring Jensen, Genessy and Hannahlei. But this time they get a couple of guest stars: Magda and Chelsea! White dreadlocks and “Tron” spandex still on point.
9:11pm — The show took a break from the contestant performances for an international pop group, Now United, a super group that seems to be trying to take the K-pop formula truly global. An interesting idea, though I’ll admit I spent more time trying to identify the country flags on their costumes than listening to the song. Ooh, there’s a Canadian! And I spotted Brazil!
9:15pm — Another judge’s pick from Vanessa: the “Dem Beats” heels routine by Jensen and Hannahlei. The judges loved this one. I thought the dance was a little overwhelmed by the costumes last time, though Jensen and Hannahlei were (and are) suitably bad-ass.
9:18pm — The Top 4 explain what winning would mean to them. Hannahlei will use the money to take her parents on vacation. Genessy wants to travel. Jensen needs to plan her wedding. And much crying. All the crying.
9:20pm — The top four men bring back the “Juice” — but with special guest Twitch. The song may be “Juice,” but mainly think of this as the “Dick Tracy” canary trench coat routine. Oh boy, here comes Nigel. “Have you still got it?” asked Cat after their routine. “No, I lost it a long time ago,” said Nigel. “I feel like a dancing banana.”
9:21pm — Okay, I’ll admit it. I kinda want one of those trench coats too.
9:28pm — Results coming up soon — Cat promises — but yet another judge’s encore pick, and it’s a good one: Mary picks the Travis Wall routine to “Glass Heart Concerto” performed by Magda and Darius. Definitely one of a handful of best performances of the season. And now Darius has to run off — another wardrobe change!
9:32pm — Nigel picks another encore, and hooray for another Jay Jay showcase: “Runaway Baby,” his jazz routine with all-star Lauren Froderman!
9:34pm — Okay, seriously though, now it’s time for some results here at the 94-minute mark. The FOURTH PLACE dancer is … SLAVIK! It’s a little bittersweet, since he looked pretty resigned to the outcome, but I think it’s the right call. Those three women deserve to go one, two, three. He tells Cat he was honored to make it this far, especially representing hip-hop. He was the only hip-hop specialist in the top 10, and the last man standing in the whole competition. Not bad.
9:41pm — Yet another Luther Brown encore: the “Yummy” group routine with the Top 10. It’s still weird and I love it. Just judging from tonight’s encores, it looks like Luther Brown is going to have a crowded Emmy reel. Not sure how he’s going to pick out just two or three routines from this season.
9:44pm — There’s time for one more performance tonight. And I’m not surprised that it’s the Travis Wall “Know a Man” routine performed by Darius and all-star Taylor Sieve — speaking of Emmy reels, I have no doubt this will be on Wall’s next year. I loved the genius of casting Taylor Sieve, as feminine a dancer as you could imagine, as the specter of toxic masculinity.
9:48pm — More results! The THIRD PLACE dancer is .. GENESSY! She doesn’t look surprised either, and she looks absolutely thrilled. A great result for her and a great season for a dancer Nigel wasn’t even planning to bring through to the Academy. “You’re never going to fly under the radar again, are you?” says Cat. “Never!” says Genessy. Damn straight!
9:55pm — We’re doing to the final results. I think this is the right choice for the top two, so I really don’t mind which way it goes. Cat says it’s closest vote between first place and second place in the history of the show. Is it too much to ask for a tie?
9:58pm — And America’s favorite dancer is … HANNAHLEI CABANILLA! That means SECOND PLACE is JENSEN!
10:00pm — This result was an upset based on our racetrack odds, which gave Jensen the slight edge over Hannahlei, but our readers who voted for their favorite dancer actually picked Hannahlei, so that should have been our clue that she’d pull it out. Well deserved!