So, you think these kids can dance?
The little dance competition that could is littler than ever this summer. This is So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation, or, So You Think You’re Old. Nothing turns me into a grandma faster than a montage that pretends Twitter is the new playground gossip. (We all know that’s Snapchat.) The jury’s still out why a show that won awards by telling mature stories onstage would decide to go younger. No one’s doubting that these kids can dance, but they’re not going to give us an emotional hip-hop routine about a soldier going to war, either.
Unless they do. The most surprising thing about the first hour of SYTYCD: TNG (aside from the criminal lack of a LeVar Burton cameo) might be that for all of the social media-friendly rebranding, the way the show treats its contestants hasn’t changed at all. In a lot of ways, that’s good: I’ve worked with kids, and I also was a kid, and I have it on good authority that they’re people. No one needs to talk down to them. But some of the etiquette has to change, right? Or are we really going to pry into all of these kids’ saddest moments and then cut to footage of them staring sadly through a window? I don’t think that works anymore.
Here’s what we know so far about this season:
- The dancers range between the ages of 8 and 13.
- Our regular panel of “jidges,” Jason, Paula, and Nigel, will be joined by Dance Moms’ Maddie Ziegler.
- New mom Cat Deeley is adorable with kids and still capable of pulling off that blazer you discarded after you and three of your best friends dressed up as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for Halloween.
- The Academy is the new Vegas.
- At the end of the Academy round, a panel of 10 All-Stars will choose one dancer each to mentor and dance with throughout the competition.
And here are some questions I already have:
- Is Paula wearing flower pants? (Follow-up question: Why do I love them?)
- How many times can Nigel compliment a kid’s ankles before we all just revert back to Victorian ankle-covering propriety?
- Are the All-Stars ever going to dance with different kids, or will they partner with the same kid every week?
- HOW WILL THAT WORK?
Answers to come. For now, give a big snowman fist bump to the next generation of dancers:
Merrick, 10, Hip-Hop: Merrick was inspired to take up animation after seeing Cyrus on the show — which does make me feel old, but this isn’t even the first year we’ve had contestants who grew up watching SYTYCD. Anyway, our veteran judge already has that line of astute commentary covered: When Merrick looks back on being “really little,” Nigel echoes, “Really little?” Nigel, we get it. He’s still little. He’s also articulate and adorable, and he loves robots, especially Wall-E. And he might secretly be playing all of us, because after an eight-count of not-great enthusiastic dancing, he launches into really great actual dancing. He lowered all of the judges’ expectations and then exceeded them. What a hustler. Merrick gets a ticket to the Academy.
Avery, 11, Ballet: Avery’s been dancing since she was 3, and it shows. Her pointe routine is gorgeous (that développé!) and loaded with pre-teen angst. I’m just worried that her mom, who offers up an embarrassing childhood video of Avery way too early in the game, is going to be the Mrs. George of this “Jingle Bell Rock.” Avery gets a ticket to the Academy.
Kida, 13, Hip-Hop: Merrick can go home now; we’ve found our animator. Kida is REALLY GOOD. None of the judges were expecting him to be so good. (If they didn’t think they’d see this level of talent, why did they even switch up the show?) Nigel compares Kida to Fik-Shun, who gave one of this show’s best auditions, and then makes it weird by asking Kida’s mom if he “came out of the womb” doing the robot. Shut that down.
Speaking of family, Kida has a big one: two brothers and four sisters. Their dad died of the flu in 2014, and Kida’s audition falls on his dad’s birthday. He says that he’s following a message they found in his father’s coat pocket: “Keep praying, keep planning, keep pushing.” Keep CRYING. Is this the new “Clear eyes, full hearts”? I can’t get over the fact that a 13-year-old kid is being asked to relive this on camera. It feels wrong. His family is beautiful, though. Kida gets a ticket to the Academy.
NEXT: They found love in a hopeless ballroom