E: I need to go to the Rockies. I mean, wow, how much more beautiful could they be? Aside from icy mountains, Salt Lake had a few things to offer we haven’t seen in any other audition city – most notably, ballroom dancers! Finally! Where have you been all season, ballroom? I am so, so happy to see you again. This time, when Mary goes through her list of no nos (booty shaking, self-love, reaching) guest judge Adam Shankman mimes each one along with her. Awesome. I love Adam; he cries even more than I do, which is a real feat.
First up, latin ballroom bombshell Witney Carson. The self-styled sexy and sensual 18 year old (why do people always insist on that redundant pairing of adjectives? gah) has been dancing for 10 years, and even if she wasn’t the first of the day, you could predict from the film of her as a kid that she’s going to be spectacular. But. Was anyone else weirded out by those braces, and the little childish lisp that goes with them? It’s such an unsettling contrast to her full on va va va voom dancing I can’t hold it all together in my head comfortably.
Witney commands attention from the moment she and her improbably 16 year old partner take the stage. She’s not perfect, and she looks at the judges a bit much for my taste, but damn. When she’s fully present in her dance, it’s pretty spectacular; she’s fast and strong and radiates sexiness. In her best moments, you get the feeling she’s dancing for herself, not just for you, which makes it that much more sexy. I can’t think how good she’s going to get if this is her at 18. Adam calls her a femme fatale, and Nigel notes that her dad is going to have his hands full; I don’t doubt he does already. Nigel also compares Witney to former contestant/All Star Anya, which is dead on. For the first time this season, the hot tamale train pulls into the station, and the crowd goes into a complete lather. Adam ends the judging by saying he’s a slave for Witney, who cracks an imaginary whip and flashes a huge, brace filled smile before getting sent straight through; I can’t help but think she’s a real contender, especially if she can get those braces off before the live shows.
After spending an inordinate amount of time on a aeronautical engineer turned hippie who was too old to compete anyway (but can tell us it’s never too late to throw over a great career in search of one’s actualization), we meet Deanna “Dee” Tomasetta, a 19 year old blond contemporary dancer with a huge and over protective Italian family. (I had to crack up when she tried to convince her flotilla of large male cousins that she doesn’t have time to date; “right now dance is my boyfriend,” she declares.) And oh! It’s not just because she’s from the fantastic state of Massachusetts that I say this; this girl was tremendous. Adorned in a royal blue babydoll dress, dancing to the strains of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Dee was a river of motion, all flexibility and control and fluidity, a bird pivoting and twirling in the sky. It was one of the best choreographed pieces we’ve seen in the auditions, and she took each movement (fast, slow, angry, sad, loving) to its full potential. I loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. And I loved Dee, loved her humility and genuine emotion at the judges’ praise. I wanted to hug her, and never more than when she made her emotional phone call home. “Guess what?” she asks. “You’re going to Vegas?” quavers the supportive voice on the other side. “Yes, Gram,” she sobs, trying to hold it in. Don’t mess with her, Nigel; that cigar smoking Uncle who called her the best dancer in the country looked a little intimidating to me.
At the end of an “unusual styles” montage featuring Brazilian samba and a fire slinger, we meet Gene Lonardo, 22, who’s sure he’s come up with a unique memorable theme for a routine; the life cycle of a male praying mantis. Scrawny, spangled Gene has moss on his right eyebrow and 5 kinds of green glitter on his left, and he opens his eyes really wide when he talks and raises his eyebrows because he desperately wants you to listen and like him; he’s practically panting with it, he’s so eager. “How’re you going to lose your head, my friend?” Cat asks him, and he promises an exciting and gruesome end. All this makes me think he’s going to be a train wreck, but oh no, he most certainly is not. Dude is fabulous! Honestly, genuinely fabulous, very Sonya (funny that we don’t say that about any of the other choreographers, right? no one’s mentioned as an obvious stylistic fit for Christopher Scott or Dee Kaspary), very creepy cool. I have doubts about his ability to partner, but he’s certainly strong enough to lift himself in more than a few spectacular moves, and flexible enough to then drop into splits, so I’m not going to bet on where he ends up, other than Vegas.
Then we have yet another beautiful blond 18 year old Latin ballroom dancer, this one the glowingly wholesome Lindsay Arnold who lives in Provo with her 3 equally blond dancer sisters (anyone else confuse her mother for a 4th beautiful blond sister?) and combines contemporary, jazz, ballet and hip hop into her ballroom style. I don’t exactly see how that would work if she’s a competition dancer, but okay. Lindsay takes the stage with confidence, fabulous posture, and a huge cheering section. I’m shocked that Nigel passed up the chance to have the whole gorgeous blond bevy at the judges table! She’s super engaging as a personality, but I didn’t find Lindsay’s choreography showed her off the way Witney’s did; maybe it was the music. She has blazing fast feet, though, and amazing legs, and when Mary compares her to fellow fresh faced Utahan Julianne Hough we find out she gets that a lot. Mary thinks she has championship potential, and enough So You Think You Can Dance potential to send her straight through to Vegas.
