After a fantabulous opening episode, last night’s Salt Lake City and New York City auditions of So You Think You Can Dance were a bit of a mixed bag. No one quite grabbed me with the same mix of tear-jerking backstory and exquisite dancing like Melanie “Ginnifer Goodwin’s Sister” Moore from last week’s season premiere. (A special thank you to Breia Brissey, by the way, for her excellent recap last week.) There was also entirely too little of host Cat Deeley. To the best of my memory, Cat’s only moments of true spontaneous fun in the two hour episode were 1) Appreciating a cute dancing novelty song by a pair of NYC hipsters and 2) Dissolving into giggles after a cute boy dancer told her he’d bruised his “balls” — as in, of his feet, not in his lap. And pretty much the only thing new judge Robin Antin really brought to the table was an inability to stop reminding people she created the Pussycat Dolls. “You’re the kind of girl I could completely mold and turn into a Pussycat Doll,” she told one girl, causing Smirkelstiltskin, my snark demon, to note that Robin Antin should maybe avoid evoking the image of manipulating body parts like clay.
All that said, it was still a solid SYTYCD audition episode, for one simple reason: Several standout dancers established their arc for Season 8 with record speed, including heroes to cheer on, villains to love to hate, and eye candy to admire. We started in Salt Lake City, the place that begat SYTYCD standouts Chelsie, Randi, Ashleigh, Ryan, Gev, Allison, and Sabra; the venue where dancers think nothing of leaping into a split in sweatpants and a thick ski coat; and the home to step-dancers Devon McCullough and Micah Clark, who opened the show with a lively routine that won over the crowd and earned them a chance at choreography. The outcome of their attempt at William and Katee’s routine was foreshadowed when Devon left his buddy Micah hanging at the mic for a celebratory high five: Devon made it to Vegas, showing an unexpected ease for picking up the steps; Micah, who seemed equally uneasy, was cut. Smirkelstiltskin kept making somewhat unintelligible remarks about Devon and Micah being the only step-dancers in Utah, but I just ignored him.
We then shifted to our first true villain of the season: Chyna Smith, introduced as a major SYTYCD fanatic, so much so she apparently hunted down SYTYCD alums Brandon to “dance” with her and Allison to “choreograph” her audition. (Side note: Has anyone seen Brandon and Allison recently?) Chyna spent her entire interview with Cat Deeley gushing over Cat’s appearance, and announced unironically to the judges that her mother — watching in the audience with several other family members — had danced with the Osmonds. By this point, her painted-on perkiness had already grated on me so much, I’d started priming my schadenfreude machine before she even began dancing. And then, blast it all, her routine was pretty darn great, albeit in a I WILL eat you if you don’t love me kind of way made more unsettling when she popped right back into Stepford smile time the second it was over. Nigel said she ran a gamut of emotions, and I guess he’s right, if those emotions were anger, aggression, and attack dog. Then she got the vapors when Robin Antin said she’d make a great Pussycat Doll (I mean, her name is Chyna), and once Nigel handed over her inevitable ticket to Vegas, she blew right past her family while mugging for the camera. “All right, all right, we get it,” I imagined Eve Harrington screaming at her TV. Naturally, Smirkel cannot wait to see much more of Chyna in the weeks to come.
And as if Chyna’s status as Season 8’s Heather/Plastic/FoxNewsbot wasn’t already clear, Nigel and his editing minions followed her up with a bone fide SYTYCD heroine, red-headed spitfire Annie Gratton. On dancing alone, Chyna’s measured, striking routine was demonstrably better than Annie’s collection of vibrant jumps and slightly awkward transitions. But Annie delivered them with genuine joy, and, besides, after Nigel learned her strapping, square-jawed, 54-year-old father François (!) was a former dancer (!!), he asked him to dance with his daughter on stage (!!!), which quickly transformed in François pulling off a few pirouettes (!!!!), landing a jump on just one leg (!!!!!), and leaping into splits on the floor (!!!!!!). They both won a ticket to Vegas, and many viewers’ hearts (or at least mine).
NEXT: Two “crazy” backstories, and one barely clad dancer