This week’s Atlanta auditions are the reason why I watch So You Think You Can Dance. These are performers dancing for their lives when they get on stage, and this episode shows off some of the nation’s best talent. Unlike last week, which profiled five dancers that didn’t make it to Vegas, all but one of the spotlighted dancers makes it through to the next round, and the result is an exhilarating two hours of reality television. Sure, the episode turns into a bit of Nigel Lythgoe wankfest by the end, but when the dancing is this good, I’ll accept the awkward pervert Nigel moments.
Nigel is the erratic heart that keeps SYTYCD running, and I’m beginning to worry about his mental faculties. These audition episodes are also directed by Nigel, so I assume that he’s the person who chooses which people to spotlight. That would explain why we get an extended segment on Danielle, a contemporary dancer who has a great relationship with her mother and loves bacon. There’s no story there, but there is a slow motion shot of Danielle getting hit in the face with strips of bacon. And this episode is still an A; that’s how good the dancing is.
Before getting to the awesome, let’s talk about more of the awkward, specifically hip-hop/breaking/martial arts braggart Tim. He’s a 10-time national martial arts champion, three-time international champion, and he started dancing so he could pick up girls. Hoo boy, does this guy make me uneasy. Tim is aggressively creepy with his Selina Gomez backpack, and while Debbie Allen says he’s a “wolfman,” all I’m hearing is “sexual predator.” The judges are impressed with how much time he spends in the air, and he’s put through to Vegas after performing a “ballet” routine. Nigel’s going to have some perv competition in Sin City.
It’s surprising how little time is devoted to the rejected dancers, and the episode’s worst routines are packaged in quick montages that give us a painless taste of the bad. In last week’s recap, I said this show needs to get to the good stuff, and this episode delivers right off the bat. Atlanta’s first contestant, jazz dancer Audrey, has the bubbly personality and camera-ready look that make her one of my top picks for the top 20. Her fun facts of being able to fart with her neck and lick her elbows are just weird enough to add some quirk to her pretty girl image, and her dancing is playfully sultry with a strong technical foundation. Her song choice of Bette Midler’s “Do You Wanna Dance?” is the kind of retro selection that a lot of dancers have been going with this season, and shows that the right song can add a lot of maturity to a routine.
Audrey is followed by Boris, the first of three hip-hop dancer roommates who are also members of Dragon House dance crew. Boris, Andre, and Cyrus live in a shithole and SYTYCD is their ticket out. Tickets are what all three get by the end of the episode; each of the Dragons performs a memorable routine that is completely different from the others but grounded in the same technique as his roommates. The isolations of all three dancers are absolutely breathtaking, and the trio’s intense precision garners standing ovations for them all.
Boris’ piano-backed routine is the kind of introspective, emotional hip-hop that we saw from “Exorcist” Hampton in Dallas. While Andre’s eerily emotionless performance features the sharpest movement of the three, it’s Cyrus that I see landing in the top 20. He brings the most life to the robotic style, and knows how to work the camera better than his roommates. With boundless charisma and a very familiar-sounding nickname (“Glitch”), Cyrus has the potential to be this season’s breakout hip-hopper.
Cyrus will have some tough competition from Asher, a farm boy hip-hopper who looks to capture the hearts of tween girls everywhere. He has a very cute, flashy routine, showing off an ability to work the audience and let his personality shine through the acrobatics. Atlanta’s other standout male talent comes in the similarly purple-shirted Joshua and George, who both showcase extreme athleticism and emotion in their choreography. Joshua is the more cheerful of the two dancers, and George takes a more dramatic role as his relationship with his father is spotlighted. Not to make any assumptions about anyone’s sexual orientation, but George’s “my dad is angry because I quit track to dance” story feels a lot like an indirect way of talking about coming out of the closet.
This episode provides a very interesting peek into the behind-the-scenes workings of this show, outlining the audition process to show what a dancer’s experience is like. That includes filling out of a card with information that the judges will use to ask questions and potentially follow you home in the future. That’s why we get segments about how much Courtney loves bacon and all the chickens that run loose in Brittany’s Florida hometown. Maggie writes about how her Grandma taught her, which prompts Nigel to ask her if Grandma Everdeen is with us. If you bring a small child or a senior citizen (with accompanying heartwarming story) to your SYTYCD audition, you’re pretty much guaranteed a ticket to Vegas. The judges are split on Maggie, but because Grandma is sitting in Nigel’s chair, they have to put her on the plane.
The final dancers spotlighted are Damon and Deon, whom most will remember as the duo that ripped off Les Twins with their routine last year. The two have returned to clear their names, insisting that their choreography was an homage to Les Twins’ work that showed they can take other peoples’ choreography and make it their own. And isn’t that what this show is all about? Unfortunately, they forgot the whole “make it their own” thing last year, and they come back to the show with a new self-made routine.
Damon and Deon’s choreography is a letdown after seeing the meticulous work of the Dragon House trio and Asher’s effortless showmanship, but they’re sent through to choreography, where Deon’s journey ends and Damon’s continues on to Vegas. It’s amazing that out of all the profiled dancers, only one didn’t make it to Vegas, and it was a choice that had to be made to up the dramatic stakes of a pretty one-note episode. Of course, when that one note is consistent artist excellence, it’s an easy one to listen to.
- Cat Deeley meets her doppelganger this week, and she reacts as adorably as expected.
- I love having Debbie Allen on panel, whose face somehow gets nastier the more she’s enjoying a routine. I need a .gif of her stinkface during Joshua’s dance.
- Belly dancer Janelle was certainly fun to watch, but Nigel’s reactions made me feel dirty all over. Not as dirty as when he said Grandma Everdeen was clutching his dick, though. That might have been the most despicable Nigel moment ever.
- The “beast” is back. Get ready to have strong women compared to animals for the rest of the season.
- “I’ll stab you in the eye!”
- “Outside and doing some wobbling of her own.” Cat Deeley is a master of transitions.
- “You are special. When you dance, it is like you’re testifying. You rise me up.”
- “This child is fierce.”