The day, in fact, turns out to be “strictly ballroom.” (Do yourself a favor and see that movie if you haven’t yet, ‘kay?) We see someone start to dance the tango, another pair with a rumba, and a cute little blond girls tells us that her style is – krump? Cue skidding record noise…
Once Adam is done with his spit take, we find out that cute little Mariah Spears, 18, feels powerful, dominant and in control of her life when she krumps. And to the shock of the judges, she’s got a highly believable stank face, and she pulls the whole thing off. Baby girl is seriously hard hitting! The dissonance between her appearance and style is exacerbated by her tendency to giggle and hunch her shoulders and flutter about shyly when she’s not dancing. The actual routine was not as inventive as they’d prefer, so the judges send her to choreography instead of straight through. I don’t know about you, but I liked her immensely, from her baggy shorts to her checkered vest, from the giggles to the stankface. Apparently it’s a good year for blond 18 year olds in Utah…
22 year old Murphy Yang has a shock of blue hair, and immediately blasts you with his sweetness and his underdog status. Frustrated that he refused to pursue law or medicine as a career, Yang’s family moved to California without him and essentially told him he was dead to them. Ouch. We see him walking around an old – is that a grainery? warehouse? covered with graffiti, grasping at the show as a life line, a way to prove to his parents that dance can be an actual career. He’s got a bow tie, and a darling supportive girlfriend who saved him from being homeless, and does a cute hip hop/contemporary fusion to “I Won’t Dance (Don’t Ask Me)” which is really entertaining. He doesn’t have the world’s most perfect technique, and there’s dead space in the routine (he doesn’t know how to make transitions yet) but what is there is immensely charming. He’s someone you want to hug, too; Adam almost loses it, and there’s no almost about the supportive girlfriend, Kyley, who blubbers in the audience. Murphy’s got VEGAS? written on his abs, but the judges send him to choreography instead.
18 dancers get the chance at choreography; krumper Mariah just kills it with a hard hitting hip hop edge, but poor sweet formerly homeless Murphy can’t pick up the moves, and doesn’t make it. His distress is gut-wrenching. I almost hate the show for giving him to us only to take him away.
Deep breaths. Okay. Day Two.
To begin the final day of auditions, we meet this morning’s stand out, 19 year old Dareian Kujawa, a confident, shirtless Hawaiian by way of Minnesota and Nevada. He tells us the story of losing his home, and living in a one bedroom apartment with his whole family which impacted his ability to focus on school, but finding salvation once he dedicated himself to dance. And you can see from his naked torso that he’s certainly fit. He starts with a twisty roll into a feather light leap; he’s crazy flexible for a guy, he’s got spins for days, and just the way he rises to his feet is a marvel, as if he were a puppet on a string. He’s also living the piece beautifully with the music, Otis Reading’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” (It’s a tangent, but I love learning Otis Reading’s ballads – for so long I thought of him as the guy who sang “Shout” in Animal House, but his lesser known romantic stuff – this and “That’s How Strong My Love Is” – is glorious too.)
Okay. Tangent over. Nigel thinks Dareian is great but has lousy feet; they joke about how his teacher despairs of him. Whatever. I barely noticed even when they played it back. I’m sure they’re right, it just does not distract a non-professional from being wowed. Mary coos over his combination of heart, passion and abs, and Adam howls “Who are you?” Vegas, baby. Very well deserved from another possible contender.
I won’t go too far with them except to say that Whitney Hallam and Johnny Ahn make it to choreography after their unfortunately uninspired ballroom. I really want there to be more ballroom, and I liked 19 year old Lady Gaga look-alike Whitney a lot, but I could have done without the extreme focus on Ahn’s quest to date more women (picking up the jerk’s confidence without actually being a jerk). They’re a new partnership, and while their lifts were excellent, I can’t helping thinking that Hallam will improve a lot with experience, while Ahn at 29 might have already reached his peak. Sadly, for me it was a peak of irritation (sometimes ballroom can verge on total cheese, and that’s where he is even without the dating course foolishness), but still.
