So after five seasons, So You Think You Can Dance (dance, dance…) finally makes its way to T.V. Club. Why now? Well, why not? Once you get past the minor shame of admitting that you watch a televised dance competition—and the constant explanations to confused friends that, no, dammit, you’re not talking about Dancing With The Stars—SYTYCD is probably one of the most enjoyable reality shows of the summer, and certainly the one with the highest glitter-and-smiles concentration. And now that American Idol has wrapped another season, something has to fill the overblown-reality-competition void, right?
Although, despite the similarities in pedigree and format between Idol and SYTYCD, they are two different animals. I imagine there’s quite a bit of crossover between the audiences of the two shows, but where Idol seems to thrive on the cults of personality that crop up around its contestants, SYTYCD is almost pure spectacle. Sure, favorites and “characters” emerge over time, but as much fun as it is to root for a Benji or a Twitch, what we’re really tuning in for is the dancing, the costumes, and the talent. I also personally find SYTYCD infinitely more interesting than American Idol (which I’ll admit I’ve seen maybe three episodes of) due to its practice of making the contestants dance in wildly different genres, often ones they have no experience in. A modern dancer could be asked to crump, waltz, and jitterbug. That’s like asking an Idol contestant to freestyle rap, scat, and then perform an aria. The talent on display as the show moves into its final rounds is often humbling, and always incredibly entertaining.
But before we get to that point, we have to make it through auditions, which means the typical parade of weirdoes and general awkwardness, cut through with the occasional Mary Murphy shriek, and, if we’re lucky, a great performance or two. These audition shows are far too scattered to touch on everything, so I’m just going to hit a few high and low points. Feel free to bring up anything I skip over in the comments.
Gabby: Raised in the circus, has rheumatoid arthritis—of course she’s going to get screen time. But her contemporary routine turns out to be one of the best of the night, competent if not mind-blowing, and with a nice bit of weirdness—some moves influenced by popping—to make her stand out. I’m going to tentatively call her as one of the top 20.
Storyboard and Hobgoblin, a.k.a. Mutation: This gimmick was amusing for about four seconds—specifically the four seconds where Cat Deeley (a.k.a. the best reality-competition host ever in the history of the world) was goofing around with them and their green face paint. Everything after that reeked of “We just want to be on TV,” from their ooky “joint-tortionism” method to their jumping up on the judges’ table. (Not to mention I’m about 98 percent sure they were stoned, at least during their interview.) Then, when the “jidges” give them the benefit of the doubt and put them through to choreography, they cut out without even trying. Since they surely didn’t think they’d get put through to Vegas without going to choreography—poppers, lockers, breakers, and anything remotely along that spectrum never do—this just confirms for me that they never actually cared about being on the show. Waste of time, NEXT.
Peter: He’s from Philly and he’s Italian. We know this because of footage of him running up the Rocky steps and eating spaghetti with his large family. Thanks for spelling that out, SYTYCD editors! Going off of that and his thuggish-ruggish ensemble, a crazy tap routine was the last thing I expected from Peter. I’m a little iffy on the judges’ decision to send him straight to Vegas based on his assurance that he’s trained in a bunch of other styles, but he’s definitely interesting enough to stay in the competition if he proves to be competent. (Oh, and Mary Murphy, you are NOT allowed to critique people's fashion choices when you show up wearing a puffy plaid shirt and fringed suede vest a few scenes later.)
Tiffany: This was clearly meant to be the “inspirational” portion of the show—a friend of mine instant messaged me to prepare to “turn on my waterworks” (I’m a crier)—but it really skeeved me out. Don’t get me wrong, I admire Tiffany for pursuing a life of dance when she has what’s obviously a very serious spinal condition. But as Nigel eventually stated—after tiptoeing around it for a good long, awkward time and complimenting her hair—she just wasn’t right for the competition (or perhaps vice-versa). Not only is her dancing a little off-putting, due to the fact that it looks painful, she would be incredibly difficult for other contestants to partner with. I’m glad they nipped it in the bud rather than putting her through to choreography, which would have felt even more exploitative. In cases like this—and, to a different degree, the male-male ballroom couple we see later in Denver—I wonder if these contestants audition seriously thinking they’re going to make it to the show, or just to make a statement and “open people's eyes.” And I really don’t know which scenario I prefer.
