Just when you think that SYTYCD must have already tapped all the incredible dance talent in this country, another season premieres and I’m left wondering if I’m the only gal in America who can’t put her leg behind her head. We’re in week two of auditions and there are still plenty of excellent candidates for America’s Favorite Dancer yet to seek out.
Like any series designed to appeal to the masses, So You Think You Can Dance makes its little compromises. But every year, the producers have chosen to subject us to less and less cringeworthy “loser” auditions during these early days. I’m thankful, not just because it defines this show’s character as uplifting, celebratory, and anything but mean-spirited, but also because it shows the audience just what an accomplishment it is for the dancers who make it into the Top 20. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. LA and Chi-beria: you’re up!
Cat Deeley Scale of Awesomeness
Audition episodes parcel out little doses of Cat for us. But even in her limited screentime this week, Cat was doing everything that makes her the reality host we most want to chill with. She goofed around with the line-bound dancers waiting for their moment in the spotlight. She gleefully cheered on “bonebreaking” animator James Thomas (“I’m gonna freak everyone out with this one.” “I can’t wait.”) She wore, most memorably, a paisley blazer and a muppet-y black fur jacket (though sadly not at the same time.) And she got some squeezes in with the SYTYCD alums who stopped by to check out the LA try-outs. Her friendships with these little bunnies are real and no one can convince me otherwise. Look at how they all light up when they see her!
This Week’s “Jidges” Score of Awesome: 10/10, obviously. I’m struggling to remember why we even have a scale for this.
Audition of the Night: Jessica Richens
The first audition we saw in LA was that of Cali poster girl Jessica Richens, who looks like she subsists solely on cold-pressed juices and sunshine. My knee-jerk reaction to her claim that she just can’t help “acting sexy” on stage was a eyeroll, but I happily ate my hat when she launched into her jazz piece to “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
We don’t see a lot of jazz auditions, so it was refreshing to see the extension and lyricism of contemporary but with that more sultry movement quality. Jessica is gorgeous, passionate, and technically gifted. Mary and guest judge Christina Applegate commented as she left the stage that she just might win the whole show. Not all great dancers fit the competition, as the panel often reminds us. But Jessica might as well have been created in a lab by the SYTYCD producers and choreographers. Nigel was clearly crazy about her, but held back his creepy old man comments. I admire his restraint.
I think the lesson here is that, whatever you are, you have to own it. So long as you have the skills to back it up. Jessica knows she’s got the sexy thing and so sexy she will deliver. We’ll see how well that quality translates into other genres as the competition continues, but I have a feeling she’ll do just fine.
Top 20 Material?
Deise Mendonca & Mauricio Vera
The judges always seem so disappointed to learn that partners aren’t together-together, so they obviously went crazy over real life couple Deise and Mauricio. These two claim to have fallen in love at first sight on their first day with the Santiago Ballet and the chemistry is certainly there. They even got a sweet little kiss in during their routine, which the panel totally ate up. They’re picture perfect together – I think I’ve seen them twirling in a music box somewhere – but their bond might keep them from succeeding in a competition where so much partner switching goes on.
Justine Lutz, who has never trained in contemporary, knocked out one of the most impressive contemporary routines of the season so far. She knows what she’s doing with her look; I love her long dark hair, simple black ensemble, and bright red lip. Justine would be a dream for the wardrobe department. I can already picture her in an Argentine tango gown, a flowy contemporary frock, a cartoon-y Broadway ensemble. Mary especially responded to Justine right away. Note her satisfied “mmm” when she extends her leg at her waist and folds herself in half.
Sebastian made it all the way to the Green Mile last year and bravo to him for having the guts to come back again. By all accounts, what we now call “LA Week” is a trial, physically, emotionally, mentally. So to go through all of that and to be cut at the last moment…well, it would take a deep well of inner strength to recover and make another go.
And luckily this man has got it. Sebastian wowed the judges with his massive leaps and use of the floor. I can’t remember what his partnering work looked like last season, but this dude is not just strong on the inside. Ballerinas are some of the rawest athletes there are. I’m looking forward to watching Sebastian throw some girls around.
I have to admit that I was a shocked when the judges unanimously elected to send Paul Brushaber straight to LA Week, especially considering some of the dancers who were put through choreography this episode. But it’s not because his audition was anything less than brilliant. Paul created his own style – a mishmash of others, as all are – and then completely sold the judges on “puppeting” in just about two minutes flat. Does he look the part of a finalist? Certainly not. But his musicality is on the same level as his articulations – not something many poppers or animators can brag about. I have a feeling he’ll have his ass handed to him when partnering starts, but I’m hoping he proves me wrong. Go, Paul! Do it for the nerds!
