By Ken Stone
“It was an amazing thing, regardless of the outcome,” leader and co-founder Eric Payan said Tuesday.
The Santee resident vowed his group would stay active, enter more contests and maybe, in three or four years, become a full-time professional troupe.Along with fellow young 20s Paul Lopez of Chula Vista, Andretty Lucatero of El Cajon and Lewis Torres of Murrieta — plus 18-year-old high-schooler Shawn Jones Nguyen of Poway — the group survived Qualifiers and The Duels in the Upper Team Division.
They last danced in November at Universal Studios, getting higher and higher per diems as they stayed at a Burbank hotel on the show’s dime.
On the show aired Sunday, judge Ne-Yo encouraged Fuego to return next season.
Payan said it might.
“We really won’t go through all that to try out again unless they invited us to try out again,” he said. “If they wanted us to come back, and try out, we’ll give it a shot. Maybe add two more guys or so.”
Among the smallest of the 16 original Upper Team groups, Fuego “figured out how to beat the big crews,” Payan said. “I believe we can get a lot further in the show than we did.”
In any case, Fuego has seen its stock rise.
The group headlined a World of Dance circuit event last week at the Anaheim House of Blues — “a pretty cool experience,” said Payan, who wants to book more music videos. “The show kind of opened more doors.”
Earning a lot more in five months than the whole of last year, he said, “it helps to pay the bills for right now. … If we go superhard with it the next three or four years, it can be our main thing.”
In The Cut episode, Fuego is seen getting “mentored” by Ne-Yo (he watched for an hour, Payan said). The group then dances to a Pitbull (Armando Christian Pérez) cover of the Latin hit “Gasolina” by Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee (Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez).
With overtly sexy moves, the dance targets judge and executive producer Jennifer Lopez. (She also has worked with Pitbull.)
JLo began with a Miss Congeniality Award-style comment.
“You guys are the most fun,” said the superstar actress/singer/dancer. “I feel like everybody would want to hang out with you backstage.” But then she called Fuego’s routine “a little bit elementary. The steps are not anything I haven’t seen before.”
Judge Derek Hough said the routine needed more gasoline.
Ne-Yo (Shaffer Chimere Smith) recalled speaking in his mentoring session about “really bringing the Latin fire. I feel like you guys listened… You should be definitely proud of this piece.”
He gave the group a 90 rating, which along with Lopez and Hough’s 89s put Fuego at 89.3 — immediately into fourth place and out of the show. (Advancing to the Divisional Finals were South Korea’s 10-member The Heima, India’s 14-member The Kings and the 10-member hometown Unity LA.)
Catering to J-Lo didn’t impress some viewers.
“The last performance … caused the most controversy — people either hated or loved it,” Payan said in a phone interview. “It was a different approach that we did, and I’m happy we did it…. A lot of people are kind of hating on that. But a lot of people appreciate that at the same time.”
Viewers didn’t see all of Fuego’s “Gasolina” routine, however. Payan said two sections — totaling about 15 seconds — were cut, leaving a 66-second set to air.
So Monday, Fuego posted a version on Instagram showing a practice dance spliced into one aired on NBC.
@daddyyankee – Gasolina (Fuego Dance Crew Version) well @nbcworldofdance it was a good run! We are grateful for the amazing opportunity And this is another stepping stone for the crew. We’re glad we went out this way but the world still hasn’t seen the best of Fuego! Stay tuned @pauldaniellopez @shawnjonguyen @lewistorres21 @andrettyji @ericphazepayan #worldofdance #dance #dancecrew #fuego #sandiego #losangeles #nbc
“It kind of flows better, being the full set,” Payan said. (They fared better than some crews in the Qualifiers round in which some troupes saw none of their routines shown.)
Payan said Fuego will continue as a Latin brand, with hopes of landing music video gigs with Latin stars.
“Maybe we’ll go on tour someday,” he said.
Bottom line: Even with losing, they won.
“It helps to pay the bills for right now,” Payan said. “But if we keep going at this rate, in about a year and a half or two years, we could have consistent paychecks from this. If we go superhard with it the next three or four years, it can be our main thing.”
But: “At the end of the day, we love what we do, regardless of getting paid or not.”
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