Born to dance: Elk River’s Lexi Yeado earns spot as dancer on BET reality show

Lexi Yeado and other contestants listed for the verdict from Laurieann Gibson after the first round of auditions.

by Bruce Strand, Arts edtitor

Lexi Yeado has been seeking a bigger stage ever since her ERHS days as a dancer and tennis player.

The charismatic, athletic 21-year-old found one this summer by dancing her way unto a Black Entertainment Network (BET) reality show.

“Born to Dance: Laurieann Gibson” premiered Tuesday night, and there was the 2007 Elks homecoming queen, appearing in two close-ups chatting about the tryouts, and in the climactic lineup scene when she was one of 20 dancers whose name was called from 40 finalists.

“Even if this does not lead to anything more, just this one show last night was incredible, a dream come true,” said Yeado, contacted Wednesday in Texas, where she’s a business major and tennis player at Dallas Baptist University.

Lexi Yeado and other dancers chilled a bit after the final 20 were named. This being a BET production, most of the contestants were African-American.

Yeado won 148 tennis matches with the Elks, sparkled on the dance team and was named Dancer of the Year at a national meet with her studio team. She was never in theatre, but revealed during an athlete-of-the-week interview that her main ambition was show business, specifically acting. Soon after graduation she tried out for “High School Musical” in Salt Lake City and survived until the last cut.

When she arrived for auditions in Atlanta in early April, she told herself: “This is totally meant to be.”

Yeado had known two months that she made team – from thousands who auditioned in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York – but had to keep quiet due to the confidentiality clauses of reality TV. “I auditioned, I can’t tell you more than that,” she said in June.

Laurieann Gibson, the host, judge and choreographer

“Born to Dance” will continue Tuesday evenings on BET  at 9 p.m.  All the filming was done in April and May.

Competition will continue until one dancer is chosen who’ll earn $50,000 and mentorship from Laurieann Gibson, the show’s host, judge and choreographer.

Gibson is best known as choreographer for all Lady Gaga videos, and formerly a dancer for MTV shows and  ABC’s popular “In Living Color.” Gibson, who made all the picks, was both commanding and compassionate, said Yeado.

“When  she was reading off numbers (of girls who got cut), you could see the tears in her eyes,” said Yeado, “because she has been in that same spot, she’s been cut from shows herself … She was a mentor as much as anything, and she wanted to get the (personal) story on everyone.”

We didn’t see Yeado’s dance audition (maybe in a coming installment?) but she was on camera for brief interviews twice. One of her exclamations was “Holy Moses!” when the dancers were commenting on the excitement and pressure. Yeado said she got “about 40 texts and 30 Facebook messages saying ‘Holy Moses!’

Via word of mouth and Facebook, along with a previous article in this paper, hundreds of friends apparently tuned in to see if she would make the cut or even appear on the show. The show drew 1.2 million viewers, according to the web site TV By the Numbers.

This being BET, most of the contestants were African-American.

Lexi Yeado during a brief on-camera interview after she was picked.

“Yeah, but that does not bother me at all,” Yeado laughed. “I can pass for being half-black anyway, I’m so dark-complected.”

As a small-town girl from a well-off nuclear family, she has none of the hard-knocks stories of some fellow aspirants, the single moms, inner-city natives, and one stripper who also made the final cut.

“Everything was new to me, but that’s where I thrive,” said Yeado. She got along with everyone and made an especially good friendship with Lydia Sims from Detroit. “Lydia is a lot like (Elk tennis teammate) Ali Brandell, who’s my best friend – kind of a black version of Ali!”

Yeado said she was confident she’d get on the show despite having not danced since  two and a half years ago with the University of Minnesota’s premier dance team while attending the ‘U” briefly. After surviving the first auditions in Atlanta, she returned a three weeks later. When the final picks were called off by Gibson, Yeado was the 19th one called, among 20. “But I had a feeling, so it wasn’t that bad,” said Yeado.

While shooting for that top prize and 50 grand, all the dancers are all being compensated modestly, said Yeado.

The opportunity came up when Lacee Franks, an assistant to Gibson in Los Angeles, called Yeado to alert her about the auditions. Lacee’s mother, Sue, was Lexi’s dance studio teacher at Stage Door Performing Arts. “You’d be perfect for this,” Lacce told Lexi. It was like a tennis player getting a serve right to her forehand, and she drilled it back over the net for a winner.