E: Cat tried a new dance style! Do I really need to say more than that? Okay, fine. What Mary said: “gonna be a good episode – hee hee hee.”
In wintery Detroit, the team has dancers in the snow, under crumbing buildings and in front of graffittied walls. Getting the gritty picture? Good. At the old Fillmore theater, Nigel and Mary are joined by the handsome and delightful wTitch. Have we ever had a former contestant judge the auditions before? I have to say, I really do enjoy some of the celebrity superfans of the show (most notably Christina Applegate, because she’s articulate, she’s helmed a Broadway show and while she may not be best-known as a dancer, she knows dance) but I really prefer when they bring in the experts. Debbie Allen, Toni Basil, Benjamin Millepied, Mia Michaels, you know what I mean. But at least in the context of the show, I’m cool with tWitch as an expert. He’s got a lot to say, he’s really supportive in how he says it (even when he’s turning someone down) and of course he has a fantastic appreciation of street dance.
Speaking of which, our first dancer of the Detroit auditions is Jade Zuberi, aged 21, who wants to bend his audience’s reality – to put us Alices in Wonderland. What’s better is that he has the chops to do it – he delivers some stuttery, wonderful animation. His ability to control his isolations – from his legs to his arms to his throat to his jaw – is definitely outside the ordinary. There’s a point where he looks like a mime, and another where he bends his arms behind his his back, leans over and waves them as if he were a pop/locking octopus, and it’s really super cool. During the entire routine, tWitch goes nuts (and he should know how hard that is to do) and calls it one of the best auditions he’s ever seen in the entire run of the show. Because he’s not just a former contestant, y’all, he’s a superfan, and he’s seen it all. To the thrill of the crowd, Jade gets a ticket to Vegas.
That’s another thing I love about this show. Dancers love other dancers. They take such extravagant joy in discovering what other people can do. There’s nothing small or mean in it, and it makes what they do even more beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful, the next dancer up is 19 year old Amy Yakima, an uber-perky girl whose Dad learned jazz because he’s wrapped around her little finger. I’m sounding snarky, maybe, but they really were adorable, not least when Nigel forced Dad to get on the stage and do some jazz squares. Big points for being game, Dr. Daddy! Amy has two sisters who look exactly like her (yes I know one them was a blonde, but the face? uncanny), and they and both parents all cry with pride as Amy flies around the stage. And when I say fly, I mean it. She dances to something very emotional in French, and she just throws it all out there. The height she gets in her leaps is spectacular. Thank God you’re good, Nigel sighs in relief; he’d have felt really guilty forcing her dad into embarrassing himself on stage if she hadn’t been – but she is, so he can embarrass dad all he wants. Mary got goosebumps, Nigel praises her extension and retraction, and tWitch tells her with complete sincerity that while he doesn’t speak French, she was the language of the song. Damn. Someone has serious game.
He’s also completely good-humored about the next dancer, one Morgan “Mo” Williams, 22, a contemporary dancer who claims to have better abs than the notoriously fit tWitch (and just might). After that start I want to dislike him – tWitch is much better-natured than I am – but everything about his performance is long and lovely. His leaps and spins and leaping spins are all majestic – and I know I said it before, but the dude has really really long lines. Even his music is lovely. Nigel suggests sending him to choreography (really?) which prompts Mary to leap to her feet crying “over my dead body” and hold out a ticket.
It turns out that Detroit is one of those cities that has its own regional style of street dancing – this is jitting (or the Detroit Jit) . We get a really fun tutorial (fast feet, fast arms) and even Cat gets in on the action. She’s so ridiculously adorable! Also pretty great is a 27 year old practitioner of jitting (a jit-ter?) names Will “Sysco” Green. He’s full of humor and charm and really impressive skill – his feet are blinding. He starts by sitting on a folding chair and immediately leaps backward (I don’t even know how he can do this) so that he’s in a plange on top of the chair. Superman! Everyone loves it. When he’s finished, Sysco tells Nigel that he can do other kinds of dancing – he’s really good at the hip roll! Er, somehow I think Nigel meant Latin ballroom or jazz, but okay. Mary’s game enough to sit on the chair (wow, sexy boots, Mary!) while Sysco sexes her up; to no one’s surprise, Mary hams it up big time when Sysco gets all up in her personal space.
