Judge Jennifer Lopez effusive in praise for Poppin John

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FARMINGTON — Despite advancing past the first round of competition last month on the NBC-TV program "World of Dance," John Austin couldn't help but be a little disappointed in his performance.

He wanted to make sure he didn't feel the same way in the aftermath of his return to the program on Sunday.

Competing in The Duels round of competition, in which contestants are paired off against each other head to head, Austin — who goes by the stage name Poppin John — defeated the dance team DD Flection by an average score of 91.3 to 89.

"I didn't do my best in the very first round, and I kind of stepped it up for the second round," the Farmington High School graduate said Thursday during a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "My goal is keeping that momentum (going). I've got a lot of really good ideas for the next round, and I'm already working on them in my lab."

Austin's performance served as a strong rebound from his first-round performance, when he received an average score of 85.3 from judges Jennifer Lopez, Derek Hough and NE-YO — barely more than 85.0 minimum needed to qualify for the next round.

Austin also drew comments from the judges questioning whether his style of dance, known as popping animation, would stand up to the more animated and eye-catching styles of other dancers later in the competition. Austin acknowledged Thursday that those observations had caused him some concern.

"The dance style I do is kind of a niche market," he said. "You see a lot of it, but you don't know what it is. I do a lot of small movements, and some people are more used to seeing people fly around on stage."

Austin was determined to leave his worries behind him and put on a good show on Sunday.

"My whole goal was to put myself on the map and represent my dance style authentically," he said. "I thought, 'This is my strategy, and I'm going to go after it.' All I could do is continue on my path … and see how it goes."

More: Farmington High alum will compete on NBC-TV's 'World of Dance'

Austin did just that. Dancing to Snoop Dogg's "Who Am I (What's My Name)?," he dazzled the crowd — and the judges — with an engaging, charismatic performance that eclipsed a strong showing by DD Flection minutes earlier. Lopez appeared especially impressed, blurting out, "That was sickening, OK?" in the aftermath of Austin's routine.

She gave Austin the highest score of the three judges with a 92, while NE-YO and Hough both rated his performance at 91. Lopez told him, "You are such a seasoned performer. The musicality was off the charts."

NE-YO heaped praise on Austin, as well, seeming especially taken with the robotic and slow-motion elements of his performance.

"That was Isolation 101. … You're not human. You're not a human being," he said.

Hough continued the lovefest by adding, "That was solid. Every move was intentional. And I appreciate that so much. Well done."

Austin was still basking in the glow of that praise on Thursday, especially the expressions of approval from Lopez, whom he considers an icon of the dance world.

More: Farmington High grad Poppin' John Austin makes splash on NBC dance series

"It's kind of surreal to have some of those comments come out of her mouth," he said.

At age 34, Austin is no stranger to success in the dance world, having carved out a career for himself as a globetrotting performer, instructor and judge. But he said the opportunity to perform on "World of Dance" has been special.

"Honestly, I've really enjoyed having my wife on the set," he said. "She's been a huge supporter, and she gets really, really excited. When I'm on stage, I can look down to where she's at, and she's oozing with excitement. I'm a seasoned performer, but to see how nervous and excited she is for me is really exciting for me."

Austin and his wife Bris met on spring break in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 2005. They were married in Farmington in 2011, and he relies on her heavily for input about his performances.

"She's usually the only one I can bounce ideas off of on the fly," Austin said, explaining that he likes to film his rehearsals and run them by Bris afterward. "She's a pretty tough critic. She always gives me an honest response. She's definitely my team."

His appearances on "World of Dance" also have brought a good deal of new attention to Austin, he said, especially on his social media accounts. Austin's YouTube videos had garnered thousands of thousands of views even before he appeared on the program, but now a new group of viewers has come his way.

"There are people who have never seen me before, and they're a completely different audience," he said. "Some of them are binge watching my content now, which is pretty fun."

A lot of those recent converts have reached out to Austin to let him now he's had a big influence on them.

"I've received so many cool notes and messages from people telling me they're inspired by me and want to start popping," he said. "And I've gotten a lot of love from friends and people I went to high school with in Farmington. The nice thing is, the (social media) followers just keep coming — it's not just on the day (the episode) aired."

Austin will have a bit of a break from the show as The Duels rounds continue through April 7. His next round of competition will be The Cut, with the Division Final and the World Final to follow. The program, which features a $1 million grand prize, airs on Sunday nights on NBC.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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