America’s Got Talent judges give Christchurch tap dancer four thumbs up

Christchurch tap dancer Bayley Graham says it’s been “a crazy few days” since his winning appearance on America’s Got Talent, which aired on July 27.

The 22-year-old, who has been tapping since he was 6, was head-hunted for the show by US producers who saw his dancing skills on social media.

About a month ago, he was whisked off to the States to perform in front of the show’s celebrity judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Howie Mandel. The result was four votes from the stunned judges, which could put him through to the semi-final later in the year.

“I was definitely not expecting that,” says Graham, who’s back in New Zealand now. “I was hoping for the best, but you never know with those shows, anything can happen. I was lucky to have that outcome.”

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Graham danced to Panic at The Disco’s The Greatest Show, performing his tap set once at normal speed, and then again, at top speed, all while bantering with Mandel.

Bayley Graham appears on America's Got Talent.

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Bayley Graham appears on America’s Got Talent.

His easy going manner and talent won the audience over, even thawing the famously chilly heart of show runner Simon Cowell, who said Graham had “really undersold” his talent and the effort he’d put into getting there.

Vergara was the most effusive with her praise for his performance, saying she was sure he was going to become a professional and would end up exactly where he wants to be with his career.

Although not the largest audience he’s performed in front of, it was “really full”, and the energy coming from them spurred him on.

A standing ovation for Bayley Graham’s toe tapping performance.

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A standing ovation for Bayley Graham’s toe tapping performance.

“It was huge! You don’t really see it before you go out. You do all your rehearsals backstage, and then you get put out in front of this big crowd. It was definitely a very, very excited crowd.”

As he stepped onto the America’s Got Talent stage, his biggest supporter was watching back home.

Dance teacher Jan Ruardy, of the Diamonz dance studio in Brighton Beach, Christchurch, has been teaching and now working with the 22-year-old tap talent since he was about 6 years old, when he was first brought to her garage dance studio by his mother.

He’d become obsessed with the dance style after seeing it on TV and wouldn’t rest till had had a pair of the shoes.

US tap judge Lainie Monroe, with Kiwi dancer Bayley Graham and his teacher, Jan Ruardy of Diamonz dance studio.

Warwick Smith/Stuff

US tap judge Lainie Monroe, with Kiwi dancer Bayley Graham and his teacher, Jan Ruardy of Diamonz dance studio.

“His mother said, ‘Well, you have to learn. You can’t just do it by yourself’. But he said,’ I don’t want to’, he just wanted the shoes,” says Ruardy.

She was able to talk him round, and now he teaches classes himself.

“He was very shy, but very good. He always came thoroughly practised and knew exactly what he was doing.”

Ruardy, who has been teaching for forty years, says there are “two sides to Bayley Graham”.

“He is definitely an entertainer – when he has to entertain it’s like walking into a room and turning on a spotlight. But when the light’s not on, he’s just a hard worker. He can joke around a bit, but he’s very professional, and very humble.”

The next step for Graham’s performance is the judges deciding who gets to go through to the semi-final, something the audience won’t find out about until some time in August. He’s not allowed to say much more than that.

Tap dancer Bayley Graham.

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Tap dancer Bayley Graham.

As for the future, he’s not sure what the show will mean for his career, but hopes it will open doors for him to perform more overseas.

“Just knowing that what I’m doing is kind of going in the right direction [was good],” says Graham.

“There’s a lot of sleepless nights in the studio trying to figure out what you think’s gonna work, so it was so nice to go out there and see that they did enjoy it and that American crowd did like it.

“Every country is different, so to go out there and for them to like me, it felt really good.”

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