Jennifer Lopez Fosters New Generations Of Talent With ‘World Of Dance’

Jennifer Lopez

Since inking a first-look deal with NBCUniversal in 2013, Jennifer Lopez has found a strong collaborative partner that has taken her TV career to new heights.

Taking on the dramatic front over the past several years with crime drama Shades of Blue, in which she stars opposite Ray Liotta, Lopez has Bye Bye Birdie Live! on the horizon as the Adi Hasak-created cop series comes to an end and her Las Vegas residency winds down in September.

But the star has found her greatest hit of late in the network’s competition series World of Dance. Returning last month for a second season, the program promptly was picked up for a third.

A judge and executive producer on the visually immersive series—which features solo acts, larger groups and all styles—Lopez has always taken the opportunity to cultivate new generations of talent. “It’s what I loved about doing American Idol; it’s what I love about this, discovering new talent and being awe-inspired all over again, every single day,” Lopez tells Deadline.

With the second season of World of Dance—following Les Twins’ Season 1 victory—Lopez set out to elevate the series, and a new crop of talent. “It was just about, how do we make it better? How do we up our game?” the EP says. “The truth is, it’s about the talent on the show—and we attracted so much more talent the second time around.”

How did World of Dance come about, and what excited you about it? I’ve heard you speak about the series as a return to your roots.

Yeah, I started as a dancer, and we were trying to develop a great dance show with NBC—because I had a deal at NBC. Then, this idea of World of Dance came up from [NBC President of Alternative] Paul Telegdy. He’s like, “What do you think of this?” I said, “Yeah! Let’s scrap the other thing. Let’s go with this.” Because I knew World of Dance: I am around dancers and I’m in that kind of dance world all the time. I knew it was a great idea.

I was like, “This is a show. This is what we should do: We should have dance teams come on; we should do this; they’re doing amazing things, all the young kids coming here to try.” This is where I find my talent; this is where I find dancers to dance for me, choreographers to work for me. From these dance competitions. World of Dance is not the only one—there’s a few of them. So World of Dance was a great brand for us to associate with and bring to life.

Trae Patton/NBC

Can you explain the various aspects of your conceptualization for World of Dance? The show is broken down by talent categories including Junior, Upper and Team.

The basic concept came from live practical competitions—they have those divisions. We added a division this year because the juniors were such standouts last year; it was unfair to keep grouping them together. It’s like, all the juniors together—whether you’re a group or you dance by yourself or whether you’re a duo, it doesn’t matter. This year, we separated it, because they really deserve their own [categories]. But that’s where it came from. With the scoring system, we kind of adapted everything for television, but it came from the original concept of these dance competitions.

When you’re setting out to produce “The Olympics of Dance,” what is your process in selecting talent for your show—and how are you able to judge between the best of the best?

It’s hard. Once they get on the show, it’s really hard. Before that, when we’re looking at tapes, and people are sending stuff in from all over the world, and we’re doing auditions in different cities, you can kind of go, “That’s talent. That’s talent. These people are talented.” But once we get all the talented people together, then it gets much, much harder. And that’s the part that you get to see on TV. But it’s highly entertaining.

Trae Patton/NBC

So your judging comes down to gut instinct?

Feeling. Whenever you watch something—you, me, anybody, any of us—we’re judging it. We’re looking at it and we’re going, “I like this.” Or, “I don’t like this.” Or, “This makes me feel this way.” It’s pretty much the same thing. We watch it and we have a different eye because this is what I do for a living. So I see certain technical things, and emotional things, and practical things, and ethereal things that are happening while [they’re] up there. But that’s because that’s what I do for a living. At the end of the day, it’s the one that moves you.

With Ne-Yo and Derek Hough on as judges, and Jenna Dewan as the show’s host, what makes this creative unit work?

I think we all have a similar awe and love for dance. We are in love with it in a way that dancers are. And then we have a respect for each other, as well. We all came together, really nice people. That’s not always what you get when you get thrown together, on a cast. But we happened to have picked three amazing people to work with, and I’m having the best time. We’re all very grateful to be there.

Talent-wise, what were the biggest discoveries for you in Season 1?

I think Eva Igo and the twins who wound up being in the finals. But there was Keone & Mari, and the Kinjaz, and Swing Latino. There were just so many amazing, different, diverse types of dance and people that represented World of Dance. I feel like we lived up to our name, and I think this year will be no different. We’re really pleasantly surprised by how many people came out.

Justin Lubin/NBC

In your mind, what gave Les Twins the edge in winning Season 1?

I think it was just the type of dance. They had such a unique style and chemistry, obviously, from being twins—an emotional connection, but also an understanding of what it is to be a performer, and what it is to emote. They’re true artists, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. I think that’s why the world fell in love with them.

Do you have a favorite moment from the series’ first run?

I think for me, it was probably the moment with Diana [Pombo] when she told me I inspired her, and I hugged her because I just realized what’s special. Everything I wanted people to know about dancers—how special they were, what stars they were—it’s like it was all personified in that little girl, Diana. Then, the part with Eva during our mentoring session when she broke down about her dad, and then all of a sudden her dancing changed. It was just beautiful to watch that journey.

What were the biggest challenges in putting together Season 1?

It’s like anything. You go into something and you don’t know what it’s going to be, and you have all these ideas, and you’re hoping everybody’s aligned on the same page. We’re all saying the same thing, but you never know. [laughs] It just really came together. The chemistry worked, and the stage, and the director, and the talent, and the panel, and the host, and the crew. Everything about it just really jelled.

Trae Patton/NBC

World of Dance is a very celebratory, optimistic series. Do you feel that there’s a value to optimism in entertainment at this point in time?

Yeah, I think it’s very positive, and I think it’s great for people. One of the things that I always heard when I did American Idol was, “I loved that I could sit down with the whole family and watch it,” and I think this show is exactly the same. Your kids want to watch it, but you want to watch it, too. I love the positive stuff. I like putting that out into the world.

Going into Season 2, what inspired the decision to have some Season 1 competitors return for another go-round?

Our rule was, like a regular dance competition, you can come back the next year and try to win. It’s about getting better, and coming back, and doing that. We want that kind of return, for sure.

What’s the latest with your own dancing? We’re still awaiting a set date for Bye Bye Birdie Live!

Yeah, we’re just trying to figure out when to do everything. I had to finish up the Vegas residency, we had to finish up Shades of Blue. Both are ending this year, which is great—and then we start new stuff. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.

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