E: I have to admit it. I am really, really excited about Season 10. When I think about all the dancers I’ve seen through the last few week, and the ones we just saw in Memphis? Yeah. This is going to be good. Are you ready for the latest – and last – batch? I am!
Also, I remember why I used to be such a fan of Wayne Brady’s before he got so over exposed and game show-y, even if he’s not particularly qualified to judge a dance competition.
As noted above, Wayne Brady of Whose Line Is It Anyway fame – excellent singer, ham, and former husband of a dancer – rounds out the judging panel with The Big Boss Man (and former dancer) Nigel Lithgoe and the Conductor of the Hot Tamale Train, ballroom dancer Mary Murphy. The Memphis Orpheum looks like a fun theater, from the ornate decorations to the vaulted arches and the cityscape scrim.
The producers always set us up with a great audition to start each day, and this last round of auditions is no exception. The moment the dancer walks on stage, I think of last year’s Boris Penton – one of Cyrus’s buddies from the Dragon House crew – because he’s got two blue stripes on his dyed blond hair, and a light blue patch in between. And get out of town – he’s another member of Dragon House! Sweet-faced Dorian “BluPrint” Hector, 19, lets us know that last year, the actual Dragon House was a tiny apartment where the dancers all lived together, but now – presumably thanks to Cyrus’s appearance on the show – they live in a sprawling mansion. Wow. Hope you didn’t overspend, Cyrus, but it’s lovely to see that everyone has space and can dance together in less cramped quarters. And, oooooh, it’s awesome to get a shot of Brian Gaynor dancing it up! Love him.
BluPrint, who has come to us wearing blue jeans, a blue sweatshirt and blue sneakers as well as the multi-toned blue hair, tells us that his personal style of animation is that of a broken robot. I don’t know if I would agree with that, exactly, but what he does flat out astounds me. It’s not Cyrus’s incremental movement – his motions are big and fluid and he’s got the most incredible retractions. (What? You know, like in the jive – moving fast and then pulling your limb back. Get your mind out of the gutter.) It’s so cool, and filled with great touches of cocky (but not too cocky) humor – just what you’d expect from Dragon House. He gets up on his toes, and he does the most amazing thing where he sails across the floor on one foot, smooth and silky. The judges, of course, go nuts, and Wayne coos “you make me so happy” because Mary screams and whistles and cusses and puts BluPrint on the train. Really, she’s all about the train tickets in Memphis, so get ready. Not to be outdone, Nigel says he’s got no idea whether or not BluPrint will go home the first day in Vegas because he can’t do choreography – but he doesn’t give a bleep. BluPrint, you’re going to Vegas!
Next up is 18 year old Curtis Holland the machine gun tapper, who aims to be the fastest tap dancer who ever lived. The speed is seriously fun to listen to, and dude is on, full throttle, and just all around adorable. You know what it is? He’s like a cartoon character. Like a cartoon mouse. He’s Mighty Mouse or Speedy Gonzalez. I suppose his music has something to do with this impression, though the hamming it up, getting the crowd into it, drumming, pretending to roll up his sleeves, side stepping around the stage contribute as well. I really enjoyed it. Wayne Brady feels compelled to walk on stage and hug Curtis; “I want him as my little brother.” A little to my surprise, as soon as this lovely moment’s over everyone informs Curtis that his personality is stronger than his routine, that he needs to add more dynamics to his act, and that he’s committed the cardinal sin of not pandering to the judges during the routine. He was too joyfully in his own head – he needs to acknowledge their presence. I can see how that would be a problem, but that didn’t come across to me at home, and I watched it several times to be sure. Were they upset that he turned his back to them for a few moments? It’s off to choreography for you, whippersnapper!
