Three hours of So You Think You Can Dance audition goodness this week. Wednesday night we got to see what Salt Lake City and New York had to offer, each giving us some good and some not-so-good. And Thursday night brought us the final auditions show, from the mythological Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. And the ol’ Orphic Mysteries were in full effect, because LA was a panoply of dance magic this season.
Round 3: Salt Lake City
Judges: Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Robin Antin
Choreographers: Katee Shean and Will Wingfield
This round introduces us to new judge Robin Antin, creator of the Pussycat Dolls. Yeah, I thought it was a little weird too. But aside from the fact that she kept trying to audition the dancers for her Dolls, she did a fine job on the panel. However the talent pool seemed a bit thin to me. For one thing SLC is apparently the smallest city on the audition tour this season. But I think the real problem was the editing, which cut back a bit on the individual dancer focus and gave us more montages. At least that was my impression. And it troubles me that it seems to have been edited that way to make time for the requisite train wreck audition of the episode, Brittany “I’m the daughter of the REAL Ringo” Starr. In seasons past I feel SYTYCD has managed to showcase some of the odd and unusual characters that try out for the competition without making it seem quite so much like a freakshow, and more importantly without taking time away from the real dancers. It feels to me that we’re starting to dedicate more screentime to the novelty acts than we used to. I realize it can be fun, but that way lies American Idol territory. Please producers, let’s be careful how much we pander to the freakshow audience and keep it to the genuinely talented, interesting, compelling dancers that we’ll be watching over the season. Thanks.
At any rate, moving on… some memorable dancers from SLC. First up were Devon McCullough and his friend Micah Clark, a pair of step dancers. I’m used to seeing step done in larger groups rather than in pairs, but these two were fun. Very fast, very precise, and they had great chemistry. But step dance is a hard style to imagine integrated with other disciplines, so they were sent through to choreography. I thought both did well in the choreo portion, but only Devon moved on to Vegas.
Uber-fan Chyna Smith (“from Pocatello, Idaho where the potatoes grow”) was less Dance Barbie than I expected and more sassy, sultry fun. Plus she actually danced a pretty great routine. Nigel, never one to pass on a beautiful young lady…err, dancer, sends her straight on to Vegas.
Annie Gratton is a similarly enthusiastic young dancer, this time with red hair and the adorable Dad-is-also-a-dancer-but-has-never-danced-onstage-with-his-daughter accessory. Her audition was pretty good, and she scores a ticket to Vegas. But Nigel calls her dad down from the audience and says he wants their first father/daughter dance to be on this stage. It’s a funny and sweet moment, and it’s just one example of how the positive energy of these dance communities can really elevate the entire experience. The entire audience, always positive and supportive when any other dancer is up on stage, were thunderous in their support for these two, particularly when Nigel gave Annie’s dad a Vegas ticket as well. However I have to say it was a bit odd that the random music selected for this touching father/daughter moment was the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.”
Other memorable dancers from this round: b-boy Tad Gadduang, who did most of his routine on one hand; practically naked contemporary dancer Chase Thomas; and amnesiac Samantha Hiller, who lost most of her memory three weeks prior due to illness. She was a fascinating story, a bright and bubbly personality, but unfortunately just a really good not great dancer, and so she didn’t make it past choreography.
Oh, and the unnamed dancer that almost killed my beloved Cat Deeley with the story of his bruised balls.
Round 4: New York
Judges: Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Jason Gilkison
Choreographers: Katee Shean and Will Wingfield
On to the Big Apple. Home of hip hop and Broadway. And apparently something called “whacking?” Samara “Princess Lockeroo” Cohen appears to be the whacking diva (I’m resisting the obvious jokes here), and while she looks pretty great in that crazy New York extraterrestrial way, she seems… well, a little crazy. But it turns out her routine is kind of fun, and even a bit impressive. I guess the dance style of whacking involves spinning your arms around really, really fast… or something. But she somehow made that entertaining, at least enough to get a ticket to Sin City. You be the judge…
Next we got contemporary dancer Brandon Jones, who is charming and amazing and a crowd favorite. He breezes through to Vegas. And he is followed up by the brash, aggressive “krumper for Christ” Brian Henry, who proceeds to maybe ever-so-slightly dis Season 6 winner Russell Ferguson and frequent judge and choreographer Lil’ C. The gauntlet is thrown and Brian throws himself into the routine. It’s powerful, and impressive, though he swears it wasn’t angry. Despite his confrontational manner he moves on to choreo, and ultimately Vegas. He’s not my favorite person in the mix right now, but it was nice to see some tears of emotion from him after he made the Vegas cut. Hopefully the off-putting, in your face demeanor will fade away if he moves beyond Vegas.
As a palate cleanser following that we get adorable champion Irish step dancer Mary Kate Sheehan, who proceeds to work every single inch of the enormous Howard Gilman Opera House stage, floating fast and effortlessly from one side to the other. It’s astonishing, really. But of course Irish step is a very specific dance style and so champion or not she is sent to the choreography stage… which she aces. On to Vegas with you, young lady.
