Say it in your best Cat Deeley voice: So You Think You Can Dance has landed in “Los Angeleze.” And while L.A. is always a reliable city for stand-out auditions, it’s really outdone itself this time. More than one of these dancers made me cry—and I, unlike Jason Derulo, am feeling completely secure about it.
Nigel tells the auditioners that they’ll need to be “exquisite, fantastic, exciting, and different,” so I’ve taken the liberty of fashioning the acronym F.E.E.D.—as in, who will F.E.E.D. Nigel this week? This is my gift to him. Let’s get to it.
Asaf Goren, 23 (Team Street): Asaf is originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, so people are always asking him if he has a camel. (“Bro, why should I have a camel? Why?”) He charms Cat by teaching her how to play the shofar, then charms the entire crowd with a performance of what he calls “Hebrew breaking.” (Paula: “Is it Kosher?”) Asaf’s legs are like elastic. We’ve seen cleaner footwork, but we’ve never seen anyone dive into the air like this before—or pour a bucket of water onstage halfway through a routine. Cyrus and Fik-Shun are going crazy in the audience. Asaf has the judges in the palm of his hand; Paula’s this close to asking for his autograph or (her words) “throwing her panties” at him. Nigel compares him to Rock Hudson. Jason compares him to Aladdin. While I get Jason a map, Nigel gives our new rockstar a ticket. Asaf is going to Vegas.
Avo Karapetyan, 29 (Team Stage): Avo, originally from Armenia, is a classical ballet dancer, and he’s here to take your breath away. As he glides downstage to Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” Paula practically melts into the floor. I assume that there’s dancing happening, but we’re all having such a Moment that it’s hard to take in the details. “Why am I so emotional?” Sam Smith croons, presumably about this performance. Avo creates an experience so pure and good that Nigel looks almost mad about it. Paula tells him that she can’t critique perfection. Can’t deny it a ticket to Vegas, either.
Jana “Jaja” Vankova, 22 (Team Street): Jaja is the latest good thing to come out of this Stage vs. Street format. She auditioned last year as a krumper and animator and made it to Pasadena (the Vegas of season 11), only to get cut in the top 50. Now that stage dancing can’t hold her back, Jaja is here to try again—and she’s as good as everyone remembers. She is so precious when she’s not dancing and so terrifying when she is. “You became another being,” Jason says. “You, like, were a robot. I believed you were a robot.” I’d believe it, too. Jaja is going to Vegas.
Allen Genkin, 24 (Team Stage): Allen started dancing when he was 12 because his mom told him that there’d be a lot of pretty girls there. That’s one way to do it. He’s already been through the wringer: His mother died when he was 15, inspiring him to take dance more seriously, and he battled testicular cancer three years ago. But he’s doing okay now, as evidenced by his upbeat, saucy jive—which has Paula duckfacing as she yells, “Yeah, go!” from the judges’ table. Paula’s shouts of approval are quickly becoming my favorite thing about auditions. She also uses the compliment “all that and a bag of Doritos” without apologizing for it. Nigel and Jason agree that Allen proved his abilities in approximately three seconds, and he’s got the personality to match. Allen is going to Vegas.
NEXT: Dammit Nigel, he’s a dancer, not a math student[pagebreak]
Burim “B1” Jusufi, 29, and Illjaz Jusufi, 30 (Team Street): Brothers who moved to America from Switzerland six months ago, B1 and Illjaz were inline skaters before they went to a youth center and learned how to dance. Nigel asks if they’d be willing to dance on ice, because it’s possible that he’s forgotten what inline skates are, but the brothers are game to try as long as someone forks over a jacket. Their routine is energetic and full of tricks, and Nigel likes their musicality. As Jason points out, the brothers connected with each other as well as they connected with the audience, and it earns them both tickets to Vegas.
OBSERVATION: Cat is sporting various bandages on her arm. Stay well, Cat.
Mary Kate Levoir, 21 (Team Stage): Is Mary the Lauren Froderman we’ve been looking for? She gives the judges a sultry jazz routine with lots of strength and control but is equally comfortable calling her “cute dad” (who, yes, bedazzles her costumes) onstage to show off his moves. The dad dancing is embarrassing, but the family love is REAL. Mary is going to Vegas.
