EXCLUSIVE: Travis Wall Talks Competing With Choreographers Derek Hough & Mandy Moore at Emmys
By Angelique Jackson
Travis Wall isn’t sweating the Emmys.
Wall is not being modest or evasive when he says “getting nominated is basically winning”; he’s just got a lot going on right now. The seven-time Emmy-nominated dancer and choreographer simply has TWO dances to focus on for this week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance, so he has a lot going on. ET spoke to the 29-year-old over the phone in the midst of a whirlwind day of choreographing his pieces for the hit dance series -- where Wall began his rise to stardom as a contestant.
“There's just no time to prep anything and, you know, you're finding out your couple at the last second and -- then it's like ‘Oh my gosh, is my music cleared?’ There are so many components,” Wall explained. “I think in other shows you might be brought in to choreograph the piece, but [on SYTYCD] you come up with the concept and you create the creative for what the hair, the makeup, the wardrobe, the lighting and the music and everything about it, how it comes together. And then you work with the director on how you want to shoot it so you're coming up with these ideas, not just choreographing something that already exists. And that’s why I love So You Think You Can Dance so much. It's just such original content every single week.”
Wall has proven to be a master at creating that content, leading to Emmy nominations for his work each year since 2011. In 2015, Wall won the award in a tie with fellow dance superstars Derek & Julianne Hough and Tessandra Chavez. This year, Wall is nominated for creating three routines -- "The Mirror," "Send in the Clowns," and "She Used to Be Mine" -- and is again in competition with Hough for the trophy this year.
Joining Wall and Hough as nominees in the Outstanding Choreography category are Fred Tallaksen (The Real O’Neals) and Mandy Moore (who is nominated twice, for her work on Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance). 2017 has already been a big year for Moore, who choreographed the Oscar-favorite La La Land and whose fame exploded around her involvement.
So, could there be another tie in 2017? Wall opens up about why he welcomes the possibility, competing against his friends, where he keeps his Emmy statue and more below.
ET: Let’s start things off by saying congratulations! At this point, what does it mean to you -- and does it mean anything different -- to be nominated for an Emmy this time around?
Travis Wall: I mean, the competition is always so incredibly diverse. And it's extremely hard, and every year the category gets bigger and bigger as far as the submissions go. When I create, I have to outdo myself every single time, because I don't compare myself to anybody else but myself. And I try to constantly challenge myself to do something I haven't done before and still the work should still mature. If I got nominated for years before and then if I didn't get nominated this year, it doesn't mean that I didn't rise to that occasion. It just maybe meant that the competition has gotten even crazier, even harder to be recognized inside of this incredible category. So it doesn't change - that phone call still feels like the first one. The minute it happened, I was just so thankful because I could've been on the other side. And being on this side of it, I'm so grateful and so thankful I was recognized.
This is not just your seventh nomination, you have won this award before. What do you remember most about that experience and that moment when your name was called?
I won on my fifth nomination. I sat in the audience and I really never thought it was mine that year. You know what I mean? I was just like, “I can't believe I'm here!” I was 23 and I was looking around, nominated with all my mentors, which was crazy. So it was always like [I felt like] this really, really small fish in this big sea. [So You Think You Can Dance host] Cat [Deeley] was the one who announced it. They announced the first winner -- it was a tie -- the first one goes up and I just look at her and she looks down at the second name. I'm like trying to read her face and she has a [great] poker face, like there's nothing happening. And I was like 'Oh my God'. Then she walked up [to the podium] and she hesitated and goes, “I have chills.” When she said that, I knew she was talking about me and my whole body went to a state of blackout. I didn't hear my name. I just felt my fiancé and my mom just freak out around me. I just hyperventilated, I didn't plan a speech, I just went and started speaking, starting talking about my mom and I just started crying, but I just couldn't help but be so vulnerable to the emotion that washed over me in that moment. The Emmy itself, I don't look at it just for that year. Whenever I look at the Emmy or have it around or am just thinking about when that changed, when I was able to say I was an Emmy-award winner, that's the journey I think about, how I got from there to there.
When you went backstage and were finally taking that breath, how special was it that Cat was right there with you?
