E: Okay, it might have been 47 degrees out and raining here on June 1st – but my summer has started anyway, because SYT is back, baby! Sure, the storm system we’ve been stuck in ate 10 minutes of the broadcast, but all that really means (I think) is that I didn’t have to sit through the return of the Wendy Williams impersonator. Yay, me!
First – before we get to the dancing and the exciting prospects for the show – we’ve got to talk about the changes we’re looking at for season 12, which are plentiful. Normally, I’m a creature of tradition and habit, and I approach change as one might a wolf on a leash. Which is to say, with caution and suspicion. Maybe you run at wolves, but that’s not normally how I roll This time, though, I’m cautiously optimistic that that I’ll keep enjoying my favorite summer treat. Let’s break it down:
1. The new judging panel. I will never not miss Miss Mary Murphy and her hot tamale train and her ear drum damaging scream. This is always going to be a painful loss. Did Paula’s days on American Idol really give her that much more of a fan base? Will her presence really bring in new viewers? Given that, I am doing my damnedest to concentrate on enjoying the show, and what we got last night was smart Paula Abdul, not loopy Paula. Sure, she told a few too many dancers how special they were, but mostly her critiques were on point, and her giggle was infectious. If this is what she brings every week I’ll happy to see her, even if I’d have been happier to see Mary. On the other hand musician/dancer Jason Derulo was a fantastic addition to the family whose advent I can approve without reservation; articulate, informed, and ready to mix it up with contestants in a generous way. If nothing else, you have to know I prefer a permanent grouping to last year’s celebrity judge of the week monstrosity. Hopefully they can still sneak Jesse Tyler Ferguson and, of course, Christina Applegate in every once in a while.
2. The choreography round is gone. For the Auditions, you’re either in or you’re out.; there is no in between. That probably lead to some middling candidates going through, but okay. We all know they’re going to be weeded out in call backs.
3. Team Street versus Team Stage. I’ve been hesitant about this new plan, with the caveat being that any solution which keeps the show on air is to be preferred to the alternative. The good news is that from Vegas Week on (yay for Vegas Week being back in Vegas, just for the verbal ease of it and the return to tradition) each team will have a captain, and oh, what captains they are. A development that brings us more Travis Wall and tWitch Boss is good news in my book! I’m still a little confused about how all this will play out — will they have traditional partnerships? Are they going for gender parity between the two groups? — and I still have reservations. Will the Street dancers be able to learn choreography? They’re going to be protected, in a way, because we can only eliminate one member of each team each week, not simply the two least interested/impressive performers. I’m curious what this turn of events will do to over all stylistic diversity among the cast: instead of having tappers, ballroom, belly dancers and Broadway specialists, this time we’ll get animators, waackers and jookers. It’s a good season to be a street dancer, anyway – I don’t think there’s ever been more than been more than 6 in one year before, and now they’re committed to 10. I’m guessing that’s good news for last year’s amazing Jaja Vankova, who I think I see in the shadowy montage in the beginning, and I am hoping it will also be good news for the viewing audience.
4. Cat’s in the cradle. Or, that is to say, her arm is in a sling. Let’s hope she’s able to fit into her fabulous frocks by the time the live shows come around!
And with that, let’s move on to —
The producers start each day with a dancer they find particularly interesting., and for Memphis (and this season) they’ve chosen Peyton Albrecht, a thin 18 year old contemporary dancer who, while talented, suffers (at least in my mind) by the obvious stylistic comparison to last year’s brilliant winner Ricky and to All Star Robert. His introductory comments didn’t whip up enthusiasm in me, either. In the back of his head, he says, he’s sure he’s getting a ticket. “And then the other back is like, I don’t know.” I may be alone in my lack of enthusiasm for the multi-headed Albrecht, however, because the judges happily put him through.
After Peyton, we’re treated to Dragonhouse’s Andre Rucker, 24, who made it to Vegas back in Season 9 but was so flummoxed by the demands of choreography that he bailed on the first day. I love Dragonhouse, but that irked me. Why don’t we get Boris Penton again, too? He’s in the audience, and he at least manned up and tried to do the choreo! Don’t tell me he’s too old! At any rate, Andre pulls off this cool undulation with his shoulders and then snakes his hand around his neck, which is creepy-awesome; Jason loves this fresh take on the wave and also Andre’s impressive tutting. Nigel rightly calls him out on not sufficiently using the stage, but who are we kidding? He’s on to Vegas, and justly so; let’s just pray he’s taken classes and worked on choreography in the last couple of years.
Jordan “Jo Jo” Hilgenberg, 19, has long wavy red hair, a green crochet bikini top, a very cool whale tattoo under her left boob and a carefree laugh; she also has the blithe, off-hand gratitude of the very young, irking me slightly by explaining how her dance-teacher mother made her a better dancer rather that what’s more likely, that her mother turned her into a dancer, period. I don’t know why this struck me so strongly when what the show wanted me to remember was that Jojo’s newly remarried mother skipped her own honeymoon to watch her daughter try out for the show; judging by the mom’s clenched hands and breathless expression, she’s got her whole heart in this audition.
