By Marc Snetiker
Updated January 23, 2012 at 07:04 PM EST
Michael Williams/Fox
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Rain has a way of making everything gloomy, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the perennially sunny Cat Deeley or the hundreds of hopeful New Yorkers who auditioned this morning for Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.

Deeley and some 500-odd dancers braved the a.m. weather in Manhattan as day 1 of auditions for season 9 (!) of the hit dance competition rolled into New York (the third of five audition locations this year). The usual characters were of course there – a trio of street-trained hip-hoppers from Boston who quickly befriended each other at the bus station; a timid ballerina who brought her mom (and blanket) for support; a five-time auditioner who swears that this is the year for Broadway. As always, dance battles took center stage in the street, even though the weather didn’t exactly permit (more than once, the unfortunate combination of pirouette-puddle-pavement resulted in a downed dancer).

But the effervescent Cat Deeley didn’t let the gloom get to her. “It’s a bit gray, but that’s okay,” said Deeley inside the Manhattan Center. “The New York personalities just shine straight through. It could be gray and cold, but you literally walk down the line and bam! It hits you. It’s great!”

Deeley made her usual rounds down the avenue-long lineup, greeting the shivering contestants – and proving yet again why she’s the “warm fuzzy” of reality TV hosts – before they filed inside to audition for the show’s team of producers. If they make it through to callbacks, they’ll return tomorrow to Brooklyn for a live audition in front of judges Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and Tyce Diorio.

Inside the theater, Deeley gave EW a glimpse into life on the audition road, as well as a few teases about this upcoming season of So You Think You Can Dance (and her relationships with dancers past). Here’s what we learned:

  • One celebrity guest judge will return…as an auditioner! We can’t tell you who, but a familiar face from a past season will reappear in Los Angeles as a dancing hopeful. “He’s my best friend since doing the show,” teased an infectiously giddy Deeley. “He makes me laugh so much. I’m so excited to have him back!” Co-executive producer Jeff Thacker added, “He wanted to come in for an audition, just to see what they’re like. I think he’s going to bring something very special to it.”
  • As we already knew, this season of SYTYCD will be results show-less – but there will still be just as much (if not more) drama because of it. “We’re going to amalgamate the results show into the main show, which I think will add another layer of jeopardy,” said Deeley. “We want to keep it punchy and keep that level of jeopardy and drama.” Added Thacker: “The pressure’s going to be on for double the amount of time. They’re going to have to wait a week to find out who America put into the bottom 3, [and then] they have a second chance to redeem themselves.”
  • The All Stars are back. Last season saw the introduction of the SYTYCD All Stars – past performers who join up with the contestants once they reach the Top 10. Don’t expect season 8 winner Melanie Moore to pop up, though. “I don’t know whether we’ll get All Stars from this last season,” says Thacker. “They’ve only just gone through the system. Sometimes we like to give them a little bit of time to work and get a little bit more experience.”
  • The auditioning dancers are getting more creative. After eight seasons, it’s hard to still be surprised, but the dancers are still managing to amaze and astonish during auditions. “They’ve started putting together different styles [of dance] with different genres of music,” said Deeley. Example: a freestyle routine to classical ballet, and a B-boy who dances to show tunes. “The hip-hop guys are taking more of a contemporary or lyrical song and using that,” said Thacker. “Breakers are using that as well, creating a totally different style.”
  • Cat Deeley throws dancer-filled Fourth of July parties. As if she wasn’t wonderful enough, Deeley prides herself on her Independence Day barbecues, which she uses to stay in touch with dancers from past seasons. “It started off really small, so I’d flip the hamburgers myself and all that,” said Deeley. “Now, season 9, I have all these different dancers from all these different seasons. It’s starting to get a bit like an AA meeting now!”

The show’s producers are still staying very hush-hush about this season’s celebrity guest judges — as well as the details of the results show format change — but all will be revealed soon enough when the show premieres in May.

What do you think, SYTYCD fans? Who do you think will pop up as a celebrity judge this year? How should the show handle eliminations? Are you excited for the new season?

Read more:

Episode Recaps

So You Think You Can Dance

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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