So You Think You Can Dance: Season 9 – L.A. Auditions

E: Last week brought us dancers from the usual two day long auditions in both New York and Dallas. By contrast, this episode was a two hour feast of a single day’s auditions.  Was the team really only in LA for a single day?  Or was the first day that great and the second day, terminally boring?  Either way, there’s a lot to talk about.

Joining Nigel and Mary at the judges table is “superfan” Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  I still honestly don’t know how I feel about that (he’s fun and funny, but is it really fair to the dancers to put a non-pro in a power position?) but he acquits himself well enough.  He’s confident in his opinions and seems generally to concur with Nigel and Mary.  Except when it comes to groping oneself and booty shaking, that is; he’s in favor, but Mary is not.

First up, 19 year old Alexa Anderson, who made it as far as the “green mile” last year but was passed over for judges favorite/fan punching bag Ryan Ramirez.  She’s got curly blond hair and a cute heart shaped face and the judges fall all over themselves praising her.  She delivered a slow/fast/slow routine, messing around with tempo, which was nice except that unlike the judges, I thought her movement got a bit too jerky and unfinished in the frenetic parts.  Her song (“Young Blood” by The Naked and Famous) gave me chills, and she wisely chose not to dance in her leopard practice pants.  Nigel sends her to Vegas without a word of criticism.

Care to wager a guess what style 20 year old Jontel “Johnny Waacks” Gibson performs in?  That’s right, waacking!  He’s also disco superfly, wearing tight-fitting stripped pants and a tight fitting seashell button down; Cat thinks he’s the coolest.    Nigel asks the young fellow how long he’s been waacking (a year) and how he started (watching videos online) and somehow this dovetails into one of those double entrendre silly fits where Johnny’s waacking alone in his room and the judges are crying and unable to speak for the gales of laughter.  Unfortunately, his performance doesn’t quite live up to the hilarity; he’s very musical, and he used the floor well (and the long slow wiping of his brow!  ha!), but last year’s stunner Princess Lockeroo formed an indelible (and probably unbeatable) impression.  The judges like his personality (Jesse, particularly, thinks he looks like a nesting doll version of Lenny Kravitz and wants to put him in his pocket so he can let the fellow out to waack on command) and the performance quality he brings, so they send him on to choreography.

Our next contestant sort of defies categorization.  20 year old Eliana Girard has danced with the Joffrey Ballet, the Alvin Ailey dance company, and Circe Du Soliel.  Seriously, could that resume be any more impressive, particular for this show?  I don’t see how.  Right now, she’s all about being a pole aerialist.  Despite her introductory package featuring lots of bikini/pole time (including a hilarious moment where we hear how noisy it is), she dances en pointe for her audition, and the judges just swoon.  Before we give you your ticket, Nigel tells her, I need to explain to everyone why you are extraordinary; this is largely due to her performance quality, the incredible emotion put into her dance.  Also, I need to add that she’s crazy flexible and strong and musical and technical.  Eliana nods gratefully, shaking her short brown ringlets; Jesse tells her with tears in his eyes that she has the same quality which made last year’s adorable winner Melanie Moore so beloved.  I’m not sure I agree (she seems very different from Melanie, at least), but I’m definitely ready to say with Mary that’s Eliana’s top twenty material.

After this run of successful auditions – including as many women as we met in all of last week’s episode – we get a montage of dancers (mostly of color) talking about their inspirations; a Sasha-loving girl with a spiky yellow mohawk, a big bearded tapper, and a very muscular Desmond Richardson devotee.   I hope we see more of them in Vegas; they seemed wonderful, and it looks like all three went right through.

Next, we see a goofy run of duos; butt shaking sisters in tutus, and a ballroom pair dressed as a WW2 sailor and his gal – which, ballroom!  Yay!  I need a serious injection of ballroom, please.  The duos are rounded out by the self-styled Ninja twins, Nick and James Aragon, a waiter and stylist looking for their ship to come in.  These guys – actual twins – should have a stage show, seriously.  There’s so much attitude between them I have to wonder a little where the people are underneath their posturing, but they made me shout with laughter more than once.  I particularly guffawed at their insistence that they’re vampires and so their age – two years over the show’s limit of 30 – is irrelevant.  Their dancing is mostly in really nice synch, they’ve very athletic, surprisingly excellent tumblers, and generally terrific showmen (even though they do lip synch along with the music, another of Mary’s no nos).  I know some people found it a time wasting segment (MMGF, I’m talking to you!) because of their ineligibility for the show, and I totally get that, but I didn’t begrudge them their moment in the sun.  They get a standing O from the judges and their fellow dancers.

