There’s only one more week of “Dancing With the Stars” before America picks a king and queen and Warren Sapp has his eyes on the crown. It’s not just his Teddy Bear charm that has won America’s heart, it’s his formidable fancy footwork that has endeared millions. Now, with his sights on the finals, the southern gent talked to ESSENCE.com about why he doesn’t mind taking a backseat to the president-elect, walking on his tiptoes, and why he’s already a winner.
ESSENCE.COM: Congrats to you on making the finals! You’ve been doing the darn thing and looking awesome on the dance floor. How has dancing helped you physically?
WARREN SAPP: I’m seven pounds lighter, my gut is smaller, and I owe it all to bouncing and jumping around. My body definitely doesn’t need the excess weight for this competition. By now, I would have put on an additional 15 pounds for football. I feel great. You’re having so much fun you don’t even notice the workout you’re receiving.
ESSENCE.COM: So how does it feel to be on the last leg?
SAPP: I joked with Maurice [Greene] a couple of weeks ago that I might just be the second-most popular Black man in America after President-elect Obama (laughs)! I told him, “I hope you got your game down, bruh, because I was feeling inspired after Obama’s win and there isn’t room for two of us!” Obama is the only man I’ll take a backseat to and Maurice looked at me like I was crazy, but I was so serious!
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) Yes, you’ve been showing your competitors the business on the dance floor! So are you nervous about the finals next week?
SAPP: My whole thing is that I won a long time ago. After week one, I put myself in the most vulnerable position-ballroom dancing as a defensive tackler. If you look at the athletes who came before me, like Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, neither of them were anywhere near my size. Throughout my career, I had to read so many bad magazine articles criticizing my [sportsmanship] on the football field. I knew I couldn’t bring that kind of aggression or intimidation tactics in the ballroom. I had to figure out how to woo those who knew nothing about Warren Sapp or football and do my thing.
ESSENCE.COM: And that you have! What is the one criticism that the judges have made that you feel you have no control over?
SAPP: I listen to them and I hear them say that my feet are flat all the time, but I’m like, “Dude, there’s no way for me to be on my tiptoes. I’m 300 pounds. I’ll fall on my face!” (Laughs.) I need my feet on the ground. I’m too big to be bouncing around and tiptoeing with these size 15 shoes (that’s 49 ½ in European shoes).
ESSENCE.COM: And is your family still hanging in there with you?
SAPP: Absolutely. My mother, daughter and son have been so supportive. When I call my son to ask him about how he’s doing in school, he starts talking about my performance on the show like, “Dad, you did real good!” and I’m like, “I ain’t talking about me; I want to know about you, and he’s like, “I’m doing great! I got an A, now let’s get back to you and your dancing!” (Laughs.)
ESSENCE.COM: What’s one thing folks would be surprised to learn behind the scenes of the show?
SAPP: We rehearse the elimination show. My partner said, “I love you because we haven’t been down there under that light!” Because when they put that light on you, man, you just never know. People say if you rehearse the elimination show, chances are that you won’t be the one eliminated, but I don’t take anything for granted, because when we started, there were 13 of us. But I tell you no lie: It’s not a comfortable position to be in, because I’ve never been on the bottom, but don’t ever think it’s not you. Kim Kardashian taught me that lesson: Never think it ain’t you. The night she was eliminated she kept saying she felt good about her performance, and the next thing you know she was eliminated. I felt like a turd. When I had to practice elimination, I went all out like I told you the last time. I did my break-dance spin in the middle of the floor. I got in the middle, spun and froze. If I get kicked off, that will be my going out dance. I’m going to take off the suspenders and all and perform a fake strip tease! (Laughs.)
ESSENCE.COM: You’re a mess! Well, what will be your one choice of dance for the finals?
SAPP: Well, we get to choose our favorite dance and I’m going to do the hustle. The other two, I have no idea what I’ll be doing, but I’ll definitely be hustling. So I want everybody to vote, vote, vote like they did for Obama. For those who have been supporting and cheering me on, thank you a million times over because at no point did I think Fat Boy would be allowed to have this much fun in living rooms across America week after week. It’s a great feeling and I feel like a winner already!