When we return from commercial, we get the usual montage of dancers waiting in line. How cool is that girl’s hair – it’s silvery with purple edges! Love it. Will we get to meet her? Probably not. We do get to meet ringlet topped contemporary dancer Tucker Knox, 22, a Juilliard student who suffered broken back and sternum in a horrible car wreck. Eek. Sometimes I get annoyed when the producers try so blatantly to make us sympathize with particular contestants (and it definitely annoys me that they have him explain that Juilliard is a really good school – ugh!), but listening to Tucker’s parents describe receiving a phone call from him, and Mom keeping him on the line while Dad went out searching for his son? Oh my gosh. (Now, granted, part of me was screaming “you didn’t call 911?” but it was really harrowing, especially when Mr. Knox found Tucker’s car but not Tucker. Yikes.) They didn’t know whether he would live, or whether he would even walk again – but determination and physical therapy have brought Tucker back to dance (and a ridiculous perfect body). How long are his limbs, seriously? It’s also incredible how straight he can make them. What he shows us is deeply felt and deeply emotional, extremely acrobatic and hugely flexible. He does this awesome flip/forward cartwheel thing where his hands don’t touch the ground and he lands in a controlled sitting position, one leg straight out and the other bent. Really cool. And he gets big points with me for dancing to Ray LaMontagne’s achingly beautiful “Let It Be Me.” It’s Vegas for this practically perfect dancer.
It’s montage time! Three other contemporary dancers make it to Vegas – a sexy brunette, a guy who manages as amazing split, and a second girl who’s sick flexible. For real, her spine must be made of rubber.
And now it is time for some extreme cuteness. 18 year old Courtney Thurston doesn’t have one of those nasty dance moms we’re always hearing about – she has a Dance Dad! Looks like she was abandoned by her mother almost from birth, and Dad took over everything, just wanting his little girl to be happy and escape the negativity of his failed marriage. And Courtney is very blond and very sweet and definitely very happy. Dance saved me from everything, she reports through proud tears. Aw. In fact, when she goes to dance, she asks to lay down her “lucky pig” on the stage first, which looks like – but probably isn’t – one of the game pieces from this surprisingly fun game and it’s the damn cutest thing. Her dancing to Celine Dion is enthusiastic and likable, her spins whirl far faster than normal, and she has one super neat spin into a split, but largely what sticks with me is her joyful personality and of course her adorably enthusiastic Dad, who sasses the judges, gets called up on the stage where he lays down his own lucky pig (aw!) and bounces around pumping up the crowd rather than actually dancing. (Well, okay, he has a few moves – but mostly you can see he knows where his skill set is.) Oh yeah – there’s also the fact that he eventually married her dance teacher. Cute Courtney gets her ticket.
And she’s followed by a montage of bad dancing, including an animator who tries to be animals. Particularly a monkey eating a banana. “That’s very primate specific, ” Wayne Brady observes, looking for something polite to say.
We spend a lot of time with the very adorable 25 year old Shanshan Qiao-Rothlisberger, who does a Mongolian bowl dance which is traditionally performed with the bowls full of horses’ milk, or horse milk tea. Thanks in all likelihood to a smart producing assistant, Nigel gets to read the name of the dance off his notes (ding wan wu?) and sound like he’s independently familiar with it. The genius of this audition is that, with her accent, everyone from a delighted, shrieking Cat to a deeply confused Nigel thinks she’s saying whore’s milk, not horse’s milk – and they milk that for all it’s worth. There’s a less successful bit about how she married the Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback (she didn’t; her husband is slight and nerdy sweet with cheery Mary Murphy style cheekbones) but it’s still all charming.
Robed in raspberry silk and white cotton, Shanshan’s begins by undulating across the stage, her arms rippling like waves. It’s gorgeous. One by one she puts the bowls atop her head, keeping those bowls centered while lowering herself to the floor, spinning, leaning over and bringing one leg up above her head. It’s nuts – and what amazes me is that she’s so smooth at the same time that her movements are clearly articulated, which seems an unlikely combination. At one point she actually passes the bowls behind her back like she’s the Harlem Globetrotter of Mongolian horse’s milk. It’s quite splendid, and obviously her balance is glorious. The judges throw around concepts like serenity, tranquility, liquidity and grace – but because what she’s done is so particular, they want to see her do the choreography. This mightily displeases the audience. “Listen, Jerry Springer-audience,” Brady quips, “this isn’t So You Think You Can Yell.”