I’m sorry, a French female popper who goes by the stage name Mary Poppins performs to “Smooth Operator” and goes at it with Fik-shun, who’s approximately a head and a half shorter than her? And that’s not going on my list? Come on.
Marie might not have the competitive drive to make it all the way, but her love of dance is contagious. She was so inspired by the impromptu freestyle that she delayed the judges’ comments just to let it out. “That was what dance is about! It doesn’t matter the style. Just feel it! No tricks, no fake things, just feel it!” Yes, you French Amazon, you. Yes.
Best Audition By Someone Not at ALL Right for the Show: James Thomas
If side shows were still a thing, animator James Thomas would be a Vaudeville sensation. His style of dancing is practically contortion. His body moves in ways that bodies were never intended to move. His goal was to provoke a reaction, and he succeeded. Mary, Nigel, and Chicago guest judge hunky ballerina Fabrice Calmels spent much of James’s audition screeching and backing away from the table, but they still applauded his skill and sent him off to choreography. After struggling for a while, he respectfully bowed out to give his partner a better chance.
There is something goodnatured and gleeful in the desire to “freak people out.” Just ask Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton, or John Waters. And James seemed satisfied that he did what he came to do.
Runner-Up: Valerie Rockey
I hate to say it because I adored this audition, but tappers just don’t last on SYTYCD. And I don’t know why.
The awesomely named Valerie Rockey is, as Mary announced, a total “cutie pie.” (And a doppelganger for HIMYM‘s Victoria, no?) It’s no accident that her audition immediately followed sexpot Jessica’s. Nigel had some constructive criticism to offer, but the pure delight on his face when her routine began says it all. The man loves a lady tapper, especially one with jaunty red shoes. And who can blame him? Valerie made it handily through choreography, but I don’t expect to see her in the Top 20. Le sigh.
Inappropriate Nigel Comment of the Night:
Contemporary dancer Franchesca Bass has alopecia; she has no hair on her body. But who the hell cares when she’s such a badass performer? In fact, she smartly utilizes her look in her dancing. Franchesca described her style as almost “alien” and she looks for all the world like an unearthly being when she moves. Mary described her as “so commercial.” That’s not what you’d expect a dance expert to say about a bald girl and I love it.
Of course, Nigel had to go and ruin things.
INCON: “This may sound crazy, but maybe the alopecia is the making of you.”
I…I…are you kidding me? I can almost hear in this sentence the meaning he’s trying to impart. And it’s not offensive at all. But the choice of words. Come on, Nigel. This girl is a person before she is a condition. She’s a dancer before she is a condition. And I can tell by her spirit that she would have made anything Nigel would deem a disability work for her. He wouldn’t have swapped out “bulimia” for “alopecia” and said this to the young woman who overcame the eating disorder, would he? The lovely Franchesca took it in stride, along with her ticket to LA.
The Mary Murphy Tamale Scale of Screaming
Aside from Mary’s vocal fireworks in the face of James Thomas’s bonebreaking, the Mary moment of the night came straight from the episode intro. Mary Murphy braved the Polar Bear Plunge and props to her for that. I certainly couldn’t be paid to leap into ice cold water, let alone do it for charity. So she definitely earned her bleeped scream. I don’t know whether she said she was freezing her tits or her ass off, but I think we can assume both were in quite a state.
Tamale Level: 2/10. So much more screaming ahead.
- I don’t want to call blatant and remorseless racism a “controversy,” but surely this newest shake-up is enough to sever ties with Bieber. No one wants him here. The crews do a fine job introducing themselves and I’m so tired of looking at his face.
- Ballerina Jenna Scaccia reminds me so much of Emily Kinney/Beth Greene. I want her in the top 20 and any choreographer who’s obsessed with The Walking Dead (Sonja?) to create a Still-themed piece for her. I know I’ve got back-up on this.
- Mary pronounced Fabrice’s name like “Febreeze” and it made the whole episode for me.
- Kailee Payne’s audition was a fine one but her quirkiness is well nigh aggressive. If she continues on, I hope she mellows as her nerves subside.
- Popper Kyle Taylor is an inspiration, particularly for singlehandedly keeping his dream alive in a town without a dance scene. But the alum dance battle his audition segued in to just served to highlight the difference in quality between him and the masters. He’s got nothing on Legacy’s stunts and breaking. And Fik-shun and Cyrus’s styles have a humor that Kyle’s can’t match. Still, it’s no doubt an experience he’ll never forget.
- Rotating guest judges are a mixed bag. Sometimes you get 6’5″ male models/ballet dancers and sometimes you get Christina Applegate, constantly pulling faces and demanding camera attention.
- Did they really flash “#healing” on the screen?
What were your favorite auditions this week? Did we meet anyone who you think has a chance at taking the whole thing? Let us know in the comments!