Tears were a good thing for 16-year-old Jaxon Willard on Tuesday night.
Willard, an American Fork, Utah resident, performed on the Season 2 premiere of “World of Dance” with his self-choreographed contemporary routine to “Fragile” by Kygo & Labrinth. And his routine had judges Jennifer Lopez and Derek Hough tearing up as well as members of the audience.
After Willard finished his performance, a woman in the audience shouted, “He made me cry.” To which Lopez responded, “He made a bunch of us cry.” And Hough added, “Me too.”
“To allow that vulnerability to be seen, that is what is so beautiful and captivated this whole entire audience right now,” Lopez told Willard. “I hope you never lose this.”
An emotional Hough applauded Willard’s connection with the audience.
“The ability to have that emotion and have the bravery to have those small moments where you are moving back and you just drew us in, we were with you,” Hough said. “You embodied what it is to be a dancer and a storyteller.”
Following his performance, Willard explained why he choreographed the emotional routine.
“I was adopted by a white family and we live in a predominately white neighborhood, so I’ve always been teased and bullied about my skin color,” Willard said. “And so I would always suppress my feelings and keep it inside until I discovered dancing. This song to me means it’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to be sad.”
Willard scored a 94 out of 100 from the judges, which is a score based on his performance, technique, choreography, creativity and presentation. His score advances him to the next round, the Duel round, on “World of Dance.” In the Duel round, he’ll compete against another dancer/group in his category.
Willard is in the Junior category, which consists of contestants 17 years old and younger with one to four dancers. The other groups are Junior Team (17 years old and under, five to 15 dancers), Upper (18 years old and older, one to four dancers), and Upper Team (18 years old and older, five to 15 dancers).
There are five rounds in the show: Qualifiers, Duels, The Cut, Divisional Final and the World Final.
Willard isn’t the only competitor with Utah County ties. Contemporary duo Charity and Andres of Springville and Orem-based ballroom team The Pulse will also compete in the Qualifiers round on “World of Dance” on a different Tuesday.