Just as 18 year old Nico Greetham is above to begin his audition, Nigel’s distracted by a yell from the audience. It’s Nico’s Colombian mother calling out to her “Papi.” She’s a hoot, utterly confident in her hollering. She’s also hot, Nigel observes, intimating that if he gets set up with the mother, Nico might get set up with a ticket. It turns out, however, that Nico (a blond who inherited his mother’s slim frame and amazing cheekbones) doesn’t need the help. His piece combines elements of jazz with contemporary and hip hop – it’s very fast slow, fast slow, with a fiery, sharp intensity spiked by moments of coy flirtation. Flicking his legs up behind his back and over his head, Nico speeds like a snake. Mary begins a terrible imitation of Nico’s mother, saying that his piece ended too soon, screeching, but her “Papi” sounds like “Puppy,” which makes me laugh. That made her change languages, Nico laughs, and he comes across as sweet rather than haughty, which is a plus. You can see him being a huge hit with young girls. “Puppy on the train!” Mary yells. And where does the train go? There’s only one destination: Vegas.
Day One’s final contestant is Elyse Frelinger, 23, an aspiring dancer and trapeze instructor from the Santa Monica pier. (Okay, this is yet another instance where I wonder why she’s flown all the way to Memphis when she clearly lives in the L.A. area! Mr. E suggests the fear that she wouldn’t stand out enough in L.A? I’m sure she could have been busy during that audition weekend, but it seems so silly. Damn you, show, why don’t you ask these questions for me?) At any rate, the footage of her on the trapeze is super cool, and I love her explanation of the joy of dance mirroring the joy of free fall. In that sense, she reminds me a little of aerialist Eliana.
Dancing to this lovely bit of music, Elyse just blew me away. First, it’s a really well choreographed piece with its own spirit and terrific dynamics and pacing, and second, she’s just got a beautiful smoothness. She starts on her back with her legs folded up (mostly where they’d be if she were sitting cross legged with her feet in her hands) and then rolls around a bit, moving to a standing position through ridiculously long twisting handstand. Her control takes my breath away. There’s a wonderful abandon to her work as well – languid and captivating – and she does the same walk over/flip to sitting move that Tucker did (except she uses her hands during the walkover). “She’s even better than me,” my four year enthuses. Nigel observes that he didn’t hear her land once. Somehow forgetting about Tucker, Mary remarks on the walkover flip (she’s never seen anything like that before! umm…) and how Elyse melted into the floor like butter. Well, this dairy goodness is going to Vegas.
And that brings us to Sasha, Marko, and the choreography round. Donning a red fringe dress, Shanshan works hard, as does tapper Curtis, and – hmmm – the unnamed contemporary guy from the “good nameless auditions” montage. Though the judges try to fake both of them out, they’re both through. Hurrah! And that’s the end of Day One.
And here we are in Day Two, the last day of the Season 10 auditions. What, me feeling sentimental? Never! We start the day off right as ever with Latin ballroom champion Jenna Johnson, 18 who holds 4 national titles along with her adorable red-headed partner Landon (who provides a striking contrast to Jenna’s black hair and blue eyes and who at 17 is sadly too young to be eligible himself). Does it surprise you to learn she’s from Provo? Utah, the Competitive Ballroom capital of America. (Which has to be a lot closer to Austin, but again, okay.) They’ll be dancing a cha cha because, she tells Cat, “personally I think its the sexiest.” That’s the way to go, Cat agrees. They debate whether her dress is composed of fringe or tassels.
And damn, Jenna and Landon are awesome. Spectacular, even. Not that I’m anyone’s expert, but they come out with tricks I’ve never seen, and they’re just super delight and sexy and sharp. Why, why are you so young, Landon? On the other hand, we have really amazing ballroom talent this season. Maybe it’s better to save him for next year? (FOX, there better be a next year!) Jenna Johnson, 4 time national champion, aspiring Dancing With the Stars pro, is the recipient of a wordlessly delivered ticket to Vegas, and one step closer to her other life goal of winning So You Think You Can Dance.