I have to admit it, the street dancers are a conundrum. I’d have said that was good enough to go straight through to Vegas, but the judges want to see choreography. And I get that, I guess, because very few of the street dancers can make it with choreography and so why waste the ticket, but still, he seemed really excellent and musical to me, and it’s not as if they send all the street dancers to choreography.
After we waste a great deal of time on 26 year old Garrett Frye – politely, but still – we move to choreography, where Sysco forgets the steps and freestyles, causing Nigel to stop the dance and yell at him for endangering his partner. 8 other people make it through, including a street dancer who flips in celebration. I wish we’d spent time with him instead of the genial non-dancer Frye. With finish the day with something pretty special, though – a solo from tWitch. Nice!
Day 2 begins with my favorite auditioner of the first two episodes – tapper Tyrone Cobham Jr, an 18 year old who lives with his adorable grandmother. He’s all about using his arms, he tells us, which makes him unusual for a tapper; he mesmerizes me, his grandmother tells us. And he mesmerizes the audience, too; they explode into cheers at his slightest movement. There’s something so easy and an unaffected about him – he’s loose and smiling and laid back, at times languid and at others energetic. I can’t even believe that he’s only 18. The judges let him take his song all the way through, and when he’s done, the crowd chants for him – I can’t tell if they’re saying his name or begging him not to stop, but I totally get it. Nigel’s beside himself that a tapper is getting this kind of response, and both he and Mary say that Tyrone’s as good (if not better) than any tapper we’ve had on the show (and we’ve had excellent ones). Further, Mary thinks that Tyrone could be one of the all time tap greats; the comment makes Tyrone cry. “I wish I could be as smooth in everyday life as you just were,” the super smooth tWitch proclaims, “making music with your feet.” Of course they put him straight through.
Probably because of adorable Grandma Cobham, the producers have cobbled together a montage of people with fun families. We like the families. First there’s a sexy/wholesome blonde contemporary dancer with a weeping, devoted military dad, who whoops (making me slightly uncomfortable) when she dances and weeps when she gets put through to Vegas. There’s another perky brunette (but never fear, her hair is bigger than Amy Yakima’s so they’re easy to tell apart) whose three brothers have painted her first name (Briana) on their naked chests in blue and yellow; she too goes through, though the paint is worn off quite a bit by that point. Did she have to wait for choreography, or have the brothers been hugging a lot of people? Then there’s a Caucasian-looking girl with an Asian grandma. The girl does hip hop and b girling moves, and she’s awesome and does lots of flips, and as cute as Grandma was hugging Cat and doing Gangnam style with the judges, what I really want to know is whether the granddaughter made it to Vegas. They never say! Seriously. We get so many b girls that we can afford to ignore them? (Why is that, do you think? Is it really that girls don’t dance that style, or is that the really good ones get lots of work in hip hop videos and tours and as the token girl on dance crews so they don’t need this show?) You couldn’t even tell us her name? Bah.
Mary takes us to commercial, giggling about what a good episode it’ll be (seriously, I hope they use that sound clip all season) and Cat welcomes us back from a factory line. Nice. I like that they picked trucks. It’s so American auto industry. We finish the night with a dance crew who moonlights as exotic dancers, kind of a hilariously inventive career move. We’re only introduced to two of the five man crew, skinny but incredibly buff fellows named Darryl “Smilez” Harrell and 20 year old DeFonte “Prince Charming” Thomas. (Two of the other three could fill the Mark Addy role in the Full Monty cast, which might explain the show’s lack of interest?) 20 year old DeFonte actually has “Prince Charming” tattooed across his shoulders and collar bones. They’re both really winning – Smilez tells us that he was krumping in the womb before ably demonstrating it in the present, and Prince Charming gets – and gives – a lot of guff for starting lying on his back in the middle of the stage. (He sings along with the song, which is somewhere between adorable and unprofessional, and he combines nice isolations with something resembling African jazz.) These two are put through to choreography, which is as hard to pick up as you’d guess for untrained dancers; during the rehearsal Smilez looks like he’s catching on and Charming isn’t, but the reverse turns out to be true. Prince Charming, you’re going to Vegas! Better luck next year, Smilez.
Next week, we’ll see the second day of the L.A. auditions (huh?) and meet guest judge Minnie Drive (huh?) in Austin Texas. Alrighty. See you then, dance fans!