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During the final episodes of last season, I was singing the praises of SYTYCD to any skeptic would would pause to listen.  Any one of the final six or so would have been a deserving winner.  Week after week this reality competition was showcasing genuine talent and expertise.  Outside of the prestige competitions on Bravo — Project Runway and Top Chef — no other reality show demonstrates so clearly the necessity of training and specialized knowledge.

And that's always the worry as the auditions recommence.  Exactly how many qualified individuals are there in America with the appropriate training and still waiting to be discovered?  I'm willing to believe that there are enough natural singing talents in the country to support the show well into the twenty-second century.  But how often can a dance competition — one where you cannot advance without the ability to learn choreography and adapt quickly to diverse styles — go to the well?  Isn't the pool getting a bit shallow here in season 6?

Yet last week's auditions were the best the show has produced — featuring the most interesting dancers, the most intriguing and nuanced critiques, and the fewest freaks of any audition week I can remember.  Is it possible that SYTYCD is capable of slipping the surly bonds of American Idol and create a new paradigm for broadcast reality competitions?  Does Nigel Lythgoe believe that America can stay focused on a dance show without relying on heartrending stories and deluded personalities?

Salt Lake City — not exactly known as a hotbed of sensuality — will test the hypothesis this week.  We start with trickster Bryan Boyer who displays his best moves on the sidewalk outside the theater (the crazy fall-flat-six-feet-to-the-pavement bit — is there a name for that?) but still gets sent to choreography (for fifteen whole minutes).  He remarks that he wants to put SLC on the map for something other than jazz dance, but the montage of great dancing we see appears to be mostly contemporary.  (The Contemporary Glut noted in week 1 continues.)

And then there's burlesque dancer Ariana who's been teased for us (pun intended) since the season started.  The best moment of her elegant little strip routine is at the very end, when she's standing on the chair, the director cuts to a shot of a bumfuzzled audience member, and Mary Murphy's voice squeaks "straight to Vegas!"  She gets sent to choreography to see if there's any more to her than a shiny red bow on her ass.  Lithuanian ballroom dancer Iveta, who appears to be in her early forties (or is that just the makeup?), dominates in her routine, easily outshining her non-competing partner and bringing tears to Mary's Botox-deadened cheeks.

Turns out the ballroom trend is the story of Day Two, with a number of strong, well-trained couples.  We get an interesting and lengthy critique of the DeLillos (it looks like Ashley has never been told not to pull faces — she appears somewhat stunned to learn that her mugging didn't go over well).  Leigh has great hip action with her partner Josh, but she'll be remembered for tearing off one of her big toenails.  (And also for her weird headband.)

There seem to be as many or more SLC contestants with tickets to Vegas as any other city.  And only one joke audition made it to air.  Well played, SYTYCD.  I'm starting to believe.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- Mary Murphy has another fabulous dress on Day One.  Is there a website where I can buy these fashions?

- OK, there are still some freaks.  Tristy Mirci has a bizarre story about being in 25 car crashes, but betrays no trace of the three years of training she claims to have had.  What I want to know is whether the pics of fender dings and smashed front ends were stock, or whether the producers found it worthwhile to actually get her personal photographic documentation for that little throwaway montage.

- Hayley Cloud recovered from a herniated disc to return to acrobatic contemporary dance, and throws down a powerful routine.  But the most interesting thing about her is how … top-heavy … she is.  Have we had such a busty potential finalist in a while?

- The "I'm going to Vegas" moments are always scripted, but something about Leigh's "I'm going to Vegas and the emergency room!" felt spontaneous.

- The worst thing about near-epilectic "I'm in it, I'm in it!" contestant Pascal was that he's from my hometown — Chattanooga, Tennessee — which lost one of its T's in SYTYCD's graphic.  The best thing was his interview: "I'm a lot better when I've got my wind."  "Where haven't I trained?" "I'm a little out of shape."  He reminded me of Bill Murray's Hercules.