John was sixteen when So You Think You Can Dance aired the first year. His only thought was: I can do better than that. He still devoured the show like a rabid animal, foaming at the mouth for more.
He continued his covert dance classes, adding hip hop and ballroom to his repertoire, and cutting down more and more on the Tae Kwon Do classes that were his cover until he gave up on the martial arts altogether. No one seemed to notice, not even the teacher at the dojo.
When the second season aired, John started choreographing his audition routine in his head. He knew that strong technique was a must, so he continued with ballet even though it was contemporary that really appealed to him. He stuck with the ballroom too, and got decent at the salsa, even if he looked a little whitebread doing it. Hip hop was always the hardest, but after watching Benji and Travis do their hip hop duet in the finale (and he absolutely did not have a picture of Travis plastered inside his very private, extremely well-hidden choreography notebook), he stepped it up a notch and looked for a better teacher.
He told his parents he was getting a job after school which was technically true; he was asked to help teach the little tykes ballet, and in exchange he got studio time and tap lessons (which he never did do particularly well at). His parents were so proud of his initiative they bought him a car.
John choreographed and re-choreographed his audition piece at least twenty times over the next two years, seething when he saw Neil do his trick on national television, and knowing anyone that did it from then on would be considered a copycat. He didn't put a picture of Neil in his choreography notebook, not even when he made it to the final four.
The auditions got progressively harder each time he went. He lied about his age and went out for second season auditions. Even made it to choreography, though he was cut at the end of the day. Third season he went legitimately, though he had to wait until the last audition to be of age. He told his parents he was visiting a college campus. They didn’t even blink when he asked for the credit card to book his flight. He had already applied and been accepted at NYU, but they didn’t know that. He made it to Vegas that year (still having to do choreography), and that week hadn’t been harder to wrangle than the first audition. Since the ticket was already paid for, all he had to do was escape his parents' attention for a week. He could do that with his eyes closed. It was school that was making it difficult. In the end he charmed his teachers into letting him take his finals ahead of time and when he was cut after the second round, he skipped the rest of the week anyway.
He watched third season with a mix of fascination and frustration. The talent level was much higher than the previous years, and with each passing year, you had to be that much better than the last. His technique was solid, he was relatively versatile (though abysmal in hip hop still) and he was pretty sure he was a likeable guy. It wasn’t enough.
That’s the year he came out of his shell. He had always been too weird to be popular – too smart to be a jock but too athletic to be a geek. He kept his head down and danced, and the only friends he had were people he saw at the studio, and they were really more studio roommates than anything. He decided he needed practice being interesting, so he watched how his brother charmed his way through life. He was the quarterback, girls fell all over him, and teachers all seemed to smile at him fondly. A little close observation of his brother made all the difference. He straightened up, cut his hair (though he couldn’t keep it from sticking up when he did that), smiled more (and no one seemed to get that he was smiling sarcastically). Girls started noticing him, and the only side effect of that was that his father would clap him on the back when he said he was going out on a date.
He was free the next fall, off to college at NYU (which wasn’t Harvard, but good enough that his dad wasn’t disowning him – yet), and while he couldn’t officially declare a dance major or even sign up for classes, he got kicked out of the studio so often that a couple of the teachers let him watch their dance classes without enrolling.
His parents surprised him with a visit to congratulate him on making the dean’s list. He surprised them right back by being on his knees in front of his roommate when they barged in. That was the last time he spoke to his father, and the tearful phone calls from his mother were so painful he usually let voice mail take them. She stopped calling after a couple of months.
The flip side of being disowned, though, was that he could change majors and apply for a scholarship. He'd had to drop out for a semester, but he'd made enough friends in the dance department that he got jobs in two local studios teaching the little kids and not only made rent, but had a space to choreograph and practice. He tried out for fourth season auditions, and made it to Vegas on the first try, and made it all the way to the end (even though his hip hop still hadn't really been strong enough). He knew there was no way he was going to make the final twenty - fully half the men were contemporary dancers, and at least half of them could dance circles around him. He got to know the people who did make it through, and cheered for every one of them all season, voting like crazy for Twitch every single week.
Almost more fascinating than the dancers were the choreographers. Lil C's hard-hitting krumping, Tyce Diorio's tireless Broadway numbers, Rodney McKay's brilliant contemporary choreography. They didn't show much of McKay, not like Mia Michaels, who apparently made better TV. John didn't know if Rodney was that private or that much of an asshole, but whatever it was, he'd put up with it for the rest of his life to be able to dance one of his routines.