Her story might sound similar to Kelly Clarkson’s or Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s – become a beloved reality star and maybe strike stardom. But Witney Carson’s journey to success began on a dance competition show, grew on another and ended with an Emmy nomination.
The 21-year-old pro-dancer of “Dancing with the Stars” fame received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography for her routines — “369,” “It’s Not Unusual” and “Sing with a Swing-Apache” — with celebrity partner Alfonso Ribeiro on Season 19 of the show. And she was shocked.
“Waking up, I think I got three calls and 10 texts from random people with everyone saying, ‘Congrats,’ and I had no idea what was going on,” she told The Huffington Post. “Then I put two and two together and figured it out!”
Carson was nominated alongside some of her idols, including fellow “DWTS” pro and Emmy winner Derek Hough and his sister Julianne, as well as some of the choreographers she worked with during her stint on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Sonya Tayeh, Travis Wall and Spencer Liff. “It’s an absolute honor,” she gushed. “I feel super blessed and grateful for this nomination, especially being alongside choreographers I’ve looked up to for so long, all people that I grew up kind of idolizing — it means the world to me.”
Yes, Carson got her start on that little known dancing show that launched the careers of superstar dancers including Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Allison Holker and Kathryn McCormick. “‘So You Think You Can Dance’ is kind of a stepping stone for dancers in the industry, so it was always something in my mind that I was going to try and pursue,” Carson said. Raised in Utah, the dancer was a dental assistant at the time she auditioned in 2012.
“I was 18 years old and I had just graduated high school,” she told HuffPost. “I trained my whole life as a dancer. Every day after school, I’d come straight to dance. It was just always something that I had my mind set on — that I would audition.”
After some pressure from her mom, Carson did audition and ended up landing a spot in Season 9’s top 20. “It sort of shifted my career in a way,” she said.
Carson made it to the final six before being sent home while her partner Chehon Wespi-Tschopp ended up winning the competition. But, she did get to go on tour with the “SYTYCD” dancers, which is possibly where she made an impression on ABC producers.
“Toward the end of the tour, I ended up getting a call from this producer from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ asking me to be on troupe,” Carson explained. “I didn’t have to audition or anything, they just kind of said, ‘Come in, let’s interview a little bit.’ They know that they want you on, but they’re not sure where exactly you fit in, so the troupe is kind of the audition process.”
Carson was a part of the troupe for two seasons before she emerged as a pro with celebrity partner Cody Simpson on Season 18. Although she and Simpson only made it to Week 5, she really picked up steam on Season 19 with Ribeiro. In 2014, the pair won the competition and took home the Mirror Ball trophy. Carson, of course, also nabbed an Emmy nod.
During Season 20 this past spring, Carson was partnered with “Bachelor” star Chris Soules. He wasn’t as experienced as the Ribeiro, who made waves with The Carlton Dance.
“Alfonso is super talented and naturally knew how to dance, so with him, I was able to express myself with my full potential because he was so good. We were able to kind of connect in that way and create some pretty cool numbers,” she said. “I think with Chris, it was a little bit of a different story because we had to start from ground zero. He didn’t know how to count music and he wasn’t a performer, he’s a normal guy, so we literally were just trying to figure out the steps. Choreographing takes a lot of time,” she added. “People sometimes forget that choreographers have a lot to deal with — we’re focused on our celebrity while trying to think of the theme, wardrobe, music, and just everything that plays into the dance.”
Soules and Carson finished in 5th place, surely garnering votes from the solid “Bachelor” fanbase.
Speaking of “The Bachelor” franchise, Carson is pretty sure another familiar face from the reality dating show will be a celebrity contestant next season, as well as another name who has been making headlines across the world.
“They don’t actually call us until the last minute, so I don’t even know if I’m going to be a professional yet, but I’m crossing my fingers!” she told HuffPost. “As for celebrity rumors, I haven’t heard much, but they usually put on the Bachelor or Bachelorette, so Kaitlyn [Bristowe], I feel like, will probably be on, which would be fun. She has a great personality. And also I heard Caitlyn Jenner might be on, but then again it’s just rumors!”
As for Emmys night on Sept. 20, Carson couldn’t be more excited.
“I’m looking for dresses and what to do with my hair and makeup,” she gushed. “I’m super, super excited. I’ve never been, so it’s going to be a special experience. I really want Alfonso to come, and I’m going to tag along with him.”
Season 21 of “Dancing with the Stars” premieres Monday, Sept. 14, at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
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