It was so perfect for that year to have her say it, more than anything. You know I lost the TV show, I lost as a contestant and she said somebody else's name 11 years ago. And then just to have her say this one and this one meant so much more, that's just the coolest part.
Back when you were 23, you were nominated against your mentors -- this year you're nominated alongside Derek again, plus Mandy has two nominations. What is it like being nominated with your friends?
It's amazing to be. Obviously, Derek presents such great work as well and he is always thinking about what he can do next creatively. I'm just so thrilled for Mandy. Every year, when the nominations come out and I look at that list and I go, “This is great, but where's Mandy? Why is she not on this list?” I've known Mandy for the longest time. We used to take class, we used to dance together, and I mean - I look up to her, I think she's the best in the game, when it comes to working with dance on film and dance in commercials. I mean, La La Land, c'mon! So when I saw that she had two nominations, I literally cried for her! I called her and left her this voicemail. She texted me back and was like, “I'm crying listening to your voicemail. Thank you so much!” So it's really nice to have this camaraderie in this world, especially as a dancer. I mean, sometimes it gets a little cutthroat and that's why the ones that hopefully stick around are the ones that are not bringing the negative energy to it.
Mandy always jokes that she's not “the other Mandy Moore” (the star of This is Us) -- but it just feels like this year is a big moment for her.
Listen, I would be so ecstatic if I won this year, but this is Mandy Moore's year. Let's just be honest here. She has to. I mean Derek's won before, I've won before, I don't know if he's won before, but she has two nominations. If there's a tie, fantastic, but because I'm so in awe of what she does, I'm such a fan, I really hope she takes home a trophy. And if there's more to go around, fantastic, beautiful, love it, but I just really think she deserves it.
How long have you known your fellow nominees? How small is the dance community?
Oh it's so small! It's too small [laughs]. Everybody has known each other for quite some times or in a way you've worked with this person and you know this person and we're always looking for dancers to use. I've known Mandy since I was -- yikes -- 10 years old. We would dance together in other people's classes and then I would take class from her and then we ended up dancing together in a company for like a year, the two of us. And then I started choreographing and doing other things. And then we just started working alongside of each other.
Derek, I never met him [when we were young], but he gave away his junior title to me. He won a dance national [competition] in 1998 and I won in 1999 and he basically passed down his title to me. I didn't meet him until I did Dancing with the Stars about 7-8 years ago for the first time. Then because of going to the Emmys all the time together, we became friends through that and we kept seeing each other, so we were like “Yo, we should do something together.” We just have so much respect for each other.
I've never met Fred, so I'm excited to meet him.
Does it feel like there’s more visibility for choreographers in pop culture now compared to when you won a few years ago?
Choreographers were always behind the camera. And when you’d ask people like on the street, they have [questions] like 'What is that' or 'What does that mean?' And I think that people know what choreographers do, they understand it. You’re not just looking at the person performing [the dance], you're also starting to recognize whose work that is. I think that's so crazy because you never ever used to notice those things. Because of that, I'm able to have my dance company Shaping Sound and have eyes on it and people come out and want to see a full body of work and not just a minute and a half on television. That's the most exciting thing to me, is that this opens up the opportunity for us to have eyes on a passion project, something that we literally give birth to.
What's exciting about this year is that we're putting together a little choreography number inside of the Creative Arts Emmys. It's going to segue into our category, which is very exciting that we get to be part of the show and keep opening the door to really let the industry know what a choreographer really does. We're speaking and then there's dancing happening around us. It's still being worked out so I don't want to give too many details away. But we're definitely planning a nice dance performance inside both Creative Arts Emmys [ceremonies]
Where do you keep your Emmy?
It's nothing special. It's on a shelf in my living room. I used to make a joke & whenever I had people over, I would move it around to the most random places. Like they would just go to the bathroom and my Emmy would be in the bathroom or you'd want to get a drink, and you'd go to get some ice, and you open up the freezer and there's my Emmy. I'd just keep moving it around when I first got it. [People would always ask] where are you going to put it and I was like 'I don't know!' I don't have a specific spot for it.
Is this spot big enough for a second one?
I will make room for a second one! I'll put some books in between them and they can be bookends. You definitely see [the statue] when you're in my house, but it's not like 'Here's the shrine of the Em