And luckily for all of us, her daughter is pretty spectacular. She’s wildly strong, expressive and controlled, dancing to Julia Stone’s hipster-wonderful “The Line That Ties Me.” Thanks for giving me my first download of the season, Jo Jo! Though Nigel wishes he’d seen a few more leaps, he can’t help joining with the other judges to send her through to Vegas; it’s a good thing, too, because he might have caused a riot among the very appreciative crowd if he’d foolishly gone the other way. The occasional contortionist perches atop my best list from this episode.
Next up, we see a montage of three excellent street dancers: a tan, gorgeous girl with a white and black plaid crop top and a mass of dark curly hair who dances some fiercely athletic hip hop, a guy in an olive shirt and blue baseball cap whose freestyle was mega-intense, and a man dressed all in black whose fusion of animation with krump was hard hitting and thrilling. How I wish we’d seen more of you! When the montage ends, we get a really entertaining tutorial on jookin’, a Memphis style the show has featured before, taking us from its roots in Elvis Presley’s hip swiveling and ankle flopping, as well as its debt to ’80s hip hop artist G-Style and his gangsta walkin’. Add to these elements buckin’ and choppin and you end up with jookin. The Memphis dancers just lap up Cat’s interest in the subject, let alone her ability to pronounce their local discipline; watching them beam at her for understanding sends me to warm-fuzzy heaven.
And in case you were curious, we get to see only one excellent jookin’ practitioner, Ladia Yates, a 23 year old California native who stays in Memphis to teach her “babies,” a crew of adorable moppets in matching outfits. First, however , we get to see tiny Ladia dance, and she’s so fabulous, so fluid and so quick, so brilliant at rolling her legs and feet that Jason asks her to teach him and his back up dancers how to do what she does. She’s got a lot of fire, Ladia: when Nigel tells her he loved her ankle roll (like a samba roll that goes all the way down to her toes), adding he’s seen a lot of jookin’ but never before that, she reacts in surprise. “You pay attention, don’t you!” she tells him, impressed, and he laughs, because that’s his job. Not only does she get sent through, but Jason comes up and sings as her tiny dance troupe dances to one of his songs. The kids can solo, some of them, but don’t actually move as a group without their leader. I hope you can do other things, Ladia!
And that’s about where my satellite cut out, with the promo for the Wendy Williams impersonator. I understand he went through; good for him. Less great for me having to see him again, but what can you do? Actually, as I recall my issue was never with seeing him but hearing him, and maybe it’s just because I’ve never seen Wendy Williams. Anyway. I suspect we learned how many people made it though the first day in Memphis, and we saw how on the second day, the lights go out.
At first I wondered why all the tears – surely the dancers could stay another day? – and then eventually I realized that it was show that couldn’t stick around. Luckily for the remaining dancers, they were assisted back on stage by a portable generator, purchased on the spot, the lighting department went to work, and produced enough light to film by. All did not go easily at this point; dancers were clumped together by style and asked to audition in groups (presumably just freestyling to the same music?) and then invited to do their solo only if they stood out. It’s a dirty, slap dash way to get at the best dancers, but probably efficient. We see one hot dark haired guy named Tyler make it through and a cute dread-locked guy with a great attitude get sent away. By the end of this, 8 stage dancers have made it through, and 10 street dancers, including a freakily intense bug-eyed guy in a khaki jacket.
For the first dancer at what appears to be a college campus in Texas, we meet 19 year old Miami valet parking attendant Guillermo Morales. To be completely honest, I hated the whole video package in which he dreams, affectless, about driving one of the beautiful cars that show up at his work and spending his days at the beach surrounded by hot women and never working; it made me dislike him. And it seems it did him a terrible disservice, because when he gets up to talk to the judges, he’s hilarious with a quick, dry wit and deadpan delivery. Oh, and a six pack. He also turns out to be a pretty terrific dancer, despite only taking up the art three years previously when wanted to find something more challenging than sports. You can see his lack of training; there’s a tiny tiny bit of flailing, some inelegant transitions, and a slight lack of finesse, but his musicality, expressiveness and extraordinary athleticism (those leaps! the gymnastics!) makes up for these failings. He’s just compelling, and the judges think he’s s a star. Adorably, he tries to high five the audience members on both sides on his triumphant, traditional run through the theater aisle, and loses his ticket on the way. I’d call him one to watch for the comedy and the dancing, both.
Next, a montage in which Paula Abdul forcefeeds us the word special in reference to: a girl with short curly hair and a pink bikini top, a guy with a maroon t-shirt and slicked back black hair, and a bouncy girl with a polka dot top and red hot pants, an abundance of personality and a fabulous spin/split move. She blows the camera a kiss on the way out of the theater, ticket firmly in hand.
Dallas also brings us nerdy/scrawny Steven Ban, 24, a surprisingly decent street dancer who does this cool trick where he makes his arms disappear behind his sides. Is it weird to say I really love the sweater/sweat shirt he’s dancing in? It’s a well fitted grey with a pixelated looking blue pocket; it seems like a fun wink at the pocket-protector-spin the show is giving him.
