Growing up, I had a music teacher who rewrote the lyrics to popular songs for students to sing at all-school events. I met a lot of classics that way. I’d never even heard Sinatra’s “New York, New York” before a group of pre-kindergartners stood before me on the last day of school and warbled their way through lyrics like, “Start spreading the news/ We’re leaving Pre-K.”
I thought a lot about that song when the dance kids flocked to New York tonight.
R.J., 11, and Jake, 12, Hip-Hop: It’s never really a great sign when a pre-teen boy’s mom (or possibly dance coach) tells him, “You are the heartthrob America is waiting for.” Don’t tell Clooney, I guess? This routine is Magic Mike themed, and honestly, I’d trade it for those 10 seconds we got last year where tWitch teased his role in Magic Mike XXL. It’s a fine performance — Paula praises their attitude — but I can’t help thinking that it looks more impressive because they’re dancing together. Also, it prompts Nigel to say “stank face,” and now we can’t unhear that. We can never go back. R.J. and Jake are going to the Academy.
ASIDE: If you fast-forward through Cat Deeley, do you even deserve SYTYCD? Age is no excuse here.
Ruby, 12, Latin Ballroom: Ruby is tall enough to dance with the All-Stars, and that’s a valuable commodity this year. Also, she’s the reigning United States Junior Champion in Latin Ballroom. Do we even need to see her dance at this point? We could just wave her through and use the extra time to get a snack. But dance she does, and she’s good at it. Her hairography is on point, even with Nigel over here loudly commenting on how awkward it is to watch her dance without a partner. (Nigel, she doesn’t need a partner; she has a ponytail.) Our distinguished judge invites Ruby’s father, who is also her dance teacher, to join her onstage, and they entertain the crowd with a fierce kick (from Ruby) and a fun lift (from both of them). Who will lift Ruby when she goes to the Academy?
Tate, 12, Contemporary: Tate’s interview package includes footage of the snow-capped mountains in her hometown of Calgary, which makes me regret not being So You Think You Can Dance‘s resident travel photographer. The rest of the segment just makes me regret not living my life better. Tate keeps long hours balancing school and dance, and I think it’s safe to say that they’ve paid off. She’s incredible. She’s really feeling this routine, but I think Paula’s feeling it even more; I want a little inset of Paula’s face in the corner of the screen at all times. Our mesmerized middle judge compares Tate to a ripple in a lake, adding, “You are a gift from God.” None of the other judges are going to top that. They’re back-walkover-ing all over themselves to give Tate a ticket to the Academy.
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Valeriya, 10, and Alex, 11, Ballroom: Look at these dynamos go. Valeriya and Alex are showy, but they aren’t over the top — there’s a confidence and a maturity to their performance that sets them apart. I’m very into their matching black turtleneck aesthetic; it’s mysterious and vague, and I can’t tell if they want to help me paint a set or hide a body. I fully believe that they’d excel at either. Valeriya and Alex are going to the Academy.
ASIDE: If you thought these kids would at least have the courtesy to only make you feel inadequate in one arena, think again. One of them can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute. Another can do one-handed push-ups. Sure. Fine. Whatever.
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Lucas, 13, Tap: Lucas is here to put on a show. He starts his routine from the wings — he’s thought about this — and breaks up his rat-a-tat, clean-as-a-whistle taps with fun injections of personality. He hasn’t put as much thought into his face, which spends most of the routine locked in the same focused smile; both Nigel and Jason ask him to, in the words of Tom Haverford, make his face better. But he can do that on his way to the Academy.
Liza, 9, and Joshua, 12, Ballroom: Liza and Joshua have the kind of dynamic that makes me think it would actually go very well for them if they shared joint custody of a huge St. Bernard. “I like that she’s always happy, and I don’t like that she’s always happy,” says Joshua, like an old man talking about his best friend from a porch swing. I hope their partnership can survive this: Liza doesn’t make it through. After a strong start (that wink!), she’s decent but shaky, and that just won’t cut it. Joshua is good, though. Joshua gets a ticket to the Academy.
ASIDE: Liza wins Most Relatable Quote: “I want to meet Fik-Shun. He needs to teach me how to do hip-hop. I suck at hip-hop. But if he’s watching this right now, hi.”
Kai, 12, Breakdancer: Kai is the youngest member of his crew of “grown-ups,” so you know he’s got moves. This kid can flip with the best of them. In related news, I would absolutely watch a documentary about Kai’s friendship with this crew. Two of the guys come to his audition and wind up dancing with him, at Nigel’s request. I think our distinguished judge just wanted to practice his “I appreciate breakdance” face. Kai is going to the Academy.
Dougie, 11, Jazz: Dougie is a man of many talents. His smile can power small cities. He does a mean Michael Jackson. He can wrestle Cat, not that anyone ever should. He also gets an adorable introduction from his mom, who tells the story of a teacher’s aide who made fun of Dougie for taking ballet when he was in first grade. The director fired that aide and put up a picture of Dougie dancing for all of the students to see. (Education: You’re doing it right.) The incident gave Dougie confidence and inspired his mom to make sure that he always felt supported, and the pair rode that wave all the way to Broadway. Dougie’s been in Kinky Boots and toured with Motown the Musical. There’s only one problem: After all of that, he’s only okay. His routine is more personality than technique — but Nigel, not ready to let this dream die quite yet, says yes, so the rest of the judges follow suit. Dougie is going to the Academy.
Olivia, 12, Contemporary: Olivia has a vague idea of the story her audition is telling, but she’s not going to hold your hand and walk you through it. She’s a snake, okay? She doesn’t go on a journey. There’s no emotional arc. She’s “just a snake,” because she wants to be. I respect that. But really, this routine is all about the dancing. Girl’s got CONTROL. The judges give her a standing ovation, and Jason repeats his new favorite word: “limitless.” At some point in this competition, someone is going to try to turn Olivia and dance twin Tate against each other. I hope they resist and become best friends out of spite. Olivia is going to the Academy.
That does it for New York — and for this season’s auditions. Class is in session next week, as the kids head to the Academy and Dance Moms‘ Maddie Ziegler joins the fray. The only thing certain is Cat’s jackets; everything else is new. See you then, America.
Derulo-ism of the night: “You went all the way up, bro.”