E: Ah, for the days when we were in the live shows by now! Do you remember how Cat used to have 4th of July parties for the contestants? Sigh. We have one more week of auditions, and God knows how many at the Academy (last year there were at least four episodes) which means God knows how few live shows.
Still, I’m trying to be grateful for what I’ve got, which in this case is a very cool, modern opening watching 18 year old Jalen Sands from Hendersonville, TN, dance to Rihanna’s “Desperado.” Girl is so quirky and cool and strong, dressed in black culottes and a gray-green bikini top. From her monster split jump through various worm-like moves to an armless back bend with her head practically touching the ground, her routine slays. She finishes with a delicate little curtsey and queenly nod of her head that just kills me. We know nothing about her except the fact that she really, really can dance – and she’s going to the Academy.
All the time we didn’t spend getting to know Jalen the show lavishes on theater kids/wonder twins Colton and Trent Edwards, also 18, of Pittsburgh. These two started dancing at 15, but we get home video of them voguing and sassing at a much earlier age. They are for sure what Nigel calls them, a comedy duo, cracking up with Cat (even literally cracking reins to indicate Colton taking control of choreographing the routine) and doing impressions for the judges. The identical twins/best friends bound out onto the stage in matching back t-shirts and rust colored pants. Colton geeks out over Laurieann, saying that she’s iconic, and we find out that that Trent is the sweet, supportive one and Colton (he of the imaginary whips) is the tough taskmaster. The judges can’t quite believe this is all off the cuff, but the boys insist it’s just the way they talk.
My first impression – other than the deliberate quirk – is that the boys can curl their toes like nobody’s business. The next is that they’re just as jokey-dramatic as you’d expect, but after that I’m just impressed by their raw talent. For only having three years dance experience, they’re pretty damn impressive – they did in fact go through the TSA pre-check, as they quipped. Their arms are not as intentional as you’d want, but generally, they’re flexible and athletic and interesting, and when they finish Nigel stands for them, which nearly breaks choreographer Colton. The boys begin to bounce like a much less butch version of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck winning an Oscar while the judges shower them with love; Mary approves of the choreography showing off both dancers and wants to see more of them, Nigel tells Colton he’d be playing the evil twin (I get that all the time, he sighs, it’s my resting bitch face), and Laurieann loves their uniquely awkward vibe. And the choreography was good, she adds, and she got the point of it. “You’re an academic! An intellectual!” Colton gushes, pointing at her.
I really liked you, D-Trix tells them, so as you started to perform all I could think was “please don’t suck.” So thank you, he tells them, for not sucking.
Obviously the duo is bound to the Academy. This is about the point where I start to panic over them only being able to pick 5 guys. I hate that so much. It makes everything that much less enjoyable. It’s not just exclusive, it’s painful.
Up next is robotics expert Brian “Clocks” Volozanin, 28, who made it to the Green Mile in season 12 back when he was still living in his car. Things have improved drastically for him since then; he’s one of the Jabberwocky crew in their Vegas residency. That’s about as good as dance gigs get, but he has a hankering to dance as himself, alone, and so he’s back on the SYT stage in yellow pants, a hoodie under a blazer, and hat, plying his intricate trade. I cracked up a little when he ran his hands over his hair, and the show clearly loves the pike move where his legs are parallel to the ground, turning on his hands. I found it to be a bit, I don’t know, subtle, but the judges saw his isolations better than I did and go nuts for his timing, his sense of humor, his creativity and originality. They question how far he can go in the show until they remember that yes, he made it to the Green Mile so he must be able to do other styles; why were they more worried about that with him than with any other street dancer? Anyway. He’s through.
His audition is followed by a montage of hip hop artists. 24 year old b-boy John John Tarrayo hails from Queens and dances in a hilarious, luridly colored 80s angel wing jacket. 20 year old Lorenzo Rangel-Santos shows up in brown pants and a red hoodie and represents Orange, California with some dope finger tutting. 28 year old Gerald Taplin of San Antonio, wearing black pants and a blue t-shirt, radiates joy. 19 year old Vegas native Anna Linstruth brings us pale blond funk in a striped crop top, awing the judges with her authority and authentic swagger.
After that we get another montage, this time of ballroom dancers successfully auditioning with former contestants. Sofia Ghavami, 20, of Miami, takes the stage with season 14’s Kiki; no one notes her making it to the Green Mile in season 14, but she slides through like a butter knife. Last season’s Magda Fialek brings with her 23 year old Vlad Kvartin of Fair Lawn, NJ, a tall blond guy who calls sexy Magda his dance mom. Not cool, dude, not cool. He’s thankfully a terrific dancer, so he’s through. And Ryan Di Lello (oh my gosh, Ryan!) brings one of his students, 19 year old Annie Lyn Sheketoff of Fairfield Connecticut. Huh. Did Ryan and Ashleigh leave Utah, or did Annie Lyn travel there to train with them? Whatever. I love that couple. Annie Lyn (sheer red top, black shorts, high ponytail) is also through.
