E: 4 days. 6 rounds. 159 dancers in the toughest, most merciless audition process most of them will ever experience.
And because they’re dancers, guess what most of them say about it? They loved it. Even through tears and the injuries and the humiliations, they’re grateful for the chance to work and learn. You have to love that attitude, seriously. As always, some of that was extremely disappointing – for the dancers who we didn’t get to see, yes, but mostly dancers who were cut. And in a couple of cases, those cuts were extremely disappointing. In better news, we were reminded of some outstanding dancers from the auditions and from years past. We laughed. We cried. Sometimes at the same time. Let’s get down to business, dance fans!
Just as soon as we’re done with the sight of contestants arriving, young and cool and jubilant, Cat tells us that two standouts from the auditions won’t be joining us – Taylor “Tiger” Ward because of that horrifically dislocated knee, and Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams because he’s recovering from a car accident. Be well, dude! She also lets us know that the dancers have come straight from the airport to the theater, and that they’ll have to win their hotel room keys by performing a solo; they could be summarily sent home if on second viewing their solos aren’t deemed worthy of further notice.
Who decides which dancers are worthy of notice? Nigel and Mary are joined by Adam Shankman (woot!), tWitch (excellent), and – huh? Singer Jason Derulo? I wonder if Nigel knows him through Jordin Sparks? Anyway, he’s only there for the first two days, but those days are responsible for some fast and furious cuts. In fact, 53 of the 159 dancers are sent packing, including hip hop dancer Donovan Gibbs (not surprising, sadly, much as I empathize with his financial straights; he needs a better audition piece for next year, less “trick, wander, trick, saucy look, wander”), hilarious Southern nerd Caleb Brauner (I confess to being shocked by this, considering how enamored the judges had been of him in Memphis), stuttering street dancer Shane Garcia, the Exorcist’s life partner Darlesha Goggins, and salsa sister Katlyn Rodriguez. In tiny bursts we see Shannon “Shizzy Shakes” Taratino make it through, along with ballroom cutie Ashley Goldman (love her! where’s Phil?), Alexis Juliano the girl tapper, curly topped Tucker Knox, and Dragon House animator BluPrint. Out to the hotel pool with all of you!
We do spend quite a bit of time with judges’ favorite, the floaty, flexible kewpie doll Malece Miller; I still don’t think she’s perfect in her transitions, but at least know I know who’s getting dropped on her head later in this episode. Hint: it’s not the girl from the Memphis auditions as I supposed last week. Hi, Malece. We’re re-introduced to Vegas street performer DeShaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall, who despite his terribly-spelled nickname is freaking awesome and clearly high on the editor’s wish list. So funny, so charming, so sweet. And also kind of tiny, right? Who knows if he can lift the female dancers, or if he can do choreography, but his solo definitely merits the standing O he receives from the entire panel of transfixed judges.
106 dancers start Round 2 on the morning of Day 2 – and get ready, because it’s hip hop! Can the street dancers do choreography? The show breaks them in as gently as it can. Can the contemporary dancers and the ballet dancers get down and dirty? Tabitha and Napoleon are here to see. (Who else was disappointed they didn’t bring their baby? Oh, come on, that would have been cool to see. You can admit it.) We see street dancers and ballroom dancers succeed alike – Ashley, Alexis, fellow tapper Tyrone Cobham (yes!), animator Jade Zuberi, Fik-Shun, the krumper Mariah Spears (when will the editors acknowledge her? is the fact that she got lots of air time last year a fair reason to totally ignore her?), Philip Chebeeb’s protege Emilio “Millie” Dosal, and even Mongolian folk dancer Shanshan Qiao-Rothlisberger (who surprises the judges with her swag) are through. Ballerina Megan Yamashita – who I think we’ve seen in a montage – makes it through, as do ballroom dancers Jenna Johnson, Armen Way (you remember, the cocky Russian asshat with the revolting rap video) and Alan Bersten (who?). Super-cool street dancer Toshihiko “Toshi” Nakazawa, unfortunately, bombs spectacularly. Bye Toshi.
The remaining 77 dancers experience Sonya Tayeh in all her glory; it’s Round 3, jazz. And if it doesn’t make you want to throw up from the exertion, she says, you’re doing it wrong. Now that’s a pep talk! This is the hardest routine I’ve ever done for the show, she explains – it’s all about the emotional connection, about partnering, about transferring weight, about the women trusting and submitting to their male partners. (Not words I thought I’d ever heard Sonya say, but okay.) After the rehearsal period ends, Sonya growls that they haven’t learned the routine to her satisfaction, and so she wants them to spend the entire night working on it, sweating blood if need be. And so the weary dancers spread out over the hotel. We see season 9 auditioner Jasmine Mason with that tall bearded guy who’s everywhere; I’m going to call him Paul Bunyan because, well, I have to call him something and the show is not helping me out. Cyrus’s ex Jasmine Harper‘s rehearsing in the bathroom, one of top audition favorites jazz/ballerina/former bulemic Jennifer Jones and her partner are doing it (shut up) in her bedroom, and then Malece Miller with Armen Way in the lobby. Ah. Here we have yet another reason to dislike Armen. First he’s off on his phone, and then – as we’ve seen over and over again – he dumps Malece on her head. After initially saying she’s fine, Malece weaves unsteadily to the medic’s table, and is boarded and wheeled out on a stretcher.
