When Stephen “tWitch” Boss sat in for Jenna Bush Hager and joined Hoda Kotb on Tuesday’s TODAY with Hoda and Jenna, he knew the show would be honoring a talented teacher while he was here.
However, the “So You Think You Can Dance” judge, who until recently also served as a co-executive producer and DJ on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” had no idea that person would be actor Tommie Tonea Stewart, the beloved theater coach who shared her knowledge with him at a camp in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was just a teen.
Students called her Doc, short for Dr. Stewart, but as tWitch said when she shocked him by joining him in Studio 1A, he simply refers to her as the woman who made him the entertainer he is today.
“There would not be a tWitch without Dr. Stewart,” the emotional 39-year-old declared after Stewart took the stage.
But emotions started running high for him before he even knew Stewart was in the building, as he was first surprised with a prerecorded interview in which she raved about her special student.
"Stephen Boss will tell you that my motto is: Where you come from does not dictate where you will end up," she said in the video. "This young man had to have been just ending his middle school year when he came (to camp), and he came back every summer. And he’s memorable, because he was one of those very focused, very energized and, most of all, very humble (students)."
She recalled that he'd laugh when she told him that she was "sitting in the middle of greatness," when surrounded by her students.
"Doc, why you say stuff like that?” he asked back then.
She replied, "Because I mean it. You’re going to make a difference."
Just before Hoda surprised tWitch by telling him Stewart was there in person, he wiped away tears and told Hoda, "I said it at the top of the show that I’m a kid from Montgomery, Alabama, and all of the sudden, I’m sitting next to your right now? It is from teachers like that and belief and support like that, to just say, 'You can.'"
That's when Stewart joined him, and he was able to hug the teacher who meant so much to him.
And to show just how far Stewart's impact reached, other past students recorded video messages of their own that played on the show, celebrating Stewart's methods, support and belief in them.
"She instilled this in us," tWitch said. "And I say 'us' because I still remember sitting amongst the group, and she would just instill that confidence in us every morning, every rehearsal. She would always pour into us. Always."
And it's clear she knew what she was talking about.
"All of them have done so well," she said, wiping away tears of her own.