One of the best things about So You Think You Can Dance is the fact that viewers become invested in the dancers' stories year after year. Fans love seeing a contestant return because they want to root for them all over again. One of those contestants is Jay Jackson.
Jackson made a huge impact in Season 15 by coming in as her drag character known from RuPaul's Drag Race, Miss Estranja aka Laganja Estranja. The show had never had a dancer audition in drag before, and it was Nigel Lythgoe who needed a little convincing. The show has had a complicated history with LGBTQ contestants in the past, and Season 2 runner-up and Emmy-winning choreographer Travis Wall even admitted that STYYCD asked him not to reveal he was gay during his season.
In Season 15, Jackson made history with Miss Estranja. This year, it was Jay Jackson who showed up to audition and she explained why that happened.
"I knew Jay was going to show up because it's not my first time at the rodeo. Last year, I got the idea that while they loved Laganja, she was never going to be on the show, unfortunately," Jackson said to Dance Dish in a recent interview. "When I competed, I realized the show's not ready to deal with non-binary identity and it probably never will be. So I knew this year, if I wanted to be on this show, I had to play the game because, at the end of the day, it's a competition."
Even if SYTYCD wasn't ready for Laganja, Jackson still loved the show and wanted to be a part of it. The decision to return was an easy one.
"I didn't feel forced to come back as a boy," Jackson said. "It was a choice. I made that choice knowing that it may or may not work out in my favor."
What Jackson did want to share with the audience is that a career in dance is hard. Featuring a story about a 30-year-old dancer is much different than a dancer fresh out of high school.
"I think the story of a dancer at 30 is just as important as the story of a dancer who is 18 and gets her leg up high. I'm 30 years old, this s**t is hard," Jackson laughed. "I've been dancing in high heels for six years. The body feels it and I'm feeling it, but I'm up here and I'm doing it."
In Season 16, Jackson felt comfortable in the Hip-Hop round with Luther Brown and partnered with returning contestant Stephanie Sosa for the ballroom round, led by Emma Slater and Sasha Farber. It was the contemporary round with Talia Favia that ended her journey this time around.
"I just wasn't strong enough in comparison to the other boys. They told me the same thing last year. I showed up ready this year. I trained with Magda [Fialek] for ballroom. I worked with the best choreographers for my solos — Sabrina Phillip, Rudy Abreu and Easton Blake Payne," Jackson revealed. "Since I don't get to show them on So You Think, I filmed a YouTube series and I'm releasing them all on my channel."
One of the things Jackson is most proud of is pushing the boundaries on SYTYCD because coming in as Laganja might pave the way for future dancers.
"I think auditioning as Laganja got them to be more open to people. I think I came in and it was a big shock, but I think once they got to know me, they realized I was a real person," Jackson said. "I am a real artist, I am a real dancer. Maybe that small revelation will hopefully translate for other contestants."
After seriously considering a move out of Los Angeles to Colorado to start a dance company, Jackson is energized by the feedback she received from SYTYCD producers Jeff Thacker, Robert Roldan and Mandy Moore. It helped shape her plans to stay in LA. Even though Jackson has hit the age limit for the show, she has a plan to return in a different capacity and make her SYTYCD dream come true.
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