E: Youch! The return of some old favorites has me dancing on my toes. I’ve got to admit it, though – this episode is sadly thin on new talent. Perhaps the producers don’t want us to invest in too many people when they’re going to let so few through? I can’t account for it. This episode brings us to two Southern audition cities, and finally to fabled Vegas week for the brutal, grueling winnowing process. We’ve got crazy hair, tears, tears, more tears, and an audition city so terrible we don’t get to see a single successful applicant. We have Persians (hey, where were you when they cast Prince of Persia?), injuries, addicts, mobsters’ daughters, mimes, and something called a Scooter Rocket. Shudder.
Dallas: judges Nigel, Tyce Diorio (oh God), and Aussie Ballroom champion Toni Redpath
The first dancer we see is the absolutely lovely Ida Saki. She looks like she’s planting seeds during various moments, but we forgive her easily, because she does this insane split thing where she goes down and then up and down again. The judges are in love with her. (The judges are in love with each other, too – they’ve bonded as we rarely see.) Turns out that Ida is Persian, and her mother always wanted to dance but never could because of societal restrictions. (Hey, lady, you’re not too old to take classes, you know! You don’t live in Iran anymore!) Everyone cries, and the mother and a younger brother are called up on stage, and they all get tickets to Vegas. Which, huh? Oh, whatever, show.
Because of that folderall, we get very little time to see the outstanding Robert Roldan, and the beruffled Rebecca Hart. Tyce looks like he’s going to swallow his tongue watching her. This is a fair time to add, isn’t it, that this show spends way too much time with judges reaction shots? We don’t need to see Nigel looking seriously at Robert 2 seconds into his performance. Honestly, if Nigel were laughing or crying, that might be useful information, but we got the serious face all around. I want to see more dancing!
We have a montage of people hurting themselves, a large round mime, and a multi-hyphenate who calls himself Scooter Rocket who does a lot of things, but none of them well. Happily we end with Nicole Knudson, a frighteningly skinny girl who Nigel immediately begins calling Marge Simpson because she’s got her thick curly hair up on her head in a big rounded off ponytail. She’s also got yellow feet, which is very Simpson-like. I don’t pretend to understand that, but she does. Tyce tells her she’s the sort of talent that comes along once in 100 years, which, huh? I thought she was terrific, but not miraculous. She’s quirky and emotive and fun and I can’t help thinking that Sonya Tayeh would love her to bits. Is Sonya going to be in Vegas? Cause that’s where Nicole is going.
Nine other dancers make it through.
We spend quite a bit of time with Marcella Raneri, a tall, stunning blond sex bomb whose father is in the mob. Right. Well, technically he’s in prison, but you’re never out of the mob, are you? When he was jailed, her family lost their lavish life style, and so Mrs. Raneri resorted to designing lingerie to support them, and Marcella did her bit by modeling it. Because nothing says family like lingerie, right?
Those horrifying images aside, I thought she was a good dancer. The judges rip apart her performance quality, telling her she has no soul or passion, but then send her to choreography and eventually through to Vegas.
Finally we’ve got Jordan Jackson, a hip hop dancer who looks like the stereotype of the addict he was five years ago. He’s painfully skinny, with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes. But he’s also fantastic. He’s a great gymnast, he’s funny, he’s dangerous and exciting and unpredictable. Toni loves him. “Hear this the right way,” she instructs him. “You’re not traditionally handsome, but your energy is really sexy.” She kind of melts into the judging table. Tyce, sensing he has to do something to top Toni, follow up with this stirring critique. “Knock knock who’s there? Jordan. So that’s good.”
Six other dancers made it through today; why don’t we get to see any of them? Perhaps it’s to prepare us for the travesty to come.
Nashville: judges Nigel, Adam and Broadway choreographer Joey Dowling (ick)
When Cat voiced over that we’d be seeing some of Vegas week in this episode, I couldn’t understand it. We’d already had at least 45 minutes in Dallas. How could there be so little to see in Nashville?
Well, there was very little. I’m thinking they don’t come back. Certainly not for the hilariously named Faith Looney, who wafted her way through a same sex flamenco, and a parade of the truly terrible. We didn’t see a single successful audition. Granted, seven people got through, and we could have seen them. So, um, why didn’t we? They’ve got to be deeply disappointed.
What did we see that was worth mentioning? Brilliant locker with scoliosis Brian Gaynor, who tried out in Season 3 and brought down the house with a guest solo on the finale. Adam makes his sympathetic face, which is seeming less sincere, but Joey Dowling – who’s always struck me as hard as nails and just as unpleasant – actually breaks down. There’s no way he could do partner dancing, so we’re not even going to bother him with choreography (which means they don’t even have to show it) but he’s got a crew now, and Nigel promises them time to perform on the show. That’s awesome.
