When So You Think You Can Dance began, it was American Idol with dance, following the singing competition’s format and general tone as 16 performers competed to be America’s favorite dancer. The show has evolved since them, expanding the finalist count to 20 (except for the ill-conceived Top 10 of season seven), bringing in All-Stars, and ultimately cutting the results show to create a spectacular two-hour block of professional-grade choreography. Last season had some scheduling problems because of baseball, but hopefully, Fox and this show’s producers have figured out a way around that so that there aren’t too many double eliminations. (Also, no more tribute episodes. Ever.)
Auditions are an integral part of the American Idol/SYTYCD DNA, giving anyone willing to wait in line the opportunity to be on television if they’re good/bad enough or have an inspiring/tragic story. While there are plenty of spectacular dancers during auditions, there’s also a huge amount of filler material and time spent on people that don’t make it past the first stage of the competition. That’s why this will be the only SYTYCD TV Club review until Vegas week. That’s when I’ll be addressing some of the dancers that stood out in the four cities that I won’t be covering, and then there will be weekly coverage for the rest of the season. Feel free to turn this episode’s comments section into the discussion forum for the next three weeks, because there look to be some significant lows coming soon. Tomorrow’s Detroit auditions look especially trashy, what with Mary getting a lap dance on stage and all that.
Season nine was an impressive display of this country’s finest up-and-coming dance talent, and it looks like season 10 will be following the example of what came before if the Los Angeles auditions are any indication. That means lots of hip-hop and contemporary. The season begins with adorable animator Du-Shaunt a.k.a. “Fik-Shun,” who still has that burnt wax smell after emerging from his Cyrus mold. He’s got the precise movement and expressive face that made Cyrus a hit with the judges, and he’s sent straight through to Vegas. It’s an incredible solo, but I can’t help but be nervous that Du-Shaunt will follow the same path as his animating predecessor and fly through the competition on personality even if his performance in other styles is lackluster. Granted, it’s only been one episode and we didn’t see Du-Shaunt go to choreography, so it’s very possible that he’s trained in other styles or will be able to pick up them up easily.
Last year was light on ballroom except for the power couple of Lindsay and Witney, but in Los Angeles, the focus is on the male ballroom dancers. Paul is the winner of So You Think You Can Dance Armenia, which might seem like an unfair advantage, but this show does accept professional dancers, so why not include him? He’s got the looks, the charm, and the talent, and this show can always use more male ballroom dancers. But as much as I enjoyed Paul’s performance, the real standout ballroom dancer this week is Armen, the balding 27-year-old rapper who has a single featuring Joey Fatone. He’s a ridiculous reality TV caricature that seems too good to be true, but ladies and gentlemen, he’s the real thing:
Armen wants to show the world that he’s a star, and while he shows off some fancy footwork on the floor, it will be interesting to see how he fares in Vegas. Both Armen and Paul go straight to Vegas because Mary Murphy wants some goddamn ballroom dancers on the show this year, and of the two, I see Paul making it into the top 20. He might end up getting kicked off at the last minute to give a different person a place in the competition, but I could also see the producers loving the idea of having someone become the first person to win two SYTYCD competitions during the show’s 10th anniversary season.
Other than the neck-tutu-wearing Elijah (whose piece was overpraised by the judges), there weren’t too many contemporary dancers that were spotlighted outside of montages, but those montages showed that a whole lot of people came with their best imitation Mia Michaels choreography. Malece comes with a depressing story about the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and her mother’s financial sacrifices in order to keep her daughter dancing, but it’s her sunny disposition and hilarious banter with the judges that really work the camera. When she says that she’s deaf after mishearing Nigel, what follows is the episode’s standout moment:
Nigel: “Are you deaf?”
Malece: “Partially in my left ear.”
Nigel: “Are you?”
Malece: “No. Not really.”
Her deadpan delivery is fantastic, and she has the crowd and the judges loving her before she ever hits the floor. Her solo has a bit too much strutting downstage but also some spectacular acrobatics, and the judges send her straight through to Vegas. With her Robyn inspired look and Lauren Froderman-like skills, I can see Malece getting far in this competition.
The other main contemporary female spotlighted this week is Taylor, who makes it through to Vegas despite having her knee pop out while rehearsing before her audition. This show has a lot of injuries, but not all of them are caught on tape in grotesque detail like Taylor’s dislocated knee, and this episode proves that the producers of this show have no self-control when they get footage like this. They show Taylor’s injury over and over, making sure to play the crack sound effect just in case any sensitive viewers are covering their eyes. After an upper-body-centric performance, Taylor makes it through to choreography, where she performs well enough to get her airplane ticket. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep herself together through all of Vegas.
Overall, the first auditions of season 10 are pleasantly light on filler, and even the people that don’t make it through to Vegas have something of merit in their act. No one is offensively bad or desperate for camera time, and it seems like the producers are beginning to realize that the reason people watch this show is for great dance. (On that note: Stop cutting to audience reactions during the dances and just let us watch the choreography.) The personalities are tolerable, the movement is gorgeous, and there’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson on the judging panel, who is the delightful little cherry on top of the summertime sundae that is SYTYCD. Enjoy the rest of auditions, I’ll see you all in Vegas!
- In case you’ve forgotten, a list of this show’s 10 past winners: Nick, Benji, Sabra, Joshua, Jeanine, Russell, Lauren, Melanie, Eliana and Chehon.
- With Bunheads’ prospects of renewal looking grimmer with every new day, SYTYCD needs to pick up the show’s choreographer Marguerite Derricks for some ballet, contemporary, and group numbers. I will be so sad if Bunheads doesn’t get picked up for a second season, especially as it became a place for SYTYCD contestants to go after competing. (Ricky Jamie and Marko Germar were recurring dancers, while Kent Boyd and Jeanine Mason had considerable roles and showed some legitimate acting talent.)
- Is it possible that there aren’t a lot of ballroom dancers on SYTYCD because there’s an expansive competitive circuit that one could devote their efforts to instead of this show?
- Whose house was Malece’s mom vacuuming? Did the show bring cameras to somewhere she works? Maybe the producers found a house for her to vacuum. I don’t know how the recording works during those “meet the family” video segments.
- Morris’ elbow pirouette… ouch.
- It’s nice to see Sasha and Marko teaching the choreography this year. I’d like to see them both as All Stars.