The next montage included a round of “familiar” faces – none of whom I particularly remembered. Names would have helped, producers! What is your problem, seriously? Is someone in the editing room too lazy to put out a caption? Super, super annoying; of all the previous annoyingly nameless montages, this one actively pisses me off. Making it through to Vegas is a tall, dark and beautifully naked man (we see him auditioning before Mary and Robin Antin; must go back and see if we learned his name back then*) who got cut last year at the green mile, and a perky blond with a pixie cut who also almost made it. I’m so frustrated not to know who they are! Then there’s a ballroom dancer who’s been to Vegas 5 times (and also has three small sons under the age of 5; now that’s a busy lady); she gets to go again. The last time we saw her, she was blond, so maybe that’s why I can’t remember her name?
But I don’t have any trouble remember bean pole Adrian Lee, now 22, who danced so memorably with Lauren Froderman during the season 7 auditions. He had the misfortune of trying out during that misbegotten 10 contestant season which was so brutal half the cast got injured; I’m glad the show’s reconfigured the All Star concept, but man, I still feel sorry for the way they cut that season’s cast down to only ten performers. Like Ryan Ramirez, poor Adrian was one of the hardest cuts. He so clearly would have made the top twenty if there had been one. He and his family were apparently too wrecked for him to try out last season (dummy); in fact, he didn’t tell anyone he was going this time. The curly haired fellow weeps through his interview with Cat.
The crowd goes absolutely bonkers when also-ran walks on stage. After giving poor Mary a horrible guilt trip for delivering the news, and altogether talking too much (I say that with love), Adrian performs a self choreographed piece to “Try a Little Tenderness.” I am so loving all the classic R&B! And I do really love Adrian Lee, cracks about his weepiness aside. He’s musical and funny and tall and strong and pretty wonderful, although when he tries to evoke tenderness, he does it by gently stroking his own face and neck and you know that’s not going to go over well. It doesn’t, but they send him through anyway. Because he’s just that good. Mary hands him a second ticket to bring along his mom, hoping to make up for coming into her home and dashing her son’s dreams in front of her face. “The second ticket’s coach,” Nigel notes. Ha!
After showing us two amazing prospects (brunette in lace top, waif like boy I’d have hugely crushed on in junior high) without telling us their names – growl – we meet another of the acts they’ve been teasing all night – jazz burlesque dancer/Alicia Silverstone in an Aerosmith video type Rachel Applehans. I love the way her last name sounds like “apple hands” but I could have done without the lingerie. She’s sexy, absolutely, although I’m not sure how I feel about the Betty Boop trick she keeps doing, putting her hands coyly in front of her mouth. And she definitely doesn’t pack the wallop of Witney Carson. She does some self consciously slow splits and lots of slow walking and then silly running around and so much hairography I don’t even know what to say; she wants to make Nigel uncomfortable (shades of last season’s Jordan). Good luck with that. Adam almost wishes he were straight, but Nigel, impressively, explains there wasn’t enough actual dance in her routine. Nigel, I’m proud of you. She’s off to choreography.
Finally, a chubby fellow in a Peacemakers t-shirt and sparkly pinstriped baseball cap comes out. 29 year old Leo Martinez was saved by Peacemakers (an after school program for at risk kids), and now he volunteers there teaching dance. He’s got a little beard, and a round, joyful face, and his hip hop is surprisingly, hugely entertaining. He vogues, he pops his man boobs, he flips, he does the robot, he does a headstand; the crowds screams with pleasure. Adam of course cries and give a variation of Jack Nicholson’s “you make me want to be a better man” speech from As Good As It Gets. Warning Leo that it will probably be too hard for him, Nigel nonetheless sends the fellow on to choreography.
Where, hilariously, he’s paired with Applehans! Ah, I could laugh for a week. Their approaches could not be more different. And to everyone’s surprise, he does in fact pick up the choreography. Not well enough to go to Vegas, but still, everybody loved him, and he’s gotten a lot of press for his worthy organization, so he’s beaming with pride anyway. How cute are those dimples? Don’t you just wanna give him a squeeze? He tells Cat he’d have asked for a hug, but is too sweaty. She laughs at this foolish objection; do you know how many people’s sweat I have on me by this stage of the day, she asks him. I adore that girl. Cartoon birds really do braid her hair. Ballroom couple Johnny and Whitney don’t dance well enough with other people and get the boot (though I do hope Whitney comes back). Rachel Applehans, on the other hand, is told that she’s fabulous and sloppy by turns, and they’re going to go for the fabulous. I don’t see her as a contender, but I’ll enjoy saying her name for a least another week.
And that’s it! We’re on to Vegas! Vegas, the land of crushed hopes, tears and ambulances. Sonya Tayeh gets to meet those dancers who fit her style. In the footage, we get to see a lot of Witney and Adrian and last week’s Glitch. I can’t wait! Thoughts on who’ll make it through? Share them below.
(Edited to say: nearly naked man, per my notes from last year, is named Chase Thomas.)