Not so lucky is salsa dancer Antonio Frias, 22, who tries to partner dance alone, which is just weird. The judges demand an audience member take pity on him, and so a young woman named Destiny gamely hops up to try. It’s an improvement, but he’s not show-level skilled. It feels more exploitive than most of the failed auditions this season, honestly, and I’m not thrilled with it.
Next up we have Sydney Burtis, 18, of Kissimmee Florida, who came to dance to help her through a “mild case of autism.” I don’t even know what to say about that. Anyway, she got up there and told her story, and it’s an inspiring one – she’s cute and giggly and adorable and also one hell of a tap dancer (tap being the form that took her from a child that cried through her first recital to an eager performer).
There’s too much singing in the song she chose, and it drowns out her taps, which is frustrating. But she’s lovely and emotive, and despite the sometimes frustrating choreography, she taps the heck out of the piece, demonstrating timing, dynamics and a variety of moves. Of course Nigel comments on all of it – she’s got amazing feet and skills, but she fought the music. Somewhat to my surprise, he doesn’t care. In the past he’s dinged people for less, but she’s good enough (or there are few enough contestants) that he doesn’t care. He also gives a shout out to her mom for taking an autistic child to dance classes. Laurieann is grateful for having seen Sydney dance and Mary says there’s no one in the room she didn’t connect with. D-Trix asks how long Sydney’s been dreaming of this moment. Well, she says, I’ve been watching my whole life. In fact, I have a poster of the Season 3 cast in my room, and he doesn’t know whether to be weirded out or flattered that he’s in her bedroom. He decides to go with flattered. And she of course goes through.
We end the episode with a lot of time lavished on an unusual couple who’re auditioning separately. First, we have Jarrod Tyler Paulson, a tattooed 26 year old with a beard and piercings from St. Paul Minnesota. We find out that he’s a jack of all trades – he’s official a general contractor, but he works on cars as well as houses and roofs, and he speaks with feeling of the blessing dance has been in his life. He followed an older sister to a studio that’s like his second family, which is also where he met Madison Jordan, who stole his heart. Bald Madison suffers from alopecia, a hair loss condition, but takes her confidence from dance and from Jarrod. Oooh, you’re handy when he introduces himself to the judges, Laurianne coos. Do you have a girlfriend? Yep, she’s watching backstage with Cat. And she’s his world.
He dances to “Stand by Me” in jeans and a gray tank, starting with a beautifully twisted handstand and slipping effortlessly into leaps and spins and assorted gymnastics, bends and kip ups and ballet. His transitions are definitely something special – everything feels seamless. Nigel finds his performance mind-blowing, I suppose because he doesn’t expect someone who looks like Jarrod to be as trained as he is? Stupid. He does call the boy out for slipping at the end of a spin, but again, doesn’t care. They must have far fewer dancers this year. Not that I don’t love Jarrod, but the judges are usually more exacting! I will stand by you any day of the week, Laurieann declares; she’s been hitting on him since the start, but I can’t help thinking that the show has asked her to do this to highlight his love for Madison. Anyway, she tells us she has tattoos, too. Thanks for that. Dominic says it’s one of his favorite contemporary auditions of the season, and Mary wishes all her contractors danced. Well, hopefully your girlfriend of 7 months will join you in the Academy, Nigel tells the young man, putting Jarrod in his seat on the judging panel. I bet I wasn’t the only one surprised they hadn’t been dating longer!
I gotta follow that, Madison (21, Lake Elmo MN) laughs. Her piece includes a lot of reaching and quirky little tics. Her transitions weren’t as smooth as Jarrod’s, but she ends with a fierce expression that makes me want to see more of her. When did you first see her dance, Nigel asks the utterly besotted Jarrod, who’s watching Madison with a rapt and glowing expression. “When she was a kid,” he replies, “and I always told her she was going to grow up to be something special.” She almost cries. Nigel lauds her control and tells her he can’t wait to audition their kids. Laurieann gives up her flirting; at first I thought you were the lucky one, she tells Madison, but now I see it’s him. (Cute, but I think everyone wants to be looked at with the overflowing love that’s on Jarrod’s face right now.) I couldn’t stop smiling, D-Trix says, and then I’d look over at Jarrod watching you and it got even harder to contain. He asks the pair to dance together, which they do pretty damn well. They get a partial standing ovation from the judges when they finish, and then Madison actually breaks down in tears. Our first couple, Mary trills (Mary! totally inaccurate!), handing over a ticket.
We have only one more week of auditions, and then we’ll see how long they’ll belabor the Academy. Sigh. This is a good, but bring on the live shows already! Here’s hoping there’s no audience in the theater for Academy week…