Look guys, I’ll level with you: This is my third time through blogging So You Think You Can Dance, and I’ve hit my limit when it comes to auditions. Thank goodness Donna has been here to share the load the last two times through, but I’ve reached the point where a new season of SYTYCD fills me with dread—not because I no longer enjoy the show, but because I know I’m going to have to slog through at least two mind-numbing weeks of auditions and Vegas before the show really gets to the good stuff. As I was riding the train home today, praying for some sort of non-fatal but time-consuming derailment that would prevent me from having to write about tonight’s auditions, it occurred to me: If the producers of the show are so concerned with livening up SYTYCD after a couple of lackluster seasons, why not ditch the auditions?
The whole audition-Vegas-competition progression is modeled after American Idol, which was itself modeled after the U.K.’s Pop Idol, which debuted in 2001. Two-thousand-and-freaking-one, people. That’s nearly a decade in actual years and about a century in reality-TV years. Maybe back in that primitive era, viewers actually bought into the “emotional” backstories and got a legitimate kick out of the deluded hacks making fools of themselves on that strange, flickering picture box powered by e-lek-tri-ci-tee. But we’ve all become fluent in the language of reality TV, and engaged viewers recognize this stuff for what it is: padding. Which is why newer reality-competition series—I’m thinking in particular of Bravo’s additions to the genre, Project Runway, Top Chef, et al—don’t show us that stuff. We trust the producers to compile a talented and interesting group of contestants to prance around for our enjoyment. This isn’t a presidential election; we don’t need to see the friggin’ Iowa caucus.
“But Genevieve,” you say, “Don’t you want to know the contestants right from the start, so that you can follow them on their journey to becoming America’s Favorite Dancer?” To which I say, no, I don’t, and stop doing that terrible Cat Deeley impersonation. First of all, half the time the final contestants don’t even get screen time during auditions. And while I guess it’s kinda cool that I can trace Russell’s progression last season all the way back to his memorable audition, I doubt I would have liked him less as a person or dancer without that 90 seconds or so of audition footage. Secondly, we get to know the contestants about as well as I care to during the show proper, via those silly Q&As that give us fascinating insight into Kayla’s secret desire to be a model and Nathan’s love of Jet-Skis.
That said, every now and then, auditions give us a genuine moment that really speaks to the significance of dance, and we got one of those tonight with Jarrell, a deaf hip-hopper. It was obvious to everyone—including, I hope, him—that he could never actually compete on SYTYCD… there would be too many problems with partnering and choreography. But his apparent love of movement and unique approach to dance were heartwarming, and the sort of things that most people would never get to experience without an outlet like this. But for every moment like that, there are a half-dozen squicky moments like Andrew parading around his spina bifida-stricken twin. That, combined with his weirdly awkward audition, was enough to send him packing in my estimation, but the judges sent him on to choreography and then Vegas. Whatever, consider me Team Not Andrew.
But enough grousing. Let’s just assume that we all hate the Hella Hungs and “I just want your respect” Kevins of the world and focus on what was promising about this episode. There were a couple of interesting performers in L.A. breaking up the contemporary glut, specifically rhythmic gymnast Rachel and boot-clad tapper Melinda. I’m glad Melinda made it through despite the judges’ complaints about her music choice: She was unique without being obnoxious, and despite her polished modern look, she has a certain old-school charm that came out when she talked about wanting to be a “full package” performer in the vein of Sammy Davis Jr. or Gregory Hines. And while there was something a little, well, gymnastics-y about the way Rachel’s stunning power moves blended together, those power moves were pretty frickin’ stunning. And return competitor Alexi earned her second shot at the top 20 (well, 10 now) with an incredibly strong performance that was summed up with characteristic hyperbole by Adam Shankman: “She’s everything.”
Over in Chicago, sweet Midwestern boys stole the show. Small-town cutie-pie Kent, from Wapakoneta, Ohio (“You know Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon? Yeah, he’s from there.”), has the sort of aw-shucks charm that made Evan so popular a couple of seasons back, but with a seemingly stronger core skill set. And the disconnect between Jarrod’s passionate, tribal-influenced movement and his golly-gee personality is intriguing, and his composed response to Nigel’s icky “is your mom hot?” question bodes well for his onscreen personality.
The judges loved tall drink of water Adrian, but he didn’t really do much for me in terms of personality or movement. But maybe he’ll blow me away in competition, and maybe Jarrod will be a total dud when he has to do anything outside of his own distinctive choreography. There’s no way to know until the show starts, which is why this all feels like a waste of time. Thankfully, auditions are moving quickly this time around, progressing on to Vegas tomorrow and next week. After that, SYTYCD starts for real.
• Okay, one last bit of grousing about Cheerleader Lauren, who made it straight through to Vegas with a series of strip-club-ready gyrations. Whatever talent she has aside, that was an extremely off-putting audition, especially considering she’s only 18 years old; as Michal Kors would say if this were Project Runway, “I question your taste level here.” But I guess I shouldn’t expect much in the way of taste from Nigel “Is your mom cute” Lythgoe and Adam “I got a lapdance from Miley Cyrus” Shankman. Where is Mia “Buzzkill” Michaels when you need her?
• You must be THIS attractive to dance contemporary. Seriously, I’m starting to think this is a gene that’s bred into these girls.
• Uh, hello? Hip-hop? Ballroom? Where you at?
• I got a nice little jolt hearing “Dog Days” by Florence And The Machine during one of the L.A. montages. If no one choreographs a dance to one of her songs this season, I quit. That album (Lungs) is basically a SYTYCD soundtrack in the making.
• Does “hick-hop” really need that much explanation? I got the gist pretty quickly…
• Has Stacey Tookey always looked so much like Starbuck, or is it the haircut?
• I’m pretty sure I saw a Juggalo in the preview for tomorrow night.