Season 15 of the Fox reality competition “So You Think You Can Dance” finally came to a close on Monday, September 10, naming Filipina-American Hannahlei Cabanilla as the winner.
Hailing from Anaheim Hills, Cabanilla is an 18-year-old contemporary dancer who began dancing at the age of 2 and was trained at the Orange County Performing Arts Academy.
She bested three other finalists: Jensen Arnold, a 20-year-old Latin ballroom specialist from Provo, Utah; Genessy Castillo, an 18-year-old contemporary dancer from Jamaica, N.Y.; and Slavik Pustovoytov, a 19-year-old hip-hop specialist from Poltova, Ukraine.
“This is, without a doubt, the best experience of my life,” Cabanilla said, according to Mercury News.
“I am beyond thankful for every moment I’ve had on (the show), and I know that it is something I will never forget. I’m happy to say that this experience is just the beginning,” she added.
Cabanilla had been considered to be among the front-runners early on in the season. She received countless of praises from the judges and never experienced the threat of elimination whenever weekly results were announced.
Judge Nigel Lythgoe, who previously dubbed Cabanilla as this season’s “warrior princess” — making fellow judge Vanessa Hudgens proud to be a Filipina, said Cabanilla wasn’t just strong, “she was a great performer, and not just at one style but across the board.”
Judge Mary Murphy, meanwhile, described Cabanilla as “one of the most technically sound dancers that we’ve had on the show.”
“On top of that, what I think is the key factor, is she has this amazing spirit and light inside of her; it comes out of her in spades through her eyes,” she added.
For her encore performance, Cabanilla and ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ All-Star Marko Germar recreated their contemporary routine to “Welcome Home.”
Cabanilla said the reason she chose that performance was because “[it] felt really genuine.”
“It felt like I wasn’t even dancing,” she said.
For winning the season, Cabanilla received the $250,000 prize in cash. According to The OCR, she plans on using the money to take her parents on a Greek getaway since “they’ve supported me through this whole experience and throughout my whole dance career.”
“I just owe it to them for helping to make my dreams come true,” she explained.
Cabanilla will also be featured on the cover of Dance Spirit magazine and is set to appear in a guest role on Fox’s upcoming live musical of “Rent” in 2019.
“It’s starting to feel real that my dreams are coming true,” Cabanilla said. “It’s just amazing ‘cause I still look up to the people on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and now I’m one of them.”