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Jennifer Lopez’s NBC Series ‘World of Dance’ Marks Game-Changing Moment for Dance Industry

“This is the biggest dance competition in the world,” raves Jennifer Lopez, who will return to the judges’ panel of another broadcast competition series with NBC’s “World of Dance.”

The superstar, who was a staple on five seasons of the original “American Idol,” admits she did not expect to be back as a TV judge so soon after the Fox singing competition, but she couldn’t resist leaping full-force into “World of Dance,” on which she was integral in the development.

“It’s a perfect fit for me, starting as a dancer, talking about what I love and doing the thing that I do best,” Lopez tells Variety. She had initially signed on solely as an executive producer when NBC greenlit the series, and then later upped her involvement to serve as a judge alongside Derek Hough, Ne-Yo, and host Jenna Dewan Tatum. “This was a surprise idea to go back to judging after ‘American Idol,'” Lopez says. “I didn’t think I’d be doing that so soon, but at the end of the day, it’s about the quality of the project and what moves me as an artist, and this is what I wanted to do.”

“World of Dance” is based on the lifestyle brand and international competition of the same name and will feature artists of all ages and sizes and of all genres. Unlike other dance competition series on television, the NBC project will showcase soloists competing against groups, junior dancers up against adult artists, and dancers who specialize in everything from ballroom to break-dancing to krumping to ballet.

“Those are great because they educated people about dance over the past 10 years,” Lopez says when asked how “World of Dance” differs from other dance shows like ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” She adds, “Now viewers know what hip hop is, they know what modern dance is, they know what contemporary is. I think they did a great thing to expose different types of dance and meet these choreographers and see these great numbers, but this is very set apart from anything else you’ve seen over the past 10 years on TV, as far as dance is concerned, but it’s perfect timing because people had those shows so it’s an awesome thing that we had those. This is the next step, it’s the next level, it’s an evolution.”

What really sets “World of Dance” apart from other shows in the genre is the prize: the winner will receive $1 million. Lopez, who recalls living off of a slice of pizza each day when she was an up-and-coming dancer, says the huge cash prize is a game-changer for the entire dance industry.

“You start off as a dancer and you know that the only reason you do it is because you love to dance. You go back to dance class because you love it. You don’t do it for the money. You don’t do it because you’re going to famous one day. That’s not what dance is about,” Lopez says, going back to her roots. “So to create a platform and an opportunity where you actually could do well, to me, that was super exciting because that didn’t exist for me and still doesn’t exist for dancers.”

Along with Lopez, whose first high-profile job was as a Fly Girl on “In Living Color” in the early ’90s, the “World of Dance” talent roster is an A-list lineup from the dance community with former “Dancing With the Stars” pro Hough; musician and actor Ne-Yo; and Tatum, who rose to fame with her starring role in the film “Step Up,” which came after she worked as a professional backup dancer for Janet Jackson.

All of the judges have past ties to NBC with Ne-Yo having appeared in “The Wiz Live!,” Hough on “Hairspray Live!,” and Lopez toplining police procedural drama “Shades of Blue,” in addition to leading the network’s upcoming live TV musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” As for Tatum, she will serve as a judge on another reality dance show at the network that she’s producing with her husband, Channing Tatum. In fact, the actress/dancer says the “World of Dance” opportunity came up as she was developing her other NBC dance series, which landed a straight-to-series order of six episodes.

As for “World of Dance,” Tatum was attracted to the show because of the authenticity. “I love that it’s by dancers for dancers,” she says.

Hough agrees with Lopez in that “World of Dance” is elevating the dance competition genre across television. “Dance, in the past decade, has become a star in itself, and being there from the beginning and seeing this dance movement happen, we’ve educated the audience in America with dance, and this show is the next level of a dance competition show,” he says. “It’s a million dollars. It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for anyone, but especially for a dancer who dedicates their life and bodies to dance. You never get the opportunity to make money like that, even if you tour with the biggest artist in the world for a decade.”

Ne-Yo’s past experience on tour with dancers inspired him to become involved with the NBC show so that he could pay it forward. “Me being an artist working with dancers and seeing how hard they work, they are the first to show up and the last to leave. They work just as hard, if not harder, than me – and they never get credit for it, he says. “It’s always, ‘Omg! Did you see Beyonce? She was amazing!’ It’s never, “Did you see Beyonce’s dancers? They were amazing!’ So being part of something that finally guys a spotlight to these guys who work their butt off, it’s about the dancer – not the guy in front of the dancers.”

Both Hough and Tatum have appeared on competing broadcast TV shows — Hough is one of the most recognizable faces from “DWTS,” while Tatum as served as a judge on “SYTYCD” — but the duo says their past projects cannot be compared to “World of Dance.”

“No offense to the trophy, but it’s a real prize,” Hough says with a laugh, referring to “Dancing’s” mirror ball. Speaking of the ABC series, he continues, “For me, it’s impossible to compare the two because in my mind, they’re completely different. They’re apples and oranges. Both are celebrating dance, but one is truly finding the best of the best dancers and that’s what this was really about.”

“‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ I judged on it and danced on it and I love it and it’s an incredible show, but the platform that we have with this show is much bigger and the prize we’re giving is much bigger,” Tatum chimes in. “With these dancers, we’re changing their life. It’s much more than just being on TV every week in front of a huge audience. On a whole, this show is just much bigger.”

Tatum also makes a case for the lighthearted nature of the show, in the midst of America’s political divide. “With everything happening in our world, there’s a lot going on that’s serious and intense and depressing at times, and the world needs some entertainment right now,” she says. “We want some joy and we want to feel good before we go to bed everything — that’s the intention with our show.”

Lopez shares the same sentiment. The multi-hyphenate believes “World of Dance” will break into the crowded TV landscape because of audiences’ affinity for family-friendly programming.

“I think that people love entertainment. They love singing, they love dancing, they love music,” Lopez says. “And they love watching people’s dreams come true. It’s the emotional arc of these competition shows that people like. They love to root for people. There’s so much about a competition show that is attractive, but it’s the emotion of it. That’s what I learned from ‘Idol’ – it wasn’t so much about singing, as it was the journey.”

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