Russell Ferguson captured America's heart, as well as the sixth season's "So You Can Think You Can Dance" trophy, when he burst onto the scene in 2009. I caught up with Russell recently to discuss life after "SYTYCD," as well as the fact that now you can see Russell and his co-competitors competing on the dance-contest show all over again on Ovation beginning tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT. (Check ovationtv.com for a complete schedule.)
Celebrity Extra: Have you wanted to dance for as long as you can remember, or is there a moment when you realized, "Hey, I want to be a dancer."
Russell Ferguson: Good question. That has always stuck with me from the beginning. The furthest I can remember back, I was like 3. I remember my mother asking me in the kitchen what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had always said an artist and a dancer. And it’s just stuck with me ever since. I think I was born into it honestly. I remember dancing all my life, whether it was just in the street or in a dance class.
CE: When did you start training?
RF: I started when I was 5. I was in a nonprofit dance company called Boston City Lights. Inner-city kids would just go there and learn how to do choreography, and then you would join the company after you got a certain amount of training. We would do shows around Boston. I guess I was always in that kind of setting, so I always had experience picking up different professional techniques and stuff like that.
CE: What made you decide to even audition for "SYTYCD"?
RF: Honestly, it was my mother. I was in college. I was doing a year at the University for the Arts, and it was basically get a degree in that or be a part of a dance company, where you would be set but you wouldn’t really make a name for yourself, and you would be part of a company. I wasn’t really a big fan of school — but I DO encourage kids to stay in school. But I was much more focused on dancing.
Once the auditions came to Boston, my mother said, “Hey, this is your time.“ She just felt it. She called me and said: “I’ve got the papers, and I really think you should audition. Even if you don’t make it, I really feel like you should just go. I feel like if you make it, you’re gonna win. This is your time.”
And I was like: “I don’t know. I don’t know about the whole Hollywood thing. But then I just though, Why not? If I get in, I get in. If I don’t, I don’t.”
CE: The whole process must have been excruciating — I figure you are constantly rehearsing, learning, dancing, all that.
RF: You could easily be fooled that it’s all just lots of fun by watching it on TV. But if you don’t know how to discipline yourself during certain situations or if you don’t know how to be professional during certain situations, it’s hard to get past certain things. And a reality show could really break you, a competition like that, because 24/7 you’re under pressure. Cameras are in your face, and when you’re just used to performing for the love of it, it’s hard to be on stage and focus on things like, "OK, this camera is going to be shooting your face up close at this time."
It’s hard to focus on things like that when you’re trying to please the crowd. So, things like that could really take away from the love of it. But, if you know why you’re there and you’ve got your head on straight, then you know you can make it through anything. You’ve just got to have faith in whatever you believe in.
CE: Sounds like it's really stressful!
RF: Oh, man! It’s definitely a stressful process. Friends are going home and friends are crying. Everybody is wondering, “Is it gonna be me next?” You just never know. Some of the best people were getting kicked off, and we were just like, “Wow!”
All that was going through my head was, “As long as you do everything that you need to do perfectly, there’s nothing that can go wrong. And if you do go wrong, hey, then you know you’ve done your best.” I wasn’t focused on trying to go home like that. My whole thing was, “I’m not saying I’m gonna beat everybody, but I am gonna say that I’m not going home.” Which is pretty much the same thing, but it’s more humble of a mentality.
CE: That's an optimistic, half-glass-full way to look at competing with friends. What else did you take away from the competition?
RF: I really learned that no matter how my body is feeling, my spirit takes over. Another reason that I did this competition was to prove to myself that I was as good of a dancer as a felt I was. And I was like, “This is gonna prove that.” It almost felt like one big battle.
CE: What kind of doors did this open for you and your dancing career?
RF: God has just been blessing me! Right after that, I got to perform at the Academy Awards. I’ve been teaching pretty much everywhere around the country — from Virginia to Utah to Washington to Cali. And I’m in an upcoming film called “Battlefield America” that’s gonna be coming out pretty soon, probably at the end of next year. It’s definitely like the next big dance movie coming out. It has a lot of youth in it, and it basically revolves around the youth and how they get down. It’s gonna be real big.
CE: Now that you know the outcome of your season of "SYTYCD," are you excited about getting the chance to watch them all again?
RF: I haven’t even watched every episode myself, so to watch that would definitely be an experience. I am looking forward to it.
CE: Tell me about your dance company, Side Street.
RF: Side Street is a company that I came up with. We’re trying to grab some youth and make positive things. We’ve got different projects. We’re seeking to teach and establish a program where we can go around and perform everywhere, and get it on Broadway, hopefully. That’s what we’re really striving for. The opportunity that "SYTYCD" gave me, I’m trying to take advantage of it.
CE: What are your long-term goals and plans for yourself and your career?
RF: Right now I’m trying to be like a spider. I’m trying to be everywhere. I definitely want to kick hard into the movie industry, because that has always been a passion of mine. One of my goals is to do what Michael Jackson did and put dancing on film — the way it should be, the way it used to be. There are not really a lot of people out there with those kinds of motives. They’ve kind of just conformed to everything that’s going on, because they know it’s going to get that kind of hype.
I feel like stuff that’s on YouTube should be on TV. There should be sitcoms with dancing in it! I feel like the Disney Channel and "Glee" are cool, but let’s get even more in depth with the dancing. I just feel that dance is at a point right now where it’s evolved tremendously, and it has to be seen in the light that a lot of other arts are seen. That’s my goal. I know, it’s real big!