By Jake Perlman
May 28, 2014 at 01:00 PM EDT
Mathieu Young/FOX
  • TV Show

So, you think you know what you can expect on the new season of So You Think You Can Dance? Think again.

“I think people have actually got it and they understand that they have to do something different,” host Cat Deeley told EW at the Los Angeles auditions in March. Hollywood marked the final audition city for season 11 of the hit summer franchise and, unlike in previous seasons, will also serve as the callback location replacing Las Vegas.

“At least they’re going somewhere!” judge Mary Murphy joked. After more than a decade on the air, expectations are higher for everyone involved. “Some cities, we were very picky with our tickets,” Murphy said. “After so many seasons, we know what we want to see and we want to see unique and we want to see something new.”

“What’s good for me is that the hip hop dancers are realizing that they need to learn other styles of dance,” executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe said. “So you get contemporary fusing with hip hop and trying to do different things and that’s what is exciting really.” Audition cities this year include Chicago, New Orleans, and Atlanta, but both judges and Cat note that to find the best talent, you usually have to look around the perimeter of the country. “If you are a dancer, you tend to gravitate towards the east coast and the west coast,” Deely said. “That’s purely because there are more work opportunities there and more choreographers to work with and schools and all those sorts of things. So there is always on either side, east coast or west coast, a differentiation in the talent.”

The audition process is one of the most enjoyable for Lythgoe, who created the show with Simon Fuller, because it usually is the one opportunity to actually show more than just dance. “I love what we do here on the road cause it allows me to play. It gives me a lot of pieces to play with, moms, dads, little kids, so I’m constantly, as well as judging, producing the show while we are doing it.”

Lythgoe’s least favorite part is later on in the summer once the competition goes live. “You won’t believe this, but I get very, very nervous,” Lythgoe said. “Your brain works much faster than your mouth. Especially as you get older. I’ve forgotten someone’s name who I met yesterday! So, if I’m trying to recall things or help somebody with say, ‘oh you should go watch Fred Astaire when he did this movie and that routine,’ can’t remember a lot of that these days. I’ve tried drugs, they don’t work,” he said, adding quickly: “I mean to keep me calm!”

Auditions are also the first opportunity for the audience to be introduced to a dancer — not only their style and technique, but their story of how they got there as well, which usually makes the judges’ jobs a lot harder. “You sit there praying, ‘God I hope they’re going to be good’ after telling you their story,” Murphy said. “You desperately want to help people. Some just need a ‘yes’ in their life to help them climb out from where they are at. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it and see what people can accomplish and the determination to change their life too has been an inspiration to myself and really heartwarming to hear those stories.” But don’t be fooled, a sad story can’t get you into the competition alone. “To be honest with you, I will say we are honest,” Murphy said. “We don’t just put people through if they have a sad story. We sympathize with them, but we tell them to work harder.”

And work harder they do. SYTYCD is also unique in giving dancers the opportunity to audition multiple times over the years or in some cases, one season. “We’ve had so many people, Twitch is one of them, he came back 3 or 4 times and now look how popular he is,” Murphy said. “That’s the thing about dancing, we can approve in one years time. And even today, there are kids who have been at other audition cities and if they learned that choreography at the end, well, it’s the same in every city so maybe they’ll get through this time.”

Adam Shankman and Christina Applegate with both return as judges this season as well as new faces Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Wayne Brady and Jenna Elfman. And, though Lythgoe also hopes to add some more new personalities in the mix, he insists it’s never his top priority. “It isn’t about the judges,” he said. “It might keep everyone happy, but it’s about the dancers. The judges get us publicity which we are grateful for, but it’s about the dancers.”

The dancing begins tonight with the premiere of season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance at 8pm ET on Fox.

Episode Recaps

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