Mary Murphy (‘So You Think You Can Dance’) dubs b-boy Bailey Munoz ‘the Rudy of this competition’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“There was definitely some heated discussion to put Bailey into this top five guys,” says “So You Think You Can Dance” judge Mary Murphy to Gold Derby senior editors Daniel Montgomery and Susan Wloszczyna  about contestant Bailey Munoz. The five-foot-tall b-boy breakout on season 16 of Fox’s reality competition show is one of four hopefuls competing for the title of America’s favorite dancer on the show’s finale that airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT Sept. 16.

“His size was a consideration,” explains the ballroom specialist who has been part of the show since it began in 2005. In addition, “it’s always scary when we put a b-boy in and will he be able to cope with all the material he is given because they are not trained dancers. They’re not even used to doing choreography.”

However, all concerns melted away once Murphy and fellow judges Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval, Laurieann Gibson and show creator Nigel Lythgoe saw Bailey’s dedication and ability to adapt to other styles. “He’s the ‘Rudy’ of this competition because every single week he is outside his style. Like I can’t wrap my head around doing one choreography and trying to pick that up and put a performance on top of that.”

She can’t say enough about this 19-year-old high-energy underdog who has exceeded all expectations and even caused the live audience to chant his name after his last competitive solo routine. “He makes you root for him. You know, it’s just the wildest thing. He is thriving under these conditions.”

One other finalist was also initially under debate by the judges: contemporary dancer Sophie Pittman, 18. “We had some discussions on her. Me and Nigel fought for her and the other two judges didn’t really want to put her through. But ultimately, me and Nigel went out and put her through and she is somebody who has come further than we thought originally she would.”

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As for the two other contemporary dancers up for the top prize, Mariah Russell, 19, and Gino Cosculluela, 18, Murphy says, “I have always seen them in the finale. Everything they did during Academy week, they annihilated. Their solos when we first saw them were just amazing. But again the Academy week gives us more insight to whether someone is going to be able to keep that up.”

Wloszczyna hoped one contestant in particular would have made it through the Academy, but didn’t: Aussie jazz dancer Sarah McCreanor who incorporated humor into her audition number, causing Murphy to refer to the redhead as “the Lucille Ball of dance.” Says Murphy, “I pray we get another season, I pray she comes back … There’s such a gift and appreciation of somebody who could do a routine like that.”

Murphy also discusses the relative lack of “SYTYCD” ballroom winners over the years, save for season two’s Benji Schwimmer. She also addresses choreographer Travis Wall‘s topical anti-gun violence group routine to Harry Styles‘s “Sign of the Times,” whether the term “sauce” has overtaken the “Hot Tamale Train” as a compliment, and the show’s Emmy rivalry with ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

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