On Sunday night South African viewers voted singer-songwriter Connell Cruise the winner of Dancing with the Stars SA on M-Net (DStv 101) during the broadcast of the live finale, with Connell telling TVwithThinus afterwards that his win is "the story of how hard work always pays off".
TVwithThinus sat down with Connell who talked about how dancing has been a closed door to him but how Dancing with the Stars SA helped opened that door a bit, how it felt being strapped into a harness and descending onto the dance floor in one of the finale's dazzling dance numbers, what the journey's been like for him, and what's he learnt about the experience of being part of the show.
Is there anything that you would have done differently?
I would have loved to incorporate singing into some of the performances - and we definitely tried to, the only times that were available we almost did but songs got changed last minute, and concepts got changed, but I certainly don't regret any single thing. The only thing - you know I'm very proud of our Samba.
Our Samba was difficult but I think we got a great score for the Samba even though I struggled so much, so even in my regrets because I really wanted to nail that Samba and I don't think I really did, I think our score was still a very good one, so we've got that to be proud of.
How would you describe the experience of doing this show?
Oh man. Completely out of my comfort zone. But what a lovely challenge and joy. I'm a competitive person, I never enter anything unless I'm totally into it and I totally gave this my all. And if this is the story of anything, it's the story of how hard work always pays off.
Can you talk a bit about Marcella Solimeo as your dance partner and the trust and bond that had to develop between you and quickly?
Marcella and I, I think on average over the last 4 months, we've spent at least 10 hours a day with each other. And this last month we've reached 12 hours a day. You get to know someone really well in that time. This has become like a full-time job for the most of this year and it's been a joy to work with Marcella - she's a professional, she's excellent, she's got such great vision and great ideas, and she's a fireball on that dance floor!
When she's on the dance floor you can't look at anything else, that's for sure. She's in my opinion the best of the best and I'm just the luckiest to have been paired with her and to have worked with her and to have learned under her, she's great And what I can tell you is that she's a great friend too, and she's as much a part of my family now as anything and I don't think it's ever going to change. She's the best.
In Sunday's live finale you as part of the final three competitors we're all strapped with harnesses through and around your legs and we're hoisted up and descended in one of the spectacular dance numbers. But what was the wire-work and the tight harness like?
It was the coolest man!
Out of all the things in this competition, if I had left this competition at any point before this finale and I saw three guys and they weren't me and they were going doing that I would have really been bummed, so I'm so glad to do that. It was so much fun to come screaming down from the roof, what a joy! I've always wanted to be Superman and I really felt like Christopher Reeve flying up there. It was awesome.
What did you think of the judges?
I think the judges on the most part have been fair.
I think they've got a lot of authority and well-deserved authority. They're experts and it's not a question of "you sit up here and tell us what to do". These people have earned that right - they've earned that ability, they've earned that power through their excellent work, their excellent ability.
Some might say the judges are harsh and unfair or whatever but they've been through worse to get to where they are now than anything that we've been through. And I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I wouldn't have wanted to be part of a journey where we were mollycoddled, or peaches and cream, and told things that didn't matter.
In my life I respect hard work and they've only inspired me to be harder and to give more and that's been very good.
What was the hardest for you about being part of this show?
The hardest for me was the emotional vulnerability because a show like this requires you to reveal so much of yourself and as a musician, as a singer, I like to reveal myself in cryptic for and let people figure it out if they want to.
This has forced me in a good way to open up and reveal parts of myself that I don't normally think I would have. And Marcella worked really hard with me in bringing that out and that's been the hardest part but also the most rewarding part and I'm grateful for it.
How did your body change?
Well, I'm fitter than what I've ever been in my life. I think I've got a six pack - or at least a four and a half. I'm toned as heck. I feel strong. I feel fit and I'm looking forward to maintaining this because I don't want to lose this. Check with me in 6 months and see if I still look the same!
What did you not expect about this journey?
I didn't expect how much I would want this. I didn't expect that this would really become all-consuming, all-encompassing.
I thought it was going to be fun, I thought it was going to be a challenge, I thought it was going to be out of my comfort zone and it certainly met those expectations and exceeded them. But the thing that really blew my mind is how much I would care about this - how much I would care about dancing, how much I would love it and come to respect it.
What would you say did you learn about yourself?
I learnt that performance is bigger than anything I could have imagined or thought about before.
This has opened up a whole new world of expressing myself, of finding meaning; of art. It's really opened my eyes to what there is and dancing for my whole life has been a closed door. It's been something that I've always admired but never could really understand.
And what Dancing with the Stars SA has done is it's opened that door a bit and it has shown me that there's so much out there. I'm not saying in any way that I'm an expert or have achieved really, but it's given me a taste for this and it's a taste I want to keep on enjoying.