Once the humor is done we’re in for a very emotional back story, though not the most emotional of the night.  Willowy, pale 18 year old Sam Lenaz came home from dance class one day to find her belongings packed up.  There’s really no solid reason given that her mother kicked her out (they didn’t get along? she doesn’t support Sam’s dancing?) but Sam’s now installed with her best friend’s family, where she gets to do chores and have her friend’s mom cry for her and generally feel like she belongs.  Mr. E and I actually had to pause the dvr and discuss this: can that mother be as much of a monster as it appears?  We wanted to hear her side of the story.  Sam seems lovely and obliging, and unlikely to be on drugs or doing anything you could see getting her kicked out.  One possible explanation is that Sam didn’t want to go to college and doesn’t have a job, and so her mother refused to financially support her otherwise?  At any rate, Nigel and co use this as a teachable moment to insists all parents support their gifted children, because Sam was put on this earth to dance.  Of course, they don’t think she had enough of an emotional connection to the material and so sent her on to choreography instead of directly to Vegas.   I liked her heaps and thought they were a bit nuts; she was so light, so smooth, and admirably bendy, I’m not even sure why they bothered.

25 year old skater/surfer dude Caley Carr has a serious mustache, and a real surfer attitude.  He’s all joy and smiles and California goofiness, a kindred spirit to Bill of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame.  He teaches dance, tends bar, and surfs.  AND to everyone’s surprise, he’s a tap dancer.  And what’s more, he danced – he made music along with – Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and it’s magical.  As Jesse says, he’s a crazy mash up of a person, and it’s so much fun.  I have real trouble imagining him in a partnered dance, but he was almost improbably enjoyable. Choreography for you, dude!

Itsy bitsy 18 year old Megan Branch has the full support of her single mom (in your face, Sam Lenaz) who works long hours to support Megan’s dance habit.  She dances to Bjork’s “The Hunter,” and immediately I can’t help but think that Sonja Tayeh would love her.  Sure, she’s small, but she’s full of fierce, spidery attitude, and she does this insane flip move that shows you she’s really strong.  Her routine is clearly much better choreographed than Sam’s, but she brings the passion to it the judges thought Sam lacked.  Nigel calls her a little firecracker, and you can tell immediately that she also brings the fun with an outgoing personality.  I can’t help thinking she’s a real contender. Mary likens her to a soft, light butterfly, and they usher her off to Vegas (with time for a huge hug for mom first).

Joining her in Vegas are two wavy haired curvy girls who we see in a montage.  One of them has long hair, and the other has a bit of a pin up hairstyle, and that’s all I can really tell you, except they were both psyched to go through.

And then we get something rather unexpected – Cole Horibe from Hawaii, who mixes martial arts with dance and looks like Bruce Lee if you put him in a taffy pull and stretched. We’re momentarily afraid that his “emotionless Shaolin assassin” routine will leave the judges cold, but he does bring an emotional content to it; he’s fierce and pitiless rather than merely robotic.  He’s also blindingly fast, shows impressive control, and works the entire floor.  Mary’s blown away.  Once Cole confesses that he’s also studied jazz, hip hop, contemporary and individual ballroom disciplines (among other styles) and won a silver medal in the Junior Olympics, the judges send him flying to Vegas.  If he lives up to that hype, he’s got a good shot the top twenty on stylistic diversity alone.  I mean, heck, what do they even call what he just did?

Continuing the theme of head scratching auditions, we meet David Matz, circus artist.  Seriously.  The guy is smoking hot, and lives in a loft with other sexy cool circus performers doing a hipster version of the old art.  Stilts, silks, tumbling, fire stunts – they fascinate me.  David’s specialty is something called a sear wheel – he does a haunting, lyrical, incredibly controlled and mesmerizing performance turning in a large metal hoop.  (The previews lead us to believe it’s going to be lit on fire, but thankfully for the Orpheum’s wooden stage, it isn’t.)  Sometimes he lets it go and then rejoins in; in one nausea inducing sequence, he spins vertically, so he’s sometimes parallel to the floor.  It’s mindboggling, but the judges can’t remotely assess his dance abilities, so he’s sent to choreography with their thanks for sharing his unusual talent.