Doesn’t it seem weird that the producers assume we would assume that a young black man in a knit cap would be a hip hop dancer and not a contemporary one? There are lots of black male contemporary dancers on the show – Brandon, Ade, George, Adechicke, Mitchell, Ricky, the list goes on. But we’re forgetting that, because we’re apparently supposed to be shocked at what Novien Yarber does. The 21 year old lists as his ambition proving to Nigel that male dancers can be masculine (another thing we see all the time, although at least in this case it’s true that Nigel harps on the subject) and his piece is very quirky, almost Sonya-esque with lots of deep knee bends and swinging karate chop movements and speedy leaps and turns. His hips and legs are preposterously flexible. The judges are beside themselves. It was so masculine! There was ass-kicking and samurai-sword like movements! (I’m sure the Asian flavor of the music helped with that last impression.) Novien threw all of himself into the performance, so much so that he fell out of his ending pose. And while that might get you picked out of Vegas (was her name Priscilla? who else remembers that girl? I didn’t recap that far back), it’s not going to stop you from getting there. Ticket!
Meet 26 year old Isabel Freiberger, who brings salsa like we’ve never seen to the Orpheum stage. Fast footwork, amazing lifts and tricks (including the non-competing partner flipping Isabel around his back and over his head and suspending her on the opposite hip, shown repeatedly) and a lot of charm. Was it the best ballroom we’ve ever seen, as Cat teased before the commercial breaks? No. Was it even the best ballroom this episode? Nope. It was pretty great, though. Salsa seems to be a sort of ballroom stepchild, have you noticed this? The judges never seem to trust that salsa dancers have the same technical background that the Latin ballroom dancers get. We saw it a few weeks ago with Katlyn Rodriguez, and we see it again here; Isabel goes to choreography instead of straight through to Vegas.
Because they like to be playful, the show runs a little promo about how dance is like war, and everyone needs to be tough and cool and street smart and then introduces us to Caleb Brauner, a baby faced 20 year old wearing a bow tie and an oversized argyle sweater vest. Campbell Soup kid Caleb has trained a lot (mostly in contemporary and hip hop), but mostly in secret from his friends and family who thought until very recently that dancing was just for girls. But wait! He entered the talent show at his high school when he was 16, and behold – even the football team bowed to his prowess! Now everyone thinks he’s supah cool, y’all! How I wish he was dancing hip hop – this I need to see – but no, he’s prepared a contemporary piece. I wish he’s worn better clothes – it’s hard to assess contemporary in over-sized garb where you can’t see the lines – but hey, he’s not going to be typical or boring, and you can see that his turns are true, so that helps. It’s very quirky, filled with comic touches and winks to the audience. Lots of pointing and even some literal winks to the audience; at one point, he proposes to someone and has his heart broken. Part of his schtick is his expression – his eyes are wide and vacuously innocent; he’s so milquetoast, but he’s in on the joke.
“That’s my nerd!” Caleb’s portly papa bellows from the audience. Ha! Of course Nigel has to get Dad on stage to do the worm and almost b-boy. It’s cute; he’s actually very mobile, and we get to see a little hip hop from Caleb. Wayne Brady aptly notes that Caleb’s a funny Norman Rockwell painting set to music. I’m sure Brady bothered people, and you know I’m not about this whole celebrity judge thing, but he’s been right on (and evocative in expressing that rightness) more than that once. Caleb, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know, goes straight through to Vegas.
Next up we have a montage of Southern gentlemen: a guy flirting outrageously with Cat, a guy who wants to cook his way onto the show, a guy who holds doors, and a guy who says he’s the same age as Mary (24). The 24 year old, named Carlos, rides Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” right to Vegas. I’m ready, slick, are you? Wayne Brady does an absolutely dreadful Lil’ C imitation to send an amazing spinner to Vegas. Then a super, drool-inducingly hot guy performs to “A Man’s World” but frustrates Nigel by bouncing and squealing in a less than macho way out to the lobby with his ticket.
