It only took 86 years for Eva Dean Booth to become a TV star.
But when the Carrollwood grandmother's fame finally arrived, it couldn't have come from a more fitting source: Fox's summertime reality TV series So You Think You Can Dance.
Booth, who taught and studied dance as a young hoofer in Utah 70 years ago, traveled to the show's Atlanta auditions earlier this year planning to cheer on granddaughter Courtney Kirby — a lithe, practiced 18-year-old dancer from Lutz determined to make a mark.
"She's the one who got me started, just by bringing dancing into the family," Kirby said of her grandmother, who is notorious for crying with joy when she performs especially well.
What Booth didn't expect: that executive producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe would call her up to watch Kirby's audition from his chair — and then air a full six minutes of their good-natured verbal sparring on Wednesday night's episode.
"I got so many accolades today, you'd think I was the one who was doing the dancing," Booth said Thursday, her voice quavering. "They were all so nice to me, I get choked up every time I think about it."
Booth and her family suspected the show might feature the audition, given that ads for the program had included a brief clip of Lythgoe wrapping his leg around her while delivering a big hug.
As relatives gathered at Winners Grill in Tampa to watch the episode, they got a surprise; Eva Dean showed up in the segment as much as her granddaughter, earning her 15 minutes of fame with a playful, sassy spirit that clearly delighted Lythgoe.
Before Kirby's audition started, she told the judges her grandmother's history as a dance teacher inspired her.
"Is she with us?" Lythgoe asked, seemingly questioning whether Booth was still alive.
When the producer saw she was in the hall, wrapped in a thick coat, he asked if she could hear what was going on. "I want to get up there with you," answered Booth. The longtime fan of the show ambled up to the elevated judges table, planted a huge kiss on Lythgoe and shared his seat.
Tears flowed down Booth's face as Kirby delivered a dance that seemed equal parts gymnastics power and contemporary flair.
Still, when Lythgoe failed to join judges Mary Murphy and Debbie Allen in voting to send her to the callback rounds in Las Vegas — he wanted her to audition further — Booth had a sassy comeback ready.
"You sure you don't want to change your mind, so you don't look ridiculous?" she asked the producer, who laughed and handed her Kirby's ticket to the semifinals. During a later interview with host Cat Deeley, the show broadcast pictures of Booth as a young dancer, before her auburn hair had gone gray.
Kirby and Booth can't say how she did in the Las Vegas callbacks, which were held in April and air June 20 on Fox.
But there's little doubt Booth enjoyed her turn in the limelight, jazzed by the opportunity to cozy up to Lythgoe before a national TV audience.
"I got so many phone calls from old friends and neighbors (who) said 'You took over the show,' " she noted, laughing at the memory. "I wasn't trying to do that . . . but I guess (Lythgoe) was crazy about me."