I don’t know about you, but I kind of wanted to smack goofy Stephen Jacobsen in the face from the moment he and his poser hair announced he was going to be doing a contemporary spin on ballet that he came up with the night before the audition in his hotel room.  Dude.  For real?  After getting the audience to ogle his muscly, hairless torso, and doing a flat out terrible attempt at God knows what, Stephen seems like a goner despite having studied ballet for 17 of his 22 years.  Nigel stops him so he can yell a bit.  Don’t you dance somewhere good?  He does; the Cincinnati Ballet.  (Wow, Alex Wong seems to be inspiring drop outs from all sorts of serious companies!)  So Nigel makes him dance again, and even though it’s just a series of moves strung together, we can see that Stephen is gifted.  The awkward, gawky fellow gets his ticket, but I don’t know if I can recover from being this annoyed with him.  Still it’s just awesome to see we have 4 fantastic ballet dancers in just the first three cities.

Next up, a trio of somewhat familiar faces – an unnamed contemporary dancer who’s made Vegas five times, an Asian b-girl (I can’t remember her name – Hiro, maybe? – but I think I adored her), and – was that Teddy from Boston?  Sigh.  I think they’re all successful.

Former contestant Jonathan Anzalone (b boy from Milan) wants America to know he’s no longer the arrogant prat who caused Mia to make a really unfortunate Freudian slip in season 4.  He used to have hair, and it used to be good. His flares are incredible, but the rest of his b boying isn’t as astounding, and there’s this ridiculous segment where Nigel gets a somewhat heavy girl from the audience to dance with Jonathan – something that proves to me, if no one else, that the b boy would only focus on the camera and not his partner.  The 25 year old gets a shot at choreography anyway.

And now we have the real sob story of the night.  Adorable 18 year old Jasmine Mason‘s used to watching her brother Marshea audition, which he’s done successfully for the last three years.  Has anyone else noticed that we don’t see the plain/average looking people who’re auditioning?  There are plenty of them in the audience.  We can see from his clip that Marshea was one of the average looking-masses – I don’t remember seeing his previous auditions, and I wonder whether they’ve shown him or not.  Not that we see so most of the successful auditions anyhow.   Anyhow, the very pretty Jasmine explains that she and Marshea were coming home from the studio where they teach 6 weeks ago when a car swerved at them out of nowhere.  He turned to her, said “don’t worry, you’ll be okay,” and spun the car so that the impact was absorbed entirely on the driver’s side.


Their  mother takes up the tale to say that her son was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident – but was taken to the hospital, where he turned out to be alive, first in a coma, then with a fractured neck.   BUT?  He’s here.  Now.  Ready to dance.

First up is jazz dancer Jasmine, utterly winning, another potential Sonja favorite.  Nigel makes sure to remark on how much better looking she is than her brother.  She dances to Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” (so memorably covered by Joshua Ledet on American Idol earlier this month) and I love the song and her crazy hair and massive smile and the whole dang thing.  It’s incredibly sexy, mature and classic with some impressive tumbling.  Vegas, baby!

Finally,  big brother Marshea Kidd brings down the house with his scarred face and shaved head and his R. Kelly old school sounding groove.  Mary stops him and just holds up the ticket, wordless.  You have to feel like this is as much for his incredible recovery and story as for his dancing (not that it isn’t impressive), but hey, they know what he’s capable of.  And damn, it’s amazing that he’s walking, let alone dancing.  So good for you, Marshea!  The two bounce off under the arms of their supportive mother.

And after all this, we get to find out the results of choreography: David the circus artist quits because this isn’t his metier, Caley, Johnny and Jonathan can’t cut it, but motherless child Sam Lenaz makes it through, as do 20 other dancers including someone who looks like past auditioner Arielle Coker, and some boy who accidentally flips under a car while celebrating outside.  He’s okay, though!  It’s all good!  On to Atlanta next week.


2 comments on “So You Think You Can Dance: Season 9 – L.A. Auditions

  1. I’m really enjoying the auditions this year — there seems to be less of a “freak show” factor. (It’s still there at times, but I’m not fast-forwarding as much as I used to. And I’m crying more.)

    I’ll be counting on your recaps when I go to England. Or maybe I can find a way to download the eps? Legally? Hmmmm.

    • E says:

      I think they’ve been doing really well with the auditions, too – much less mockery, and I’m definitely in favor. I will do my best to really get into describing the dances themselves while you’re gone! (In general, of course, but it’s nice to have extra motivation.)

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