There’s no mistaking Larry Booze, 29, for anything other than a hip hop or street dancer, not with the over-sized purple shirt, white tie and over-sized Yankees ball cap, puffy white pants and huge white sneakers. We learn before he starts that he’s famous for a move called the swinging door, and then he confuses the judges by working the painted scrim into his piece – they think he’s staring aimlessly, but oh, no. Very early in his routine we see the swinging door, and it’s cool, but oh my goodness, I’m so mesmerized by his feet that I literally missed the door the first time I watched because he swings with his arms and I was not looking that high up. His feet – oh, wow. He glides around the stage on the tips and edges of his feet, an amazing Fred Astaire meets Michael Jackson becomes the wholly original Larry Booze. I love it, even the goofy trick with the hat at the end. “If we can put what you do in what we do, I’ll be a very happy man,” Nigel tells Larry before sending him off to choreography to see if things might work out between them.
The penultimate televised audition is that of a young lady with a secret which gets teased through several commercial breaks. What could it be? Is she dying? Is she a spy? Is she really a man? (Sorry – and no, I am not implying she looks like a tranny.) No, the secret is that 19 year old Jasmine Harper used to date Cyrus, who broke up with her in the middle of last season, after she’d tried to help him with the non-hip hop dances. WOW. She cries, telling us she hadn’t meant to bring him up, but when she can’t resist sharing the connection of course the show pounces on it ruthlessly. This is really quite the Cyrus-referencing episode, isn’t it? First BluPrint, now an ex-girlfriend – and not any ex, but one he dumped during the show! That’s rough – especially when combined with the fact that we never knew he had a girlfriend. Either the break up was amicable, or this is old footage, because we actually get to see the two of them dancing together. There’s sort of an implication that they’re dancing their own sad story.
Anyway. Though it guaranteed her airtime, Jasmine would have earned her ticket to Vegas either way, though Nigel reducing her to tears (she’s clearly not over Cyrus) does seem to infuse something extra into her performance. She’s magic. She performs to Destiny’s Child’s a capella cover of “Amazing Grace,” which is lovely in itself, and there’s a gospel feeling to her choreography as well as something harder to put your finger on. There’s a looseness, quirk. She’s different, which is such joy, and whoever choreographed her really knew what they were doing. (Dare I hope she did it herself? That’d be the best possible scenario, I think.) Her passionate and deeply musical performance leaves her with crazy disheveled hair, blinking her terrible false eyelashes, but she’s incandescent, inescapable, passionate yet light on her feet. Trying for a little suspense, the judges repeat one by one that she’s a no to choreography, but we all can read that code.
It’s annoyed Nigel to no end that none of the day’s dancer’s actually hale from Memphis, so we get a cute montage of people telling him where they do come from. There are lots of Floridians, and a girl from the southwest with short blond hair who Nigel begs to lie about her hometown just to throw him a bone. Since they can’t dig up any real Memphis natives, we have to settle for Detroit born Paige Pellicano, 19, and her Elvis impersonator dad. That’s close in spirit, right? Dad sings (not well; the style’s good, but he’s speak singing) and Paige dance (good but not great; her transitions are labored). Because she clearly has been well trained (and is pretty and sultry), the judges let her move on to the choreography round.
And that’s up next. Larry Booze bows out to graciously give his partner a better shot. Aw, Larry! Bummer. Though seven dancers go through – hey, including the girl with the purple edged hair! – Paige and Isabel don’t make it. Better luck next year, guys.
Next week, we’ll see these dancers get winnowed down by brutal Vegas week. Did you see anyone tonight who you think will make the short list? Of tonight’s candidate’s, Elyse Freiberger tops my list, along with Jenna Johnson and Jasmine Harper. Like I said, Nico Greetham couldn’t be more tween friendly, and I can’t wait to see if BluPrint can make it. My children are thoroughly obsessed with Shanshan, though at least a part of that is due to her gorgeously embroidered costume. And you?