Jazz/musical theater dancer Jess LeProtto KILLS his “Mack the Knife” routine, though he is criticized for not smiling more. He goes to choreo. As does Latin dancer Kristen Dobson, who has appropriately fast and furious footwork, but for some reason chooses to pause the Latin action for a couple of beats to lift her leg WAY up over her head. She and Jess are paired in the choreo segment and both move on to Vegas.
Two more videos from the New York show I want to share with you before we move on to the Best Coast. First is Virgil “Lil’ O” Gadson, whose hip hop/breaking routine is not the all-time greatest we’ve seen on the show, but whose infectious smile and positive attitude earn him a flight to Vegas…
…and another hip hop dancer, Robert Taylor, Jr. He’s at the upper age limit for the show as it stands now (30), so as Nigel sings it, “it’s now or never.” Fortunately Robert is really, really good AND incredibly fun and engaging. Get your booty to Vegas, my friend!
Round 5: Los Angeles
Judges: Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Tyce Diorio
Choreography: Katee Shean and Jakob Karr
And finally, 2500 miles away, we get what is arguably the best of the audition cities this season, Los Angeles. For the first time (that I’m aware of), the audience is loaded with dancers and all-stars from previous seasons. Confirmed sightings include Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Joshua Allen, and Comfort Fedoke (Season 4); Brandon Bryant, Ade Obayami, and Jeanine Mason (Season 5); Jakob Karr, Jonathan “Legacy” Perez, and Kathryn McCormick (Season 6); and Lauren Froderman (Season 7). There may have been others I didn’t spot or recognize.
Kicking of this round was 18-year old “innocent” Jordan Casanova, who gives one of the most outright sexy dances of the auditions. Carefully avoiding coming off like a dirty old man, Nigel quickly sends her off to Vegas.
Derion “DC” Chapman has one of those personalities that will just ANNIHILATE this competition. He is so incredibly entertaining and identifiable. He’s a young man deeply in love with his girlfriend and excited to be a father. And he’s DAMN good at what he does. Check it out!
Let me montage a few of the other memorable dancers here so I can wrap up with a couple more videos. Yeah, that’s right. What can I say, LA was good to me.
Patty Anne Miller, a Berkley School of Music graduate with a drumming scholarship (?? I didn’t know these existed, but that is freaking awesome) and, obviously, an innate sense of rhythm which shows in her pretty amazing hip hop skills. She’s Vegas bound. Sisters Sasha and Natalia Mallory win me over with their sibling love/rivalry/love routine, and they’re both great dancers. Sasha is the more proficient of the two, but both do well in the choreography session and both jump aboard the last train to Vegas. Japanese import Hiroka “Hero” McCrae is yet another female hip hop dancer that knocks it out of the park. This season seems like the ladies are bringin’ the hip hop muscle more than the guys. Which, y’know… awesome! She shows some of the most precise pop & lock and body control moves we’ve seen. She goes straight to Vegas. And the requisite train wreck for this episode is MUCH less annoying than previous ones: Joe “Big C” Doyle is a plus-size hip hop (I guess?) dancer with a Santa Claus schtick. At first it looked like this would be just as big a nightmare as previous “freak of the week” clips, but Big C is a) not actually as awful with the whole dancing thing as some have been, b) genuinely funny and good natured, and c) only gets a minute or so of air time. So… cool.
Now, the real deal(s). Turns out Season 5 champion Jeanine has a little sister, Alexis Mason. Turns out Alexis is just as exotically beautiful as her older sister. And it turns out she’s also a great dancer. Her style seems more ballet-inspired than the contemporary of her big sister, and Nigel points out she needs to work on her facial expressions as she performs. But she’s great, and we all love when family of previous contestants make it to the show. I adore the relationship we see between Alexis and Jeanine, particularly the connection they make while Alexis is dancing. Just watch.
And last but certainly not least, a face from the past. Arielle Coker, who has previously audition three times, including once as partner to Season 5′s incredible Phillip Chbeeb, is back one more time. I can’t quite explain why, but I have loved her from the very first time we saw her back in Season 4, and I’ve been rooting for her ever since. This time, however, she has really outdone herself. There is an intensity and passion to her performance here that is just incredible. Her choreography to the song (Frisson’s “Groundhog Day”) is powerful. And I adore the way she lets the occasional mischievous little smile break through her sultry, steely glare at just the right moments of the routine. If she doesn’t make it through Vegas and into the Top 20 I will be writing a strongly worded letter to Executive Producer Mr. Nigel Lythgoe, believe you me.
And that’s that. Auditions are done. Next week we get the big Vegas blow-out on Wednesday, June 8. The following day we’ll get to finally meet the Top 20 of Season 8. One last (I hope) format announcement: Adam Shankman, who has been a permanent judge of seasons past, will be too busy working on other projects to be full time this year, so once again we will try the two permanent seats of Nigel and Mary, with the third seat filled by rotating judges each week. Presumably (hopefully) Mr. Shankman will be able to sit in at least once or twice as the season progresses.
As always I’m eager (desperate) for your feedback. What did you think of the shows? Any favorite dancers so far? Any judges you’d like to see fill the rotating seat? Leave a comment here on the site, reach us on Twitter at @gobbledygeeks, or drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.