”So You Think You Can Dance”: Audition marathon
Remember how last week I called So You Think You Can Dance the hipper younger cousin of American Idol? Yeah, well, there were so many unhip shenanigans in this two-hour-long audition episode of SYTYCD that I’m seriously thinking I need to up the genetic match a notch and call the two shows siblings.
But first things first: With not so much as a fanfare, Cat Deeley told us that this year’s prize money has been upped from $100,000 to a cool $250K. (Sorry, Benji!) Did you catch that bit? I had to go back to the season-premiere ep in case I missed the announcement of the new amount there, but my TiVo bloop-bloops seem to say that Cat waited to drop the news of the higher amount until we got to Los Angeleese. (In truth, this number’s been out there for a while now, but that only makes the producers’ choice to wait six more days to announce it stranger.)
Oh, and by the way, calling out Cat’s rhymes-with-cheese pronunciation of my city’s name is the best I can do for those of you who demanded I defrost the host’s old calling card — i.e., pronouncing ”judges” as ”jidges.” As far as my ears can tell, though she’s not perfect yet, Ms. Deeley has been practicing her u‘s in the off-season, and I can’t in good conscience toss out a jidge for the rabble to feast on if Cat’s not going to provide me with any fresh meat. So instead, might I call your attention to what I believe was my grandmother’s nap blanket wrapped around Cat during the first day of Los Angeleese auditions. I don’t think Gramma appreciates your sneaking into her home and snatching it off the davenport, Cat.
Meanwhile, Wade Robson’s a judge! Woot! It’s about time the best choreographer of the second season stepped into the judge’s chair — way to show humility after headlining your own dancing show on MTV, Wade! (Yes, I watched. You expected I hadn’t?) But, again, I mean it, when Britney Spears does more than a 15-minute lip-synching set as her ”comeback tour,” then you get to place her back on your résumé. Not before.
First up, Lauren ”Misha” Gottlieb, i.e., the Woman Who Helped Ruin Spider-Man 3. It was bad enough that we learned Misha had assisted SYTYCD choreographer Tyce Diorio in the second season, which is pretty much like one of those Idol backup singers showing up at auditions next season and expecting a shot. But then Misha had to go and blithely brag that she helped Tyce teach Tobey Maguire that unspeakably awful Evil Emo Peter Parker dance routine that made the comic-book threequel derail like the runaway train in The Fugitive. (And we, the audience, were Harrison Ford.) Misha is supremely lucky that she auditioned for the show before Spidey 3‘s release, because I cannot believe Nigel would want anyone even remotely connected to that tango fiasco anywhere near his show. (And, oh, Tyce, why did you have to go and sully your gleaming reputation as SYTYCD‘s second best choreographer? It was nice while it lasted, I suppose. We’ll miss you.)
What Nigel apparently does want all over his show are female dancers who smother their firm tummies in baby oil halfway through their routine. Unfortunately, unless Jessi Peralta is able to find another song that includes a lyric similar to ”oil on my hands” (from Corinne Bailey Rae’s ”Like a Star”), her incredibly literal dancing style evidently demands she remain oil free. Plus, correct me if I’m wrong, but the last thing dancers want is an oily stage, right?
Things only got more screwy from there. After the audience understandably applauded Ernie ”EJ” Sierra’s surprisingly spry lyrical routine — I mean, the guy landed in splits and made it look easy — Nigel tried to get all huffy over their ”patronizing” ovation, which he said was so enthusiastic because EJ was ”fat.” (The other judges weren’t much kinder. Wade: ”You’re dancing like a girl — who can’t dance.” Mary: ”I’m horrified.”) And then Nigel had the nerve to tell EJ to keep dancing because ”it’s going to be good for your health.” Who’s being patronizing here, exactly? (Thank goodness EJ was such a great sport.)
We followed EJ with Colin Wheeler, a kid who I’m going to spare from snark because I’m kinda convinced he could be nearing the realm of the mentally diagnosable, judging by his revelations about the secrets locked inside the human blood cell, the mental communion with the late Anna Nicole Smith, the distressingly thin frame and gaunt, darting eyes. I think the judges got that vibe too, as they let Wheeler’s wavy rave flow off with the gentlest of touches — Nigel even offered to come to Colin’s planet rather than make Colin come back to Earth — but, really, are we doing the kid any good by putting him on television?
Because by doing so, we’re only encouraging families like Olivia Usey’s. Her mother told the camera that the treatment for the 18-year-old’s skin problem had made her sick, but what broke the mother’s heart was that Olivia stopped dancing to protect her health. Okay. And then said mother found a lump in her breast and told her daughter that the only thing she could do to make her feel better was to audition for So You Think You Can Dance, on the day she went in for a biopsy, no less. Fine. Let’s hope it was benign, because after Mary Murphy practically hand-engraved an invitation for Olivia to break down and share her story, I’d just about had it with the emotional manipulation oozing from all sides in this segment.
Indeed, my patience was tried even further with Bryce Cleverly, a.k.a. Golden Inferno, the masked, self-declared American jumpstyle champion who was far more amusing to the judges than he was to me. (By the way, in case you haven’t bothered YouTubing yet, jumpstyle is, in fact, real. And, I’m surprised to report, kinda cool.) I guess I would’ve been less annoyed had Fox not chosen to run its on-screen promo for the upcoming exclusive trailer for the new Fantastic Four movie right underneath Mr. Cleverly’s masked alter ego.
And while I did enjoy watching Mary Murphy completely lose it in the face of ballroom dancer Kurt Myers’ seven-and-a-half-year bout with the hiccups, between his hyperactive diaphragm and his partner Dia Beck’s overactive right eyelid, I began to get a creeping feeling that SYTYCD was devolving into little more than a well-choreographed freak show by the second.
NEXT: Not-insane skills
Fortunately, the coverage of the next day of L.A. auditions kicked off with Jesus ”Chuy” Solorio, former winemaker (time for that on-screen Hell’s Kitchen promo!) and SYTYCD second-timer hoping for another shot to prove himself in Vegas. Also plagued with parental issues (but not by a parent racing to the camera to share said issues), Chuy danced with freedom and abandon and won over the judges. And if you’re wondering what Mary meant by ”Now that’s worship dance,” well, let’s pause for a sec for a little inside scoop: I actually got to sit in on those auditions for a few hours. None of the tryouts I saw (thankfully) made it to air, but there was quite the tense moment when Nigel was critical of a dancer’s audition and she countered by explaining that her style of ”worship dance” is a deeply meaningful way of expressing her faith. This prompted the customary Nigel lecture/hissy fit, this time about how he was offended by her implication that he was criticizing her faith and not her steps. So, yeah, anyhoo, that’s what Mary was referring to.
Back to the show, and none too soon, because Hokuto ”Hok” Konishi just single-handedly saved this episode. Beyond the fact that Hok can do terrifying things with his stomach muscles — and was denied his rightful spot in the season 2 top 20 because of a visa snafu (PS: I liked Nigel’s hair better last season) — he is as inventive, adventurous, appealing, and entertaining a dancer as I’ve ever seen on SYTYCD. It’s still up in the air whether Hok can go the distance — those pesky paso dobles are looming on the horizon — but if I were a betting man, I’d peg Hok to make it to the final four. Yes, I’m going out on a limb pretty early on — let’s see if it breaks.
Hok’s virtuosity was so exciting, in fact, that it really did shake the silly right out of the episode. After a montage of kick-ass break dancing, we were set up to think Dominic ”D’Trix” Sandoval was the self-deluded exception; nope, the kid’s got m’ad skillz. Eighteen-year-old Brianne Healey told us that after graduating from high school, she wanted to ”grow up a little bit” and decided to, erm, ”dance” on a cruise ship, ”and, boy, did I grow up!” Then she unfolded a routine of stunning, fluid beauty. (Why the judges sent her on to the second audition rather than straight to Vegas is a bit beyond me.) Joshua Hill danced like the awkward kid at summer camp, and Nigel suddenly decided he was back to not being mean. Even Benji Schwimmer’s wacky winner shtick couldn’t distract from his younger sister’s solid audition, although it is unfortunate that she’s been saddled with that spangly tumor on her right breast.
When the show shifted to Chicago, and the unfettered enthusiasm of judge Shane Sparks, things got even better. Morgan Larson, so Disney Channel omigod I love this show sweet off stage, more than pulled off a routine with some saucy hairpin turns of tempo and style. Phillip Chbeeb lived up to his Muppet-by-way-of-Lewis Carroll last name with some seriously sick hip-hop popping that made his arms seem like rubber and his joints seem connected by ball bearings. And after her brother Isauro got the big N-O, Yesenia Gomez lived up to her affirmative first name with some hip-hop that made up for in sunny exuberance what it lacked in technical proficiency.
And then, as if they realized they were running out of time — kinda like me with this insanely long TV Watch, due in eight minutes! — the producers rushed through, by my count, 17 seemingly outstanding Chicago dancers in a blink-and-you-missed-them day 2 montage, including one woman who was, in Shane’s opinion, one of the best females they’d seen. (Then why didn’t we see her?) They were making room, it turned out, for amputees Janet Bombard — who lost her left arm in a car accident — and Jon ”Quincy” Vereen — who, after auditioning in season 1, lost his left leg, and pretty well mangled his right one, in a motorcycle wreck. I’m not sure what impressed me more, the un-self-conscious optimism Janet and Quincy exuded or the comparatively light touch the show brought to their stories.
So, with three of four cities down, which dancers are your favorites? Was Nigel out of line when he called EJ fat? Will Misha be able to look her fellow dancers in the eye now that Spider-Man 3 has made it to theaters? Can jumpstyle ever live down the Golden Inferno? Will Mary ever stop laughing at Kurt Meyer’s hiccups? Do tell!