Kellen: A.k.a. “umbrella guy.” His performance was very strong, but when he stepped up to the mic and immediately started blubbering, I was ready to write him off. But he explained himself well enough—though he was a bit too dependent on those flouncey, overly earnest “dancer” clichés that I loathe—and you can’t deny he earned his ticket to Vegas. If he makes it into the top 20, though, I’m prepared to be annoyed by him weekly.
Chimezie: Or Chimeezee, as Nigel repeatedly butchers his name. Oh Nigel, you dotty old bird! Surprisingly, the only breaker who gets any real screen time in New York—in Brooklyn, of all places!—he’s of course sent off to choreography after a strong but not stellar routine. (Wall flip! Yay or yawn? Oh how jaded we’ve become over four seasons.) Surprisingly, he makes it through to Vegas. Could he be the next Twitch? I doubt it, but if he makes it through, Nigel’s gonna have to practice his name for a bit.
Sonya: I was initially excited to see Sonya as one of the judges in Denver, as her choreography (and hair) was one of the highlights of last season. However, as a quick montage showed, she’s really keen on those breathy, overly emotive statements that ohmigod, just sound, so, you know, wow, but don’t actually say much of anything. I was amused by the obvious clash between her and the other two judges—“Oh for God’s sake woman, it’s only dancing!” Nigel huffs—but entirely put off by her orgasmic appraisal of Natalie (who deserved it, but still, ick). Stick to the choreography, Sonya.
Kayla: She gets the hanging-out-at-home edit, which means she’s definitely going to Vegas and probably the top 20. And what do you know, she’s awesome, turning in a quirky, angular performance that seems far too sophisticated and self-assured for an 18-year-old. Sonya is salivating already. A definite early favorite, provided she can do stuff besides contemporary. Also, her crying grandpa made me choke up. (Crying old men = 50 adorable points.)
Natalie: The other half of the infamous roommate showdown that got Katie (barely) into the top 20 last season. She said she would come back if she didn’t make it last year, whereas Katie didn’t, and what do you know, she kept her word. Natalie is incredibly interesting to watch, and obviously extremely talented—and if you don’t think so, don’t tell Sonya, because she will tear you apart with her PASSION—but she doesn’t have the same sort of commercial appeal that Katie did. She’s probably the contestant I’m most interested in at this point, but I don’t think she’s a shoe-in by any means.
Brandon: Not to be outdone by Sonya, Mary Murphy is also moved to tears, this time by “I’m so talented, I don’t need to speak” Brandon. His shyness is going to be a hurdle on a show that rewards mugging it up, but holy shit did you see that boy’s legs? I am confident when I say Brandon could literally dance me into the ground. I hope he turns out to have a personality. Any personality will do, Brandon!
All in all, the first audition show was mercifully light on the weirdoes, sticking them mainly in montages. It was also, unfortunately, light on the hip-hop/popping/locking/etc. that usually make for the most entertaining routines. Contemporary is beautiful to watch but hard to understand. The judges usually do an okay job parsing the nuances for us couch potatoes, but it’s hard to separate the good from the great at this point.
Next week we move to the “Dirty South,” where we will hopefully get some solid hip-hoppers on board and see Cat drop it like it’s hot.
• Whoever told Mary Murphy that her “thing” should be that awful caterwauling deserves a grand battement to the head.
• Fair warning: I pretty much worship Cat Deeley and will gush about her (and her dresses) every week. Deeley moment of the night? “It’s okay, dry cleaning, dry cleaning!!”
• “Now I get to go home and help run a Lego competition tomorrow morning in New Hampshire.” Always have a plan B, Krazy Kate.
• “Mitch isn’t out yet….” Mitch is the straight guy in the guy-guy ballroom couple. Come on, that had to be on purpose.
• Programming note: Once we move into twice-weekly performance/voting shows, I will be posting a two-episode wrap-up on Thursday rather than two separate writeups. So take notes on Wednesday and come back after voting to discuss!