When Day 3 dawns, Nigel warns the assembled dancers that since they’ve had so much extra time no mistakes will be tolerated. Of course, I’d contend that Nigel’s made the biggest mistake of all here by replacing the dearly departed Jason (a competent enough judge and certainly a good enough dancer in his own right, not to mention an artist linked with the show) with “dance fan” Hannah Simone of The New Girl. Really? Really? I mean, she has more to say for herself than overly polite costar Zooey Deschanel, but oh my lord. (In addition to being chatty, Hannah’s unabashedly, hilariously pro-lady; “I want you to dance with me like that,” she informs one of the female contestants who got extra-cosy with her man. So at least she’s fun.) At first, all seems rosy as the judges lavish praise on cheery, ab-tastic contemporary dancer Amy Yakima (who really is everything) and the ever-adorable Fik-Shun, who slays the routine with his partner Mariah Spears. Nigels coos at Alexis that “you smolder any more than that and we’re going to have to call the fire department.” Amber Williams (is that the blond girl with the bob?), Jenna Johnson and Tucker Knox excel.
And then we hit more drama with Jade Zuberi and his partner, Memphis auditioner Sydney Miller; she’s considerable taller than him, and it’s causing an issue. Of course, what’s more of an issue is that Sydney asks Sonya in front of the entire group if she can switch partners because Jade is “holding her back.” Oh no you didn’t! You did not just throw another dancer under the bus! Whining and backstabbing will not be tolerated, young miss; you most certainly cannot change partners. After taking the night to sulk, Sydney apologizes and tries to make the best of it. They’re better than I expect, but Jade gets asked to dance for his life (a situation which elates him) and Sydney gets put through after a confusing lecture from Nigel. Yes, Jade did hold you back, and yes, you must fight for your chance, but you can’t actually blame him like that in public.
Finally, Malece and Armen dance once the former returns from the hospital. Malece gets glowing reviews and lots of “hey, that’s a dancer’s life!” commiserations and congratulations on her lack of a concussion, but Armen gets an earful from a very teary, emotional Mary. How dare he let his partner down? She hates having to fight for the good ballroom dancers, and right now everyone else wants to boot him. There’s a lot about his attitude, which I believe even if the editors haven’t shown us exactly what Mary’s talking about. I’ll fix everything, Armen promises, and Nigel says Mary’s convinced them to keep him around. Here my dvr gets glitchy; I think in those few seconds I might have missed Shanshan getting the boot, based on a sniffle and the glimpse of a retreating back. 68 dancers move on here, and then there’s Jade, blowing the judges away with his fluid, shimmery solo. tWitch and Sonya rise to their feet to cheer him on, and as he expected, when Jade does his thing, he’s through easily.
The rest of day 3 is devoted to ballroom; the dancers get an hour to learn a routine created by former contestants (and sometimes Dancing With the Stars pros) Chelsie Hightower and Dmitry Chaplin. Nice! (Have I mentioned that the folks who choreograph each piece sit and decide with the panel when their piece is being performed? They do. Which I think adds vital insight.) Former tomboy Chelsie says the girls need to be super sexy, and to no one’s surprise, Jenna Johnson delivers, as do Fik-Shun, Armen, Jade, and of course Latin dancer Ashley Goldman. We can see Mighty Mouse tapper Curtis Holland has also advanced, along with Paul Bunyan, Jennifer Jones, Jasmine Mason (yet another person who got tons of screen time last year and hardly a mention this), ballet dancer/Jess Tyler Ferguson crush Sebastian Sera, and Amy Yakima. These guys are looking more and more like locks every minute. Whiner Sydney Miller dances with tapper Tyrone Cobham, and this time, she stumbles and is sent home along with skinny New Yorker Tommy Tibball. The mysterious girl with the purple and silver hair also appears to be saying goodbye. Sorry we never knew your name!
The remaining dancers are put into groups of five and asked to pull cds out of a bin, totally at random. They’re the given the entire night to choreograph a routine based on the song. Damn. That’s right. All nighter #2.
