The auditions in Charleston and Washington go both ways, providing some inspiring performances and some cringe-worthy disasters
Nigel Lythgoe

Well, Jeebus Cripes, that was more like it. Not that I’d completely lost my faith in So You Think You Can Dance, mind you, but after Wednesday’s show, my enthusiasm for yet another two-hour SYTYCD audition episode was really beginning to wane — and yes, sports fans, the two-hour epics continue next week. But if they’re anything like last night’s sterling return to form, I’ll gladly continue to gorge myself on this obscene bounty of summer TV deliciousness. Just about everything that was out of whack on Wednesday night was righted back into far more entertaining proportions during the Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C., auditions: far more engaging ”stories,” far more outrageous ”disasters,” and far, far, far better dancing — and, in at least one case, all in the same audition!

To make the contrast even more apparent, I’m going to punt a bit and use the same structure as yesterday’s TV Watch — hey, it looks like I could have as many as four more nights of two-hour episodes to cover before we get to the top 20. I gotta pace myself here. So let’s cut the pre-show chit chat, cue music, and D.C.-swing ourselves through this oh so tasty night of TV.

The Stories

On Wednesday, we had ballroom dancer Chelsie Hightower’s fuzzy tale of woe to launch us into the evening (all those cars! gone!); last night, we began with jazz dancer Sheila Kaiser, a biological-engineering student at the University of Georgia who came to Charleston in the face of her father’s apparently strong disapproval, a hardship far easier to key into. Like Chelsie, Sheila did not disappoint with her audition, bringing a playful and polished showmanship that I hadn’t realized had been largely missing from the season thus far. (And, if you would indulge me a brief digression, I’d just like to get something off my chest right now: Could someone tell me what airline issues those massive Kinko’s creations Nigel is handing out as ”tickets” to Las Vegas?)

After Sheila, though, it wasn’t until day 2 in Charleston that the SYTYCD cameras ventured once more from whatever field of converted warehouses was playing home to the auditions. We saw just enough of Abigail Thurman’s life as a swim teacher to understand what a sweetheart she is, and no more — a perfect setup for her adorable realization she’s really not all that cut out for professional dancing. Before she’d even finished her amateurish routine, she caught a glimpse of Nigel burying his head in his hands and simply just stopped right there, saying with not a small amount of sheepish chagrin, ”Am I that bad? Really?” Nigel assured her she was not a loser, ”just a s— dancer.” ”It’s true,” Abigail replied. ”I really suck at dancing!” (Nigel, of course, could have used a bit of tough love himself before venturing from his hotel room in a rugby shirt and his hair did like Florence Henderson.)

BJ Harris, however, did not suck at dancing, even if I’m not entirely convinced he didn’t truck in an elaborate wire-and-harness system to pull off flopping and tossing his body around the stage like he was a rag-doll marionette. I’ve watched the routine on YouTube at least a dozen times already, and I still haven’t the first clue how BJ managed to lift his body from the floor seemingly just on his tiptoes. There had to be a rope, fishing line, team of microscopic pixies — something lifting the guy up. It’s a shame, really, that BJ couldn’t master the choreography. He told Cat that many friends and family members had helped him get to Charleston; here’s hoping they’ll also help him pay for the dancing classes he needs to make it to Vegas next year.

That’s the kind of support, by the way, that Claire Callaway certainly doesn’t seem to be getting. After an injury felled her during Vegas week in season 2 and a (seemingly unplanned) baby sidelined her from returning for season 3, Claire appeared to have lost all her confidence along with a scary amount of weight. She could barely speak through her sobs after posing her way through her first audition; one wonders whether the 20-year-old will be able to hold it together in Vegas.

NEXT: Phucdat!

I sure do hope Markus Shields does. When I spoke with Nigel before the season began, he mentioned that one of the great surprises this year was the number of hip-hop dancers who showed up having trained in more traditional styles, creating ”this fusion…this sort of soft hip-hop,” and I gotta think Nigel was referring in part to Mr. Shields. About halfway through his fascinatingly varied routine, I found myself getting a wee bit choked up realizing how much Markus was doing his late mother proud. And even though the other Markus of the night, Markus Smith, didn’t make it to Vegas along with his partner Deonna Ball, they both did ”D.C. swing” quite proud. How cool was it to see an entire dancing hall filled with nattily dressed young ‘uns creating their own organic hoofing style?

And how cool was it to see a guy who’d weathered adolescence with one of the most unfortunate names I’ve ever seen/heard — that’d be Phucdat Ngyuen — come out the other side completely embracing his geekiness and sporting some pretty fly dancing skills besides? Only a true, deep-dish geek would dance in a replica of Bruce Lee’s yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death, and Phucdat totally pulled it off. I tip my old retainer case to you, good sir.

The Disasters

I could talk about Erin Mansour’s inexplicable decision to audition as a ballroom dancer after only eight hours of work with partner John Tabakian. I could wax loquacious for 500 words alone on Syiddiah King’s explosion of copper curls, refusal to do ”choreo-guff,” and lack of interest in, you know, learning, or riff for a solid 150 on judge Tyce Diorio’s oh so cogent judgment of Shamika Robinson’s floor knee sliding: ”That was very basic. Verrrry basic. Just so you know.” I could sing odes of praise to the producers for compacting most of the horrid auditions into two tightly edited montages, with the asterisk that I actually would like to have seen more of the druidic lesbian floor rolling, because, seriously, who doesn’t love druidic lesbians?

But, really, there were only two truly disastrous auditions from last night worth unleashing Smirkelstiltskin, my snark demon, upon. The first, alas, is one Jason Looney, or Betty Wallace, or Everythingnigelfightswithdