DAVENPORT, Iowa — A Davenport woman is among very few people who can say she's hit the national spotlight of competing on a TV talent show in front of hundreds of thousands of people.
20-year-old Essence Wilmington is back home in the Quad Cities after competing on the 17th season of "So You Think You Can Dance" in Los Angeles.
"If I had to sum it up in one word, it's exciting," Essence said.
Essence's mother, Ebonie, came across the competition and signed her up.
"One word would probably be shocked," Ebonie said.
She was chosen out of nearly 1,500 who passed auditions and made it to the top 12 of the show.
"Just taking in, it was just so exciting, and I just feel so blessed just being in that position," Essence said.
Her interest in dance started at an early age after Essence's aunt, Promisse Alfaro, brought her into talent show competitions.
"To see her go from our little mini Essence to this girl on national TV is crazy to me," Promisse said.
Shortly after, Essence moved into learning at local dance businesses including Imani Dance Studio and Re-FL3X Dance in the Quad Cities.
"It just brings me joy," Essence's first dance instructor, LaDerrick Gamble, said. "Even back then, I knew she was a star."
The experiences continued for Essence as she joined the Chicago Bulls' kids' dance squad at 11 years old.
"I can't make up her dances anymore, because she has surpassed me," Alfaro said.
"She has a lot of energy, a lot of spunk; smile is infectious," Gamble added.
As she grew up, Essence passed down her talents to the next generation of aspiring dancers.
"When I see her on TV, I'm like, ah, 'that's my dance teacher,"' Essence's longest-standing dance student, Meia Carr, said. "I just look at her like, wow, that's inspiration."
Essence began teaching dance lessons out of her basement.
"I think that she does it and she doesn't even really get that she definitely is inspiring them and they're looking up to her," Ebonie said.
Now, she's moved into a bigger space with her Essence W. Dance classes at the Roosevelt Community Center on Minnie Avenue in Davenport.
"I hope it just gives young girls and young men, everyone, just a sense of I can-do attitude," father Vernon Wilmington said.
During the FOX TV show, Essence rose through the season ranks and won 3rd place in the competition.
"Man, I just feel so blessed to be here," she told the audience. "Shout-out to my parents."
She told News 8 that her biggest motivation through this prime-time experience was her family and friends.
"What helped me throughout the process is just being true to myself, true to my character, true to my style," she said. "Thank you guys for the love, the love they have been showing me is so amazing. I appreciate every single one of you guys."
"It just puts myself and my wife in a state of awe," Vernon said.
"I am so proud of you, Essence, and it's only up from here," Ebonie said.
Essence is also a rapper and she said she will continue to pursue a career in the music industry. Her interests also include acting and commercials. In addition, Essence plans to host large dance conventions across the country.
Essence's dance classes are held throughout the school year.
To learn about signing up, check out her business Facebook page, by clicking here and sending a message of interest.