Will Nice Girl Finish First? Valerie Rockey in 'So You Think You Can Dance' Finale

The tap dancer, native to Franklin, vies for the show’s top prize tonight.

What a season. We’re breaking it down like any good hip-hopper here as to Valerie Rockey‘s chances in tonight’s Season 11 finale (FOX, 8 p.m.).
Why Valerie should/will win: She should win because the show crowns America’s Favorite Dancer, not the best dancer on the show. She isn’t the best dancer. Choreographers don’t give her much to do in group numbers, and she doesn’t have the power or precision as the best-trained contestants.
Though she’s obviously had training beyond her specialty, tap, and is experienced enough to pick up choreography ranging from hip hop to salsa, I haven’t seen her do a single leap or develop a couple other moves that just about everyone does now. Her gift is personality. She’s chirpy and happy and sweet, and choreographers have given her those roles to play all season long. If you look back at all So You Think You Can Dance winners, almost all of them had a strong personality, whether they measured up technically or not. Last year, both female finalists dazzled with their moves, but the one with the brighter smile and bigger giggle came out on top. The male winner, skilled in hip-hop and adequate in everything else, had almost no competition while sailing to the crown.
Jessica Richens, Valerie’s competition in the finale, is a gorgeous, powerful dancer, but she spent the first half of the season in the show’s bottom two, narrowly avoiding elimination. She’s just never seemed as genuine as Valerie, and the audience has responded. Jessica has obviously come a long way, but she has never matched Valerie’s popularity. Two weeks ago, the one week when Valerie fell flat (on the one dark, moody number she’s been given this season), she still didn’t end up in the bottom two. That’s when it became pretty clear that Jessica can’t catch Valerie. Unless Valerie has to perform a bunch of surreal Sonya Tayeh routines or soul-baring Mia Michaels numbers in the finale, she’ll make official what has been obvious since June—she is America’s Favorite Dancer this season.
Here’s Valerie last week with SYTYCD all-star Twitch, himself a personality powerhouse:

Why Valerie won’t/shouldn’t win: There’s no question that Jessica is more skilled the Valerie, and she has shown a broader range of emotions in her performances. Her early flirts with elimination were largely because she had the worst partners—male contestants who were voted off the show early. Since lesser partners stopped dragging Jessica down, she has looked like the one to beat. Valerie still has the edge in the personality and popularity column, and, as we said above, even the one week when Valerie tanked (on that moody contemporary piece), she wasn’t in the bottom two. But Jessica has gotten better each week, and the judges have had nothing but praise for her last three or four dances. She has put her rocky (heh) start to the season behind her and is peaking at the right time. It’s still a toss-up, but SYTYCD fans usually reward technical prowess as long as that dancer doesn’t perform like a cold machine. Jessica is nothing if not expressive. She has cried, kissed, smiled, sizzled, and snarled her way through the season.
The judges have several times remarked how much they loved hearing her breath or gasp during a routine because she was feeling it. She hasn’t been America’s sweetheart throughout the season like Valerie has, but if history serves, audiences will realize just in time that she is their Favorite Dancer.
Jessica showed off her emotional range here, with a simple pulse (at the 0:32 mark) that ran through her body and made us all remember the thrill of our first kiss:

At the end of the day, not to sound too much like SYTYCD judge Nigel Lythgoe, we (the audience) are the true winners in this fight for America’s favorite dancer. We challenge you to find another show that is filled with people so passionate about their art that they can move you to tears, laughter, and back again. The choice is up to you, America. Tune in tonight and vote to prove which dancer most moved you.