Nick Lazzarini Nick Lazzarini

It's been a good year for dancers, especially if you happened to be one of the 16 finalists on Fox's American Idol spin-off, So You Think You Can Dance. The show delivered unprecedented exposure for its young hoofers and, paired with ABC's Dancing with the Stars, it managed to bring many forms of the art to the mainstream, inspiring people of all ages to sign up for classes and buy tickets to local performances. But the trend's biggest beneficiary was 21-year-old California native Nick Lazzarini, who pop-and-locked, jazz-handed, discoed and spun his way to the grand prize of $100,000 and a year of living rent-free in a New York City apartment.

"Most dancers don't get an opportunity like this, where they can pretty much take any job they want without having to worry about money or even a place to live," Lazzarini told TVGuide.com just hours after being declared the winner on the Oct. 5 finale. "It's exciting that I can go out now and audition and find something that I want to do, instead of taking a job that I don't want just to have that money to live."

Before wowing judges and the audience with his ability to pick up hip-hop, ballroom, jazz and modern routines with ease and style, the cheerful lyrical dancer was leading the typical life of a struggling artist. "I was teaching a lot, because living in L.A. is expensive.... Work was kind of scarce in L.A., then Bonnie [Lythgoe, wife of series exec-producer Nigel] came into a class I was taking and pulled a few people out.... She put me on tape right there. I was actually one of the first people that they auditioned."

Now that he's in the lap of luxury — someone told him he'd be Nicole Kidman's neighbor — Lazzarini feels ready to do it all. "I want to be a really well-rounded dancer, and I want to be able to look back on my career and say I did pretty much everything a dancer can do and everything I wanted to do," he says. "Let it be a Broadway show, a commercial or a tour — whatever — as long as I get to dance, I'll be happy with it. I'm also going to start getting to acting and improv classes, because that's always something I've wanted to do."

Luckily for his fellow So You Think... contestants, Lazzarini is eager to welcome the line of peers forming to crash at his new pad and try their luck in New York. Specifically, he can't wait to share the wealth with best friend and runner-up Melody Lacayanga. "Of course Melody is in line, and our friend Craig [DeRosa] from the show. A lot of my closest friends just moved out here, and they're like, 'We better have a room there!' I don't even know how many bedrooms [the apartment] has."

Whether or not So You Think... gives a second batch of wannabes a shot at stardom — a show rep tells TVGuide.com the decision still is pending — Lazzarini thinks the contest will have a lasting impact on the art. "It shows that dance is a lot more than hip-hop and shaking your butt behind Britney Spears," he explains. "Dance is a lot more than that. Dance is ballroom dancing, jazz dancing, lyrical and things like that.... As a whole, dancers work 10 times harder than singers or actors, because it's so physically and mentally demanding. Everyone in the top 16 has worked and put in the time and effort. It's going to be great now that dance is starting to be popular again, and now that the show is over, hopefully we're all going to get work."