The first group to perform includes Gene Bersten, the ballroom dancer we saw audition with his wife and – ah ha! – his brother Alan. Huh. That’s who he is. Funny that they never mentioned the whole family tried out! The brothers Bersten will be dancing with fellow ballroom standout Jenna Johnson along with Jasmine Mason (hey! They do remember her name!) and someone new named Kayla Bingham. They drew the Bonnie Raitt tearjerker “I Can’t Make You Love Me” covered by a guy. The Boston Marathon bombing is on their minds, and they’ve choreographed their piece to epitomize Boston Strong – showing the grace, the kindness to strangers, the immediate desire to help and protect rather than the distress and violence. Aw! And it’s awesome. To no one’s shock, Adam and Mary cry. Hannah Simone tears up (she particularly loved the bit where Jasmine and Kayla danced together), and even Jasmine Mason can’t speak when it’s over. To no one’s shock, they’re all through.
The next group consists of everybody’s favorite Fik-shun, Jasmine Harper, an omnipresent contemporary dancer finally introduced as Derek Tabada, Jarvis McKinnon of the stupid hat, Chrystiane Lopez, and latin dancer Viktoria Treveskya. Chrystiane (pronounced Kristy-Annie) choreographs, which the others accept at first but grow frustrated with eventually. At the point where Derek declares he knows it all and asks where he can go to have a smoke, you know they’re in trouble. And indeed, the judges call it a complete wreck and boot Derek (who guesses that stopping practicing “was a really bad decision”) and Chrystiane (who perhaps paid too much attention to the other dancers, because she stands out as being off). The others go through, which feels fair.
Also fueled by the late night drama is a team that includes contemporary/jazz stand outs Amy Yakima, Jennifer Jones, curly top car accident victim Tucker Knox, ballroom diva Mariia Lebedeyva (you know, the motherly Elvira looking one) and hip hop dancer Markus Shields. Bitterly, Maria complains that she can’t do the contemporary lifts or pretty much anything, even though the large part of the routine seems to consist of sitting in a row in chairs. (Notice that Markus isn’t complaining at all, even though he’s outside of his genre.) By five in the morning, and after redoing the choreography many times to accommodate their frustrated teammate, Tucker has to step in before Jennifer verbally eviscerates Maria. “I’m going to kill her. I’m going to kill her. I’m really going to kill her,” Jennifer mutters to Markus.
Even Nigel seems to be testy. Is it me, or does he start the routine implying that the group should have done ballroom to accommodate Maria? What, no hip hop for Markus? Bah. As “I Can’t Make You Love Me” begins again, Amy delicately reaches out to her teammates on their chairs. It’s soft, and lovely, and filled with small emotional moments rather than big flashy moves. I’m astounded at the purity of what they’ve achieved, the confidence they have in letting the piece breathe, the lovely small slow moments. It’s exceptional. Way to go! The judges love them and they’re all through. We get flickers of other successful group dances, including Nico Greetham, Millie, BluPrint, season 9 stand out Megan Ellison, Mariah Spears and Armen Way.
Finally, the last group clumps together Mackenzie Dustman (she of the jazz singing parents) Carley Blaney, Carlos Garland (hey, the split jump guy from Memphis! I had a feeling we’d see him again!), Sarah Ponsa and ballroom dancer Vitaly Novikov. Inevitably not all the dancers are going to excel at choreography, and this crew certainly doesn’t; the judges call it juvenile and a hot mess. I’m frankly surprised that we even got to see this happen, given that Mackenzie’s the only contest we’ve really met before. Vitaly and Sarah are kicked to the curb, but Carlos, Carley and Mackenzie survive the cut.
There are 54 dancers remaining by the sixth and final round – the dreaded contemporary round. (Note: no Broadway this year? Huh.) Because this is the fifth round of choreography, and because they now know everyone here can dance, and because the judges’ expectations for contemporary dancers are now brutally high, this round produces many of the most painful cuts. The dancers, too, are stretched to their breaking point after two nights without sleep; they cry, telling the camera how much they want it, how close they feel. The ever adorable, ever romantically angst-y Stacey Tookey provides the choreography and the story it hangs on – a girl who’s worn out and finally done with her relationship, the guy who’s changed too late to make a difference. Yep, vintage Stacey Tookey. In all seriousness I hope her personal life is not this stressful.
One of the first pairs to dance is the lovely Jennifer Jones and Mariia Lebedeva’s partner latin ballroom Misha Smagin. Perhaps because they didn’t practice together during the entire rehearsal period, they seem disconnected from the material – performing the steps, but without the desired emotional content. And just like that, they’re summarily cut. I’m devastated; Jennifer would have easily made my top five from the auditions, she’s been stellar throughout Vegas, and that’s it. Gone. I appreciate that they have to go from 159 down to 20, but I hate that they didn’t have her dance for her life, and I can’t help but feel a little less excited about the season. Misha’s ballroom partner Mariia is out, too (holy work out pants, Mariia!), as is a curly haired blond (Courtney Thurston, maybe, or Alex Kessinger?) who begs to dance for her life and is coldly rebuffed.
