- World of Dance contestant Poppin John got real about performing in front of Jennifer Lopez and the other WoD judges in an exclusive interview with Women's Health.
- He said it was "surreal" when J.Lo called him a "seasoned performer" after his winning Duels performance.
- Poppin John also shared how he started popping and how that led him to the World of Dance stage.
If you're ever lucky enough to receive a compliment from the one and only Jennifer Lopez , it kind of changes your life-or so I've been told by someone who's been there, done that: Poppin John.
J.Lo told the World of Dance contestant that he was a "seasoned performer" after Poppin John's winning performance in the Duels . "That's really etched in my memory because it's crazy to hear that from Jennifer Lopez," Poppin John exclusively tells Women's Health. "She's a superstar and has done every type of performance you can possibly think of, so her telling me that I'm a seasoned performer was just kind of surreal."
J.Lo's known for speaking her mind on World of Dance (#nofilter), so you know that when she says something, it has to be true. And in Poppin John's case, it totally is. He's been dancing for 22 years, so um yeah, you might say he's pretty darn "seasoned." (You could also say his dance moves are "sickening," which, oh yeah, J.Lo already did.)
While Poppin John's a total pro now, his first experience with dance was, um... "really awkward." He was 12 years old at a middle school dance, and it was the classic cringe-worthy scene: girls on one side of the gym, guys on the other, and nobody knows what to do. "Suddenly, these two break dancers jump out into the middle of the gym and just completely blow everybody's minds," he recalls. "That night, I went home, and I learned how to do the worm." He laid a mirror down on the ground and watched himself in it until, eventually, he figure it out. "That was my first dance," he says.
The next month, there was another school dance and, sure enough, those two guys jumped out and started dancing again. This time though, John jumped in and did the worm. "All of a sudden, I was one of the breakdancers," he says. "And then, from that day forward, I was completely hooked." He and the other dancers became fast friends and taught themselves different breaking moves by watching a VHS tape (remember those?) of all the breaking and popping moves they could find on TV. From music videos to commercials to '80s movies, if it had any kind of breakdancing or popping in it, they watched it.
Eventually, John and his breakdancing crew started traveling to competitions, and that's when he really started to get into popping. While breaking is more acrobatic and athletic, popping is all about tapping into the visuals of the dance. "You're trying to look like your body's made of water, or like you're a robot," he explains. "You're basically flexing your muscles to the beat of the music... It requires a huge amount of body control."
Fast forward a few years, and John had become totally devoted to popping, so much so that he decided to try out street performing in El Paso, Texas, where he lived with his now-wife. Dressed up like a silver robot, he performed in a local mall for five (!) hours a day, only taking one short break. He accepted donations from shoppers and eventually made enough that it became his main job and even paid for his wedding. (Oh, and he gave 10 percent of his earnings to the Children's Miracle Network-the mall's only requirement.)
My body just has this muscle memory. I don\'t have to think about technique. It\'s just there.
That local mall is where, John says, he honed his popping technique. "It really took my skill level from 0 to 100," he explained. "My body just has this muscle memory now from all that performing. I don't have to think about the technique anymore. It's just there."
Eventually, John and his wife moved to Los Angeles so he could pursue his dancing career full-time. After putting together a dance crew, he auditioned for America's Got Talent and got-literally-15 seconds of fame. Then, he and his crew auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance and got a bit further in the competition, but nothing really came out of it. So when World of Dance rolled around, he was understandably skeptical at first. After hearing about the show's first season, he put together a dance group for the second season. But when one of the members had to drop out due to another contract, the crew fell apart.
Then, when the audition process for the third season began, World of Dance casting contacted John and asked him to put a group together again. This time, though, he decided to try out as a soloist."At first, I was really nervous because I didn't want to have another negative experience on a television show," he says. "And it was a gamble for me because I kind of have a big name in the dance community, so if I went on the show and got cut the first round, it'd be a bad look."
That didn't happen. Not only did Poppin John make it through the Qualifier round, but he also won his Duel round against DD Flection, a contemporary duo and former World of Dance Thailand winners. Knowing how much the judges liked contemporary dance, he says, "I went for it. I was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and... the moment I finished I felt the routine, I was like 'Okay, I think I just killed it.'"
Clearly, Jennifer Lopez agreed. "It's been cool to kind of feel like J.Lo's on my team, and she gets what I'm doing on stage," Poppin John says. "That's been really encouraging-and a lot of fun for my wife as well because she's a huge J.Lo fan." (I mean, who isn't?)
Besides J.Lo, "all of the judges are super cool," says John. "I've gotten to interact with Derek [Hough] a little bit backstage, and he's crazy-genuine and down to earth and really chill," he explains. "It feels like he sees himself as an equal to all of us backstage... He gives us advice because he's been through all this competition stuff."
Obsessed with the World of Dance judges? Yeah, same. Here's everything you need to know about them:
Even when it's just a random run-in with Ne-Yo in the World of Dance parking lot (casual), Poppin John felt the love when the WoD judge gave him the peace sign. "[The judges] are a lot of fun on set. I think they really love the show, and that definitely adds to the vibe," he says. "They have a front row seat to an awesome show."
And btw, so do you. Tonight Poppin John returns to the World of Dance stage for The Cut round. If he makes it through, Poppin John moves on to the Divisional Finals and gets one step, or rather pop, closer to the $1 million grand prize.