Dancers auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance are essentially evaluated on three major criteria: technique, personality, and spectacle. If you have all three, it means a trip to Vegas. If you have none, it means a trip to the reject montage. If you have personality but none of the other two, the producers will probably spend way too much time focusing on your story, like this week’s Brittany Morgan Starr, delusional daughter of Ringo Starr, twin of Lady Gaga. Like last week’s Ieshia Moss, the judges patronize Brittany, asking for more details on her personal life to make for more choice quotes later on. Exploring new realms of exploitation, the producers send a camera crew to find out if Brittany’s father is actually The Beatles’ drummer (spoilers: he’s not), painting a depressing portrait of a probably mentally unstable family that is willing to do anything for attention. After eight seasons, why are we still forced to watch this dreck when there are good dancers that can be admired for their craft instead of their astounding ability to repulse?
This was a standard episode of auditions, with tons of contemporary and hip-hop and some choice dancers from other styles sprinkled throughout. The miserable Brittany Starr business is largely responsible for the D grade, because not only was it redundant and not at all dance related, but Brittany received more focus than any of the other dancers, good or bad. It just inspires more talentless attention-whore auditioners, and does anyone actually watch this show to see the losers audition? Most of the time they are so bad it’s not even laughable, just painful to watch.
Auditions start off in Salt Lake City, where previous contestants like Chelsea Hightower, Allison Holker, and season three winner Sabra Johnson were discovered. Joining Nigel and Mary on panel is Pussycat Dolls creator Robin Antin, who seems to spend more time recruiting future dancers for her troupe than actually critiquing anyone. First up on stage are steppers Devon McCullough and Micah Clark, who wow the judges with their synchronized percussive movement, but not enough to send them straight through to Vegas. Devon gets a ticket after choreography while Micah is left to step alone, which is really just stomping and slapping yourself if there isn’t a group around. If Devon makes it through to the top 20, it will be interesting to see how he handles a solo, but at least it’s not tap. It looks like the producers may have realized that tap just doesn’t work on the show, and for that I thank them.
The ladies dominated Salt Lake City, beginning with SYTYCD superfan Chyna Smith, a peppy contemporary dancer who performs a routine by the aforementioned Allison Holker. Chyna is the complete package, and as adorable as she is off-stage, that’s how fierce she is when performing. To get into some Top Model lingo, Chyna is a commercial girl with couture dancing, shocking the judges with an unexpectedly edgy routine that showed versatility of movement and emotion with a strong technical foundation. I expect to see her in the top 20, along with fellow contemporary female Molly Gratton, who is put in a similar situation as last week’s Kyré Batiste when Nigel makes her dance with her father. It’s a superfluous moment that works because it’s about dancing, and because it happens after Molly’s blazing solo, an incredibly fast routine that has Molly throwing all her dancer tricks out in quick succession, never giving the judges the chance to catch their breath.
The judges went wild for the men in Salt Lake City, but their praise for comedic b-boy Tadd Gadduang was a bit inflated, praising him for the spectacle and personality of his routine, but ignoring the technical aspect, particularly how well he would do in other styles. When it comes to sending b-boys straight to Vegas, it usually comes down to how strong their sense of rhythm is in relation to their tricks, and I didn’t see the same musicality that sent Jeffery McCann straight through last week. Contemporary dancer Chase Thomas takes the stage in only a pair of black briefs, giving Mary and Robin hot flashes as he talks about his fiancée cheating on him and his new Studio Arts major wife. Chase is a strong dancer, and his wardrobe makes it clear to see the work his muscles are putting in, but I wish there was a bit more personality in his face. He’s sent straight through to Vegas, showing that there might be one more element in the audition formula: beauty. We know Nigel likes sexy ladies, but if the pretty boys are lucky enough to get two cougars on the panel, chances get a lot better for that Vegas ticket.
After Salt Lake City, the next stop is New York City, home of Broadway and epicenter of hip-hop. The Big Apple brings an eclectic group of dance styles, including Irish step, krump, and whacking, which utilizes quick circular hand movements to let the audience “see the music.” Whacker Samantha “Princess Lockeroo” Cohen starts off New York auditions, and her rapid movement and tight control earn her a ticket to Vegas. Because she has so much personality and her style is so spectacular, even a minimal showing of dance technique is enough to instill faith in the judges that Samantha can handle Vegas. Irish dancer Mary Kate Sheehan isn’t as lucky, and while she is a technically astounding stepper, the style doesn’t allow for Mary Kate’s personality to come through as heavily. Irish dance is certainly theatrical, but without that extra personal flavor, it falls short of hitting the level that would send her straight to Vegas. She gets her ticket after choreography, so we’ll see how our little Irish stepper does when she’s able to actually move her upper body.
New York brought a wide range of hip-hop to the stage, from furious krump to crowd-pleasing acrobatic breaking. Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadson gave the perfect Nigel hip-hop routine, combining various styles of hip-hop for a dance brimming with personality and technically on point. Nigel says it perfectly: Virgil is more than a dancer, he’s a performer, and showing a talent for storytelling is a great way to gain the judges’ favor, especially considering how story-heavy the competition routines are. Krumper Brian Henry has a cocky attitude that gets him in trouble with the judges, ripping on season six winner Russell and judge Lil’ C’s krump skills. Brian is a talented krumper, but his attitude rubs Mary the wrong way, who would rather all dancers join hands in harmony and never harbor any animosity toward each other. Because that’s how show business works. Virgil is sent straight through to Vegas while Brian goes to choreography, later advancing to Vegas.
Joining Brian in choreography is musical theater dancer Jess Loprado, the sort of clean-cut, technically impressive boy that teeny-boppers love to vote for, but Jess lacks the charisma (read: douchebag smirk) that made season six’s Evan such a fan favorite. The judges have higher expectations for styles like jazz or ballroom because those are their specialties, especially for the New York panel of Nigel, Mary, and ballroom choreographer Jason Gilkison. Jess has great skill, but he has to make it look even more effortless, and that will come from appearing to enjoy himself more when dancing. Like contemporary dancers Brandon Jones or hip-hopper Robert Taylor, Jr., who not only dance spectacularly, but make it look so easy while doing it. The best dancers on this show are the ones that can convince the audience they’re not working at all. It makes us believe that we could do these routines, too, if only someone would teach us. Or at least that’s how it makes me feel.
Next stop is Los Angeles, and Donna returns tomorrow night to cover the last set of auditions before Vegas. The pain of audition season is almost over, and although this episode found new ways to darken the path to the proper competition, the sun is about to rise.
•We’re going to be hearing a lot of Britney’s “Till The World Ends” this season. I’m hoping they do a group number to it.
•Cat’s looking fashionable as always in her winter gear, but I’m ready to see her fun clothes come out. Next week is L.A. so you know she be fabulous.
•Bruised balls put Cat Deeley in hysterics. Good to know.
•Mary Murphy’s face continues to be a source of terror and amusement.
•Samantha Hiller’s amnesia sounded bullshit-y. She needs a better story next time she auditions.
•Don’t bitch about your ex-fiancée cheating on you when you’ve already remarried, especially if you’re on national television wearing only a pair of underwear.
•A recreation of the Abbey Road cover by a single man dressed in a Sgt. Pepper’s uniform is one of the most depressing images I’ve seen all year.
•So many Beatles and Big Apple puns. Ugh.
•“You are a whacking diva.”
•Mary Kate’s retelling of the history of Irish dance was just another painful way for the producers to kill time. Here’s an idea: SHOW MORE DANCING.
•What is jungle ballet? And I want a Bollywood style dancer competing this season.
•If Nigel bounces with your solo, you’re going to Vegas.