18 year old Jaclyn Hamric is exactly the kind of sassy, sultry-but-wholesome blond that Nigel lives for; she twirls and rolls, her eyes on the judges at all times, her eyebrows often raised in challenge, and at the end of her sexy little routine, she winks at the judges panel. Nigel actually teases Jason about the wink being solely directed at the older man. Like Jo Jo, she’s wearing a crochet-like bikini top, a fashion that’s somehow escaped me; like Jo Jo, she’s got a ticket to Vegas.
Then we get a serious back-story: Vishonda Sims, 21, was raised by her grandmother until the age of 10, when her grandmother was paralyzed in a terrible car accident, and the young girl became care taker for the older woman. She died last year. “It was hard to let her go,” Vishonda tells us, “because she was mine.” Aw! There’s a heart-felt eloquence to her that I really like. “I dream it but I don’t do it,” she tells Cat, who encourages the girl to be like her hero Comfort and seize the day.
And damn, but she’s hard hitting, fluid and intense. There’s ticking and animation in her freestyle piece, which begins with her waking and stumbling through her day. It’s evocative, and I like it a bunch; Jason Derulo stares at her with an intensity we haven’t seen yet, as if he’s on fire to know what she’s going to do next. As if she’s a scrumptious piece of cake when he hasn’t eaten in weeks. Vegas, of course.
He’s less enchanted with the next auditioner we see, the uniquely styled 22 year old Kiosh Monroe, calling him out for for being bouncy and enthusiastic but not outside the usual way. He says exactly what I said to Mr. E: Kiosh is like someone who dances really enthusiastically at a wedding, and is fun to watch, but in the context of a club or party, not this kind of show. Like, he dances really well for a normal person, but he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. Here’s what I love, though; Jason suggests that Kiosh would make a great exercise class teacher, and so of course Nigel gets half the women in the audience (mostly the moms) up to take a “class” on stage, and so Kiosh leads them through a spontaneous routine, and then Paula stands up and calls Richard Simmons on her phone, and by the end Mr. Monroe has a new dream and maybe a new mentor and has tears of joy streaming down his face even though he’s been rejected from the show. How cool is that?
Very cool, I’d say.
Meet super strong and tiny Lily Leyva, 19, in a lacy leotard. She’s completely awesome; that girl’s core, I can’t even, I’m so envious. The way she holds that back bend! She’s got dynamics and control, and when she finishes dancing to Tailor’s “Shaped Like A Gun” the judges stand wordlessly with her ticket.
And then finally, finally, we get variety in something other than the street disciplines: we have a montage that includes a lavender haired female ball room dancer, a tall slender male clogger (poor Nigel, thinking he was looking at a tapper at first), a guy doing contemporary ballet, and a “praise dancer” in an Alvin Ailey costume. They’re all fantastic and all through. Why didn’t we get to see more of that? I wish there was more variety in this episode! Maybe I missed some in those ten minutes, but geez. As my 7 year old put it, “I get bored when all the dancers are contemporary with a side of contemporary.”
But unfortunately Nigel starts snickering to Paula about all the fusion styles they’re seeing, and, and she jokes that a krump/tap blend would be called “krap” and that sends everyone over the edge till the point they can’t pull it together for their next contestant, Jaiden Ziara, who ‘s putting ballroom and hip hop together into something Paula coins ball-hopping. And yes, they all lose it. He’s got good feet but middling arms, though I’d call him more Broadway than Ballroom. Anyway, he’s far from a disaster but they’re not interested; I think we mainly saw that to give us a sense that the new judging panel is a happy one.
After this we get a view of an event only seen before tonight on Youtube in grainy cell phone video: the So You Think You Can Dance All Stars dancing at the White House Easter Egg Roll. Yes. Dancing with First Lady Michelle Obama. It’s pretty awesome, and tWitch, Travis, Philip, Fik-shun, Dominic, Robert, Jasmine, Comfort, Marco and Kathryn are pretty damn thrilled to be taking part. Even Cat gets to preside, with all her limbs still in tact.
Finally, we come to the last contestant: contemporary dancer Edson Juarez, 24, who failed to make last year’s top twenty because of his feet and also a lack of connection with the audience. I’m thinking that Nigel might be the only one trying to make eye contact with him, however, as the rest of the world falls under the spell of his spectacular abs. From the first moments, there’s beauty of control, fluidity of motion, and exception gymnastic ability; he’s talented and supremely well-trained. He’s easily one of the best we’ve seen: Paula thinks he’s the absolute best of Dallas. Nigel, on the other hand, thinks he still has an eye contact problem, which I find a little hilarious, because by the end the poor kid was working so hard on maintaining eye contact with the audience and camera that he started to resemble an exotic dancer, all come hither looks while rolling those abs and contorting. Either way, he’s through.
The first two cities combined produce 43 stage dancers and 37 street ones. Next week, it’s on to Detroit. Next week? Boo! Why not tonight? I hate waiting so long, but I’m so very, very glad the show is back.