Vegas: Nigel, Adam, Mary Murphy (yay!!!!), Toni Redpath, Lil’ C, and Tyce presiding
Cat tells us that 132 dancers made it through to Vegas. By the end of the episode they’ll be down to 58. Ouch!
First off, everyone does a solo to remind the judges why they ended up here. (Then they’ll get cut if the solo doesn’t live up to the judges memory of it, or stack up well enough against the other contestants.)
Ballet dancer Alex Wong has the first solo. If there are five guys here better than he is, I can’t imagine who they’d be. There’s a reason that the Miami Ballet didn’t want to let him go last summer. I wonder how he pulled off getting out of his contract? However he did it, I am selfishly thrilled. Contemporary dancer Billy Bell – a finalist last season sidelined by last minute illness – is also going to be hard to beat. These two didn’t even have to audition for their tickets to Vegas, but were put through on the strength of their previous work.
There’s a bit of drama over Sarah Brinson (the “large” Charlize Theron lookalike) and Anthony Burrell, who are injured. Early favorite Tyrell Rolle (EW’s Kate Ward wanted to crown him the winner straight off) goes home right after his solo, but Anthony, Billy, Alex, Kent Boyd, Rebecca Hart, and perhaps five others I couldn’t make out are called up for particular praise. Aha! They don’t usually give us such an early glimpse of their favorites! Interesting, interesting.
96 out of the 132 make it through to the next round, which is hip hop. It’s presided over by Tabitha Duomo, without husband Napoleon. Many folks we’ve come to know pull through (we have tapper Melinda Sullivan, cheerleader Laura Froderman, contemporary dancer Alexie Agdeppa, and b boy Jose Ruiz highlighted), but lots of fun people go home: Teddy Tedholm, scary European ballroom dancer Michael Petr, rhythmic gymnast Rachel Girma (who, after all, has been ‘dancing’ for less than a month) and poor Sarah Brinson. She’s devastated, but Tyce manages to – well, not cheer her up, but be incredibly positive and supportive about her career. So that’s nice.
The remaining 69 contestants move on to the ballroom round, which is choreographed by panelist Toni Redpath. Billy Bell – who seems to be paired with Christina Santana again – dubs her Nazi Barbie, which is hilariously and horrifyingly on target. She’s got the long blond curling locks, the cute outfit – and she’s brutal. The screaming is just not what I expected after her time on the panel.
Is it worth mentioning that the choreography round in all the audition cities was danced to “Bad Romance”, and that Toni’s cha cha is set to another Lady Gaga hit? (“Poker Face”, if I recall correctly.) I know she’s huge now, and has performed on the show, but wow, that’s a little nuts.
Ballroom dancers Serge Ornic and Giselle Peacock perform admirably, as does someone named Ashley Galvin, who we know nothing about. The judges are about to cut Nicole Knudson, but Tyce argues for her 100 year talent, and they let her perform once more, this time with her hair down so she looks sexy instead of quirky. She also has fuzzy faced Serge for a partner, so she does much better and manages to squeak through. There’s a huge drama over Adechike Torbert, a contemporary dancer we didn’t see in the NYC auditions who wasted his solo attempting to tap. They let him dance for his life, and his contemporary solo is brilliant, but they’re not pleased with him for making them wait for it.
We end on a gloomy note; Jordan Johnson fails miserably at the cha cha, and the judges reluctantly send him home with instructions to take classes, pick up the technique, and come back next year. I hope you do, Jordan! At this point Jose Ruiz seems to be the hip hopper of choice this season.
Or maybe not. I caught sight of Brandon Dumlao, the hip hop dancer who replaced Billy Bell and was invited to audition again (unlike Billy and Alex, who were put straight through to Vegas) and unlike them didn’t get any screen time. I’m glad he tried again, though; they plainly acknowledged he was in over his head last fall, but he was the best option they had. And then, during Adechike’s last chat with the judges, we caught a quick glimpse of platinum bobbed Russian ballroom dancer Iveta Lukosiute, who killed it as Russell’s partner in last season’s Vegas ballroom round and seemed an early favorite. Will we see more of you, Iveta? I have some friends who’ll be very disappointed if we don’t.
One of the cool things about this show, actually, is seeing people audition from year to year, seeing them improve, seeing them finally get their chance. Hok, Evan, Bianca – lots of great dancers take more than one cycle to make it to the top. We’re down to 58, and it’s still hard to see how they’ll be able to construct an ethnically and stylistically diverse cast with only ten dancers! And I’m more nervous than ever about the All-Star concept; much as I’m thrilled to see the likes of Mark and Kathryn and Pasha again, I remember those performances last season where Nicole and Ashleigh were injured, and Russell had to dance with his choreographers, and there’s just not the same level of emotional investment, even with the superior dancing. Will the fact that I love the All Stars compensate for this? I hope so. But I don’t know. I mean, I love choreographer Melanie LePatin, too. Either way, bring on the top ten, because I can’t wait to find out!