The judges are kinder to Jade Zuberi, who flubs his partnership with tiny Megan Ellison and is once again given the chance to dance for his life. I appreciate that he doesn’t have Jennifer’s training, but damn it, they’ve already seen his solo work. I think he’s great, but the favoritism annoys me as it runs counter to my own favoritism. I know, I know. Curtis Holland dances with Ashley Goldman, and the judges toy with him; Nigel asks how he’s feeling and he bursts into hysterical tears, causing Stacey to cover her mouth with her hands so her can’t see her little chipmunky grin. It’s a meltdown worthy of Kent Boyd, and all kinds of cuteness – Adam throws Mary’s tissues on to the stage, and Mary has to ask for them back- and yeah, of course he’s through.
Jenna, Paul Bunyan, Malece, Fik-Shun, Amy, Markus and Carlos all advance. In the final group, BluPrint partners with Jasmine Harper, and she’s strange and mesmerizing, emotionally real rather than beautiful, and Nigel wants to know just what has inspired such passion in her performance. Could it be a failed romantic relationship? Poor Mr. E squirmed, listening to the way the Nigel seems so ready to throw Cyrus to the wolves. Come on, two kids broke up. A YEAR AGO. Let’s get over it, shall we? The judges are not happy with BluPrint, either. Are all Dragon House men in the dog house now? Hey, you know what would be fun? Let’s have him dance battle Jade to see which animator will make it through this round! And since they both butchered Stacey’s choreography, Stacey will be the one to choose. Because, you know, she’s so cutthroat. Predictably, the dance off is cool, and both guys are put through. Sigh. Who would you have picked if it really had been a dance off? Personally, I find fluid Jade a more compelling soloist but I think BluPrint’s been doing better with other styles.
Finally, the remaining dancers are gathered on the stage, and Nigel asks them all to say why they should move on to the live shows. Paul Bunyan explains that he’s “tired of being the good tapper” (oh, nice to know his style) and longs to be more. Armen Way pleads last, simply thanking the show for making him a better man and showing the error of his ways. “You changed me, you change my life, to be a better person.”
Then the judges deliberate. “I could lose her,” Adam offers. Wow. Cold. Bringing the dancers back to the stage, Nigel calls up the five remaining ballroom boys (Alan, Armen, Gene, Paul and Serge – is that Paul Karmiryan, winner of So You Think You Can Dance: Armenia?) and announces that there’s only room for four – and Armen is the unlucky fifth man. What was that Stacey said about the guy’s remorse coming a little too late? In a move that must surely wreck Mary Murphy, Viktoria and – gasp! – Ashley are also ruthlessly pruned from the SYTYCD tree. Additionally, we lose the blond with the bob who I think is Amber Williams. What must it feel like, to be cut because they didn’t like you personally, because your words weren’t good enough, not because you couldn’t dance? Hopefully they can take solace in the fact that pretty much everyone at this point is qualified to be on the show, and they’re grasping at straws to pick a stylistically diverse cast. 9 dancers are gone, 33 remain, and from those 33 our Top Twenty will be announced next week. Among those still standing are Jenna, Megan, BluPrint, Fik-Shun, Jade, Nico, Alexis, Amy, Millie, Jasmines Mason and Harper, Malece, Curtis and Tucker.
And if I were to take a wild guess, I’d say most of the dancers listed above will make it into the Top Twenty. Clearly Amy and Malece and Jenna. Fik-Shun and Tucker seem like pretty solid bets, too. At least one of the animators; I have this feeling Jade and BluPrint will walk the green mile together. Seems likely, no? And of course it’d be like them to pit the Bersten brothers against each other. Will Alexis and Curtis and Tyrone – who I hope is still there – make it through? I can’t wait to see!
So, wow. Which cuts ran the deepest for you? Obviously for me it was Jennifer Jones, followed closely by Ashley Goldman. Of course, we didn’t see anything of some of my favorites from the auditions. What happened to trapeze artist Elyse Frelinger – is she still there? What happened to Shizzy Shakes, anyway – did she, too fall victim to the jazz round, her fate swallowed up by my dvr? Muscle man Nick Muckleroy? Wacky make up artist Dannon O’Brien? Knit cap wearing Novien Yarber? Tutu-collar wearing Elijah Laurent? Ab-fabulous Morgan Williams? Quietly confident Anthony Savoy? Sexy/cool Hayley Ebert? Dimpled street dancer Jason Kirk, painfully thin modern ballerina Jennie Begley, sassy ballroom champion Kate Kapshandy? Experience tells us that they could still be around; not being mentioned or even seen in Vegas week doesn’t mean you’re not making the Top Twenty. You can check out the audition recaps if none of those names ring a bell.