James “B-Dash” Derrick, 26 (Team Street): Nigel is so hung up on what B-Dash stands for (nothing) that he misses the best part of B-Dash’s story: Krump documentary Rize inspired him to get out of gang life and pursue dancing. Basically, B-Dash was saved by both film and dance, which makes him So You Think You Can Dance’s dream contestant even before he kills it with a strong combination of krump and animation. I’d like to see him pair up with Jaja for a NappyTabs routine about Wall-E. B-Dash is honored to be on the receiving end of the most Paula compliment of all: “When you’re good, you’re really really good, and when you’re great, you’re great, and when you’re phenomenal, that’s you.” B-Dash is going to Vegas.
Jim Nowakowski, 25 (Team Stage): Shut it down. Shut everything down. Call your loved ones and send them this audition, because it is pretty much the reason we’re alive. Contemporary ballet dancer Jim was born with a cleft palate and had over nine surgeries (so…10?) to repair it. “But I always felt really beautiful when I was dancing,” he says, “and that’s all that really mattered to me.” Jim has a great smile. He’s also a powerful dancer—one of the best Nigel’s ever seen on this show. He reminds Nigel of Alex Wong, minus the ruptured tendon (be careful flexing your feet in developpe, Jim!). He dances “like 40” hours a day, and it shows. Jim is going to Vegas.
Cody Carlson, 19 (Team Street): To quote his mom, Cody “doesn’t let a little Down Syndrome slow him down.” Citing Jason as his inspiration, he gets the whole crowd into his joyful hip-hop performance. I was worried that this segment would come off as exploitative, but it’s saved by the judges’ eloquent respect for the man in front of them, who really is a “born entertainer.” Nigel is especially encouraging, celebrating the fact that dance was recently added to the Special Olympics and telling Cody how proud he is of him. He doesn’t think that Cody has the right technical training for the competition, but Jason sends Cody to Vegas on his dime.
NEXT: Adventures in snake charming[pagebreak]
Jacy Jordan, 18 (Team Stage): After barely surviving a violent car accident at the age of 7, Jacy was told that she’d never walk again. She decided that the doctors were crazy and, after 20-plus surgeries on one leg, returned to dance anyway. She’s good! We’ve seen better contemporary dancers on this stage, but she’s a very good one, with a story that turns “very good” into extraordinary. “I think dance is the one art form that, if you’ve ever experienced it, it keeps you going through the hardest of times,” Paula says. Even Jason is holding back tears. Nigel congratulates Jacy on the miracle of the fact that she’s dancing at all. He’s seen stronger dancers, so he passes, but this is a night for optimism—both Paula and Jason say yes. Jacy is going to Vegas.
Jessica Rabone, 29 (Team Street): Jessica’s sister is a TV host in Japan, where they both were born and raised, and she lived in that shadow until she discovered dance. She’s actually entered a battle with season 4’s Comfort. Jessica moves like a puppet, with great footwork and a really fun vibe—Paula calls her a “mini superhero.” I’d watch a movie on her. Everyone would like a bit more variety in Jessica’s choreography, but her personality is enough to earn her a ticket to Vegas.
Kareem “Anointed” Ali, 22 (Team Street): Anointed describes his style as “spiritual vibrational dance.” It’s acrobatic and peppered with funky details, but for all of his talk, I don’t think his personality quite comes through onstage. Still, his b-boy skills are undeniable, and Paula likes that he’s in his own lane. Paula loves the unique ones, you guys. Anointed is going to Vegas.
Brandon Armstrong, 20 (Team Stage): Brandon is the last auditioner of the episode, which puts a lot of pressure on him to keep the Vegas streak going—but he’s feeling that pressure already. He’s had a ticket to Vegas in his pocket since 2012, when he partnered with Lindsay Arnold in her audition. Brandon was too young to audition on his own, so Nigel told him to come back. Instead, he went on a two-year mission—where, Cat is shocked to learn, he could neither dance nor watch TV. But he kept that ticket. Now, Brandon is back to finish what he started, and he’s brought Jensen, Lindsay’s 17-year-old sister, as his partner to pay it forward.
Confirming that I am not yet tired of dances set to “Uptown Funk,” Brandon and Jensen put on a show. Does Brandon fall out of his turn just a little bit? Maybe. Do the judges care? No. Instead, Jason demonstrates why he should never be allowed to comment on partner routines: “My dad always used to tell me, ‘You gotta know how to handle your woman.’” Great. He praises Brandon for “dominating” Jensen like a man. I think Jason is making me more grateful for Nigel. Nigel hands Jensen a ticket for next year, offers Brandon a few tips on his lines, and doesn’t say anything chauvinistic. Brandon is going to Vegas.
FINAL COUNT: 84 Stage dancers, 84 Street dancers, two robots, zero camels. See you next week, America!