And so with a couple of uninspiring jaunts through L.A. and Seattle, audition week (and a half) comes to an end. Sure, the producers tried to “Sex” it up (groan) with a silly “dance battle” package at the end there, but it really only highlighted the fact that this year’s audition shows have each been less inspiring than the one before. To those of you who have mentioned in the comments that you’re watching for the first time this season, I can only say, stick it out through Vegas week, please, you will not be disappointed.
Last night I posited that the producers are holding back the goods for the Vegas show, and I’m even more sure of that after tonight’s episode. Obviously at least a couple dozen dancers were put through to Vegas, so there had to be some great dancers in there. But even the good dancers who did get the spotlight tonight were pretty ho-hum. Let’s review, bullet-style!
• Bianca: Another tap dancer. Apparently the best female tapper they’ve ever had, and she certainly had the look, but is anyone else getting a little bored with tap?
• Asuka and Ricky: The judges called them “breathtaking” and repeatedly mentioned how Asuka stole the spotlight, and both were put through to Vegas. I might be betraying my ignorance of Latin ballroom here, but I didn’t get the judges’ wild praise of these two. She was very striking, yes, and they obviously knew their stuff, but they did not seem in sync at all. Unless they were going for some syncopated thing I don’t understand, I thought their routine was just okay. But if Mary Murphy’s breath is taken away, they must have something… I just didn’t see it.
• Nathan: He’s amazing. Incredible control, cute as a button, and he can rock the black-socks-and-outturned-pockets look. And he’s 17. Sad trombone. Obviously he couldn’t compete, so his inclusion in the auditions felt especially manipulative; I could just hear the producers cackling, “gotcha!” Though Nigel giving him an automatic ticket to Vegas next season was sweet.
• Sammy: If nothing else, we got to see Cat pretend to be a wrestler during his interview. His popping routine was really fun, and he apparently held it together well enough during choreography, but outside of his backstory (a gang member brought him into the world of dancing) and that cool thing he did with his hair, there wasn’t much extraordinary to him.
• Amanda: She’s pretty. Really, really pretty. And also very orange. Throw in a dad with M.S. and a decent routine and she’s off to Vegas!
• Phillip and Arielle: He gets an automatic pass to Vegas since his pneumonia kept him from going last year. She makes the odd decision to pair with him (a b-boy) for her contemporary routine, but they pull it out on the basis of a very clever, if not exceptionally well-executed routine. The judges’ criticism that she fit in but didn’t stand out didn’t come across as exactly glowing, but hey, she’s off to Vegas too.
• Kelsea: A “beautiful, disastrous weirdo.” (Love ya, Mia!) The judges seemed on the fence about her, but she was one of the few “real” dancers who really stood out tonight. Maybe it was the hair. And the judges think Sonya will love her. Probably because of the hair.
• Kuponohi’ipoi: I wrote in my notes during his performance, “reminds me of Mark from last season,” and what do you know, Nigel agrees. Again, the judges seemed on the fence—that ol’ “feminine” critique again!—but he makes it through to choreography and eventually Vegas. I’d love to see him in the top 20 just for the endless fun of Cat and Nigel and whoever else trying to say his name, but I have a sneaking suspicion the most exciting thing about him might be—again—his hair.
Obviously, I’m being super-critical, and I’d love to be proven wrong with any of these. Auditions are just a first impression, and after four years of this show, it’s really hard to make an impression at auditions. Even the sobbiest of sob stories—dad with M.S., tragic car accident—seem rehashed at this point, which is terrible, because these are real people. But such is the sad lot of the reality-competition contestant. Unfortunately, with such a huge number of contestants passing through our TV screens in such quick succession, we need signifiers to keep them from blending into one big, twirling, leaping mass. Ideally, that signifier is a mind-blowing audition. More likely, as with tonight’s show, it’s a strong, if not particularly memorable, audition with a tacked-on backstory. In the worst case—which we saw a lot of tonight—it’s a clownish gimmick, a confrontation with the judges, or a giant steaming pile of awkward left to stink up the stage.
L.A. had the market cornered on the weirdoes tonight: the creepy hand-holding siblings; Stacy “I live on a farm” House and her Ritalin dancing; “Shakiro” and his ill-fitting white pants. But Seattle seemed to be all about the half-assed audition, at least during day one, when the judges got visibly angry at the long line of jokes parading across the stage. Christopher, he of the sloooww, “gender-norm challenging” Argentine tango, and 6-foot-6 b-boy Demetrius at least had the good sense to take the judges’ scolding with a healthy bit of deference. But “Nick Nasty” failed so miserably in his attempts to come off as a charming goofball that he actually talked himself out of the choreography round, and into one of the most awkward audition encounters in recent memory.
I assume there are people who tune into the SYTYCD auditions specifically for the awkwardness, and the last 15 minutes of tonight’s show was obviously created especially for them. Sigh. Do I really need to say anything about the “Sex with Leo” dance-off (har har)? On the one hand, it’s nice that Nigel has figured out a way to deal with Sex besides the old exasperated scolding routine. On the other hand, I really, really hope Nigel’s declaration that he would not be asked back (because obviously the producers keep choosing to let him up onstage) proves to be true. I never thought I’d say this, but I am really sick of Sex.
Next week: “The most shocking Vegas week ever!”
• How awesome were both of the guest judges tonight? Adam getting up onstage and rocking it with the totally un-rocking Lindy-hopper, and then getting “judged” by Joshua and Katee was adorable. And Mia Michaels—excuse me, Emmy-winning Mia Michaels—struck the perfect balance between hardass critique and lovey “keep dancing!” encouragement. And the 30-second clip package of her routines got me so excited for the competition to start proper.
• I think we’ve heard about half the tracks off Lady Gaga’s The Fame already, and we’re only in auditions.