Another summer, another season of So You Think You Can Dance (unless you live in Chicago where it’s closer to late November), and this year the show is changing formats again, combining the 20 dancer structure of the first seasons with the All Stars of season 7. Thank god, because last season was pretty much a disaster, putting too much of an emphasis on previous contestants when the show should be looking for America’s next favorite dancer. This season also brings some changes for SYTYCD T.V. Club, as I’ll be taking over for Genevieve Koski while Donna Bowman continues to offer her insights each week (except this one). I’ve been watching the show with Genevieve for the past three years, and she will continue to offer her brilliant commentary from the couch to my right, but I don’t think she could sit through another year of auditions. My dance experience comes from a couple years of high school and college musicals, the occasional dance class, and working at a dance theater for a few years, but for the most part what I’ve learned about dance I’ve gathered from this TV show. Mostly, that it makes me cry way too often.
As much as I love SYTYCD, I’ve never much cared for auditions and usually skimmed over the first weeks of the season until Vegas came around. The bad dancers rarely offer enough in entertainment value to make up for the time we don’t get to see legitimately talented performers, and the glory-hounding is just irritating after eight seasons. We’re here to see good dancers doing what they love, not flailing rejects looking for their 15 seconds of fame. Granted, it’s usually a time when we get to see Cat Deeley being all cute and nurturing with the hopefuls, so there’s that to look forward to. And hopefully more leopard-print lady-onesies.
This season’s auditions begin in Atlanta, Georgia, with executive producer Nigel Lythgoe joined by oxymoronical krumper Lil’ C and returning permanent judge Mary Murphy. Obnoxious as she is, I’m genuinely happy to see Mary replace Mia Michaels on the judging panel, who somehow managed to make me hate dance by telling me how much she loved it. Mary doesn’t try to coat her critiques with layers of poetic intellectualism, she just screams through her terrifying Joker smile. I appreciate that kind of transparency. Nigel continues to be a creep, tricking girls into thinking they didn’t make it to Vegas so they hug him tighter when they do, and Lil’ C is his characteristically incoherent self, but isn’t that why we love him? After watching him krump with Russell during last season’s finale, he’s got a free pass on the absurd pretension. For now.
After the audition kicked off with Bianca Hinklerian’s almost-there Colombian Salsa, contemporary dancer Melanie Moore hits the SYTYCD trifecta: powerful backstory, adorable personality, and gorgeous dancing. After her father’s death, dance became Melanie’s emotional outlet, and beyond her superior control, there’s a rawness to her movement that shows she isn’t afraid to be ugly. Sometimes her poses aren’t pretty, but they’re always dynamic, and that’s the kind of energy that amplifies her technical strengths. Did I mention she’s adorable? She does the quirk much better than San Francisco’s Amber Williams (more on her later), and I’m eager to see more of Melanie this season.
Atlanta gives us our first same-sex couple of the season with Deon Lewsa, Jr. and Damon Bellmon, two hip-hoppers who are trying very hard to let everyone know that they’re straight. Flirting with Cat, getting numbers off female pedestrians, emphasizing their brotherly relationship, they’re making sure that they don’t come off too gay, which works in their favor as they’re sent all the way through to Vegas despite a less than stellar showing. I wonder if the judges would have raved the same way about their performance if they were two openly gay contestants? Would it get a little too awkward for Nigel, seeing two guys resting their heads on each other’s thighs? We’ll find out as this season continues, as last year opened up the same-sex can of worms that can’t be closed.
The first day of Atlanta auditions saw a record number of trips to Vegas, which may just be the judges expanding the pool now that the top 20 is back. I missed about 10 minutes of day one due to a short power outage in my building, so I don’t know who made it through choreography (help me, commenters), but when the power came back I was greeted by a saucy ballroom contestant in red getting thrown around the stage like a rag doll. I didn’t catch her name, but those were some insane lifts done by one frightening dance partner, and I will never be able to understand how that human hula-hoop move works. Nigel is speechless after the routine, and for that, I hope red ballroom chick sticks around for a long time.
Day two of Atlanta auditions takes a turn for the “dear God why can’t I fast forward” with a streak of awful dancers, headlined by Joe “White Chocolate” Palermo, a hip-hop dancer who really wants the judges to give him a chance. Too bad he sucks. The judges may have been in a great mood the day before, but they lay the smackdown on Joe, who just mutters, “It’s my one shot” like the benchwarmer that finally goes up to bat, only to strike out immediately. Mary Murphy’s harsh yet surprisingly honest critique: “Come on, Joe.” At this point in the show, the judges are done having their time wasted, but that doesn’t mean the losers are going anywhere. Where else would FOX get the hilarious footage of dancing failures to run during Glee commercial breaks?
The final soloist of Atlanta is Kyré Batiste, who takes a backseat to his sassy grandma Mandy Walker, “Miss Mandy” if you’re nasty. An ex-dancer, Nigel invites her to the panel for the most mortifying moment of Kyré’s life, watching his grandmother smack Lil’ C with a belt while Nigel and Mary whoop like horny hyenas. Grandma calls him out on a lack of emotion in his dancing, and the judges send him through to choreography to make up for the humiliation, but Kyré doesn’t make it through to Vegas. Next year, leave Grandma at home.
The next stop on the auditions tour is San Francisco, where Nigel is joined by ballroom choreographer Toni Redpath and Tasty Oreo, who is surprisingly subdued on panel. He’s apparently learned that using SYTYCD to try out signature catch phrases doesn’t work unless you’re Mary Murphy. The first soloist to the stage is the aforementioned Amber Williams, a bubbly blonde that thankfully has the talent to back up her overbearing personality. Amber’s aggressive excitement translates well on the dance floor, and she focuses her manic energy into sharp movements that are bursting with life. She’s like season six’s Mollee with more attitude, but that attitude gets pretty damn grating once the music stops.
San Francisco had its share of inspirational stories, with contemporary dancer Danielle Ihle sharing her family’s struggle as her father kept his unemployment a secret, resulting in the loss of their home and security. Danielle’s dancing needs more refinement before she can make it to Vegas, but it’s worth noting that she took the judges’ critiques and applied them in choreography, smiling and appearing more personable when she returned to the stage. B-boy (B-man?) Jeffery McCann’s life is ripped from the script of an Adam Shankman movie, using dance as a way to escape hustling on the streets, and he brings it so hard that he’s sent straight through to Vegas, a rarity for breakers. Unlike the other San Francisco b-boy Timothy Joseph, Jeffery has a sense of rhythm that establishes his moves as dancing rather than an acrobatic floor routine. I have the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of Jeffery, and he’s definitely got the build for when they need him to pick up the ladies.
Contemporary females did well in San Francisco, with Ashley Rich turning in my second favorite performance of the night with emotionally rich choreography that looks deceptively easy in her hands. Clean lines, an expressive face, and general gorgeousness should keep her in the competition for a while, and it will be exciting to see her take on different styles. Season seven hopeful Ryan Ramirez also makes it through to Vegas, and while her performance isn’t as strong as the other two contemporary females, she’s a double shot of Lavazza in the “grande cup of not-so-good” that is San Francisco.
The sadness parade rolls through the Bay area with some truly horrible “dancers,” including an ex-stripper who apparently does her makeup by rubbing her face in a unicorn’s anus. Ieshia Moss booty-pops her way to elimination as the judges patronize and condescend until she finally gets off the stage. They really love your spirit. Really. They do. By the time D’on-que Addison gets on stage with his story that “needs to be heard,” the judges are way past caring. First, we never hear Don-que’s story. Second, if you want me to listen to your story, don’t start crying before it begins. Third, if that dance was your story, it did not need to be heard by anyone ever. Tyce wins the Best Comment Award following Don-que’s on-stage breakdown: “Where are we going with this?” That’s actually what Tyce says whenever he hears someone crying.
Next week’s auditions take us to Salt Lake City and New York City, two completely different arenas for dance, but anything goes during auditions. So far there’s the usual glut of contemporary and hip-hop, but we got to see a new style in turfing, and next week looks to introduce step to the show. Welcome back, So You Think You Can Dance. I can’t wait until I can enjoy you without cringing every seven minutes.
• Cheesy graphics highlighting the dance styles kick off the show. Notice that contemporary and hip-hop are emphasized. Of course.
• Ridiculous Lil’ C Highlight: “Zeus himself invites you to dance on Mount Olympus.”
•Is Vegas really the Wild West?
•Love those painted-on ballroom smiles, even when the routine doesn’t require a full-on grin.
•Hip-hop dancers that make it through solely on the fact that they’re cute and non-threatening – like Damen and Deon – will now be referred to as Joses. NO MORE JOSES.
•Nice to see season 4’s Katie and Will teaching choreography. All Stars?
•So You Think You Can Dance on the local news?! WOW!
•“Light Up My Life” montage. Ugh.
•Exorcist: The Musical totally exists.
•The elements of turfing: swagger, feetwork, pantomiming, storytelling. Combined into something really creepy.
•“You’ve got it inside you.” I think we know what Nigel wants inside her.
•Lily Nguyen: contemporary b-girl? Want more!
•Genevieve and I took a Bollywood class because of this show. It was really sexy.