Even as the end credits rolled on his last episode of So You Think You Can Dance, Ricky Jaime was trying to find something positive to say about getting ejected from the biggest opportunity of his young life.
"I'm all right. … I just tell people never to give up," said Jaime, 19, wiping tears from his eyes backstage at the show Thursday, minutes after being told the show's audience didn't vote him into the contest's final four dancers. Jaime joined Caitlynn Lawson in leaving the contest.
His emotion brought a quick hug from judge Mary Murphy, who held him tightly while praising the Riverview teen's tenacity.
"There was a time when everyone behind the scenes was against him — until he took his solo dance," Murphy said of a moment in the show's second week when he stumbled. "Not only does he have a good heart, he just shoves the dance right down our throat until we see his talent."
Jaime's tearful, dejected reaction was a sharp contrast from his attitude just 24 hours earlier, when he faced the press after Wednesday's performance show with a smile and boundless enthusiasm — emerging from the surprisingly small studios at CBS' Television City complex in Hollywood like he'd been named homecoming king at the world's coolest high school.
"I really don't want to think about it," said Jaime, who has landed in the show's bottom three or four among dance competitors four separate times since the program named its final 20 in June. "I've just learned … you really have to be open and just kill it — dance for your life, no matter what."
On Wednesday, with his mother, Doris Davila, in the audience, that meant tackling three different dances, including one with fellow contestant Sasha Mallory for a dance based on the Los Angeles-bred style called "waacking," which basically advances the "pop and lock" form of street dancing made famous on shows like Soul Train.
"I'm still sore," said Jaime, who had days to learn the complex moves well enough to impress a national audience. "But it was the best experience ever."
Guest judge Christina Applegate, an actor with dance training and Broadway roles in her past, called Jaime a "beautiful technical dancer" who may still be overshadowed a bit by the street-flavored "grit" of other competitors.
"This is gonna sound wrong, but you could have waacked it a little harder," Applegate told him on camera Wednesday. After the broadcast, she was more specific: "I told him to dance with a little bit more intention. He needs to know why his hand is going where his hand is going. And I think that connection will change him as a dancer. But there's so much joy that comes out of him, he's a pleasure to watch."
Raised in Miami, Jaime came to Riverview as a teen, eventually becoming the first male cheerleader at Newsome High School. A fan of So You Think You Can Dance for years, he is at least assured of appearing in the show's 30-city live tour, which kicks off Sept. 17 at Amway Center in Orlando.
Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, Jaime is aware of all the folks pulling for him in the Tampa Bay area, including supporters at the Carrollwood dance school where he teaches, the Centerstage Dance Academy. They gather at the nearby Burrito Bowl restaurant to watch the show.
And Jaime is looking forward to bringing his new knowledge back to Centerstage. "I could take waacking back home. Wouldn't that be cool?"
Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: tampabay.com/blogs/media. Twitter: @Deggans.