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New Zealand's Got Talent: In Step with Cris Judd

It’s a special year for dancers on NZGT – and while he’s just become a new dad, this American judge is inspiring our nation.

By Catherine Milford

Cris Judd’s professional credentials are pretty impressive. Famously hired as a dancer for Michael Jackson on both his Dangerous and History tours after appearing on stage with him at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, Cris has gone on to work with some of the most well-known faces in the entertainment industry.

He coached Nicole Kidman for a scene in The Human Stain, performed with Celine Dion, danced with Julio Iglesias and son Enrique, and, of course, made a music video with Jennifer Lopez, to whom he was married from September 2001 to June 2002.

So when the Weekly set up a photoshoot with some of the New Zealand’s Got Talent dancers, the choice of director was obvious.

“It’s so cool for me to do this,” says Cris (44), who works with The Pulse Tour in America – a workshop that choreographs stage shows, films and adverts. That’s when he is not starring alongside fellow judges Jason Kerrison and Rachel Hunter on the TV One hit show.

“I’ve been working with kids for 20 years now – and I love it. I can talk to them in a way that they don’t get intimidated or spooked. I make young people comfortable because I like to have a laugh. I think you get a better result if you’re smiling. It’s just dance. I have a passion for it, but some people take it – and themselves – a bit too seriously sometimes.”

Cris wanders around the studio with his own camera, lost in thought as he takes hundreds of snaps of seemingly random angles, corners and shapes, all of which will ultimately form part of the final shot.

He also changes the music according to his thought process. “Something funkier,” is requested at one point. “A bit faster please,” at another.

Meanwhile, the dancers – ballroom couple Brian Dibnah (18) and Sarah Nolan (18); Celina Torres (18) and Rochelle Sanderson (15) from dance troupe Moxie; Identity Dance Crew duo Joshua Cesan (20) and Chevrolet Mikaere (21); Happy Feet dancer John Vaifale (17); and Michael Jackson devotee Ethan Scharneck (11) – chat and energetically compare moves together.

“I’m so nervous, I don’t want to make a mistake,” confesses Ethan, for whom Cris has taken on hero status, thanks to his connection with Michael Jackson.

For John, the nerves that saw him unable to speak at his first audition have turned around, and the teen hardly stops as he shows Cris his range of moves.

“I was so nervous, knowing I was on national TV, that I wanted to cry,” he says.

No such nerves for Brian and Sarah, though, who are moving to England in January to kick-start their career. “This experience, performing in front of someone like Cris, is incredible. It’s upped our performance level,” says Brian.

This is why Cris decided to do the show. “What I do for a living isn’t work,” says Cris, as he places the dancers very precisely on their marks for the final shot. “Dancing is a tough profession, and it
is important to learn to take opportunities when they arise.

The message I’d most like the contestants to learn is to seize the moment.

Everything they’ve done up until this point is preparation – this is it.”

Photography by Monty Adams
Stylists: Sonia Greenslade and Victoria Bell
Hair & Make-Up: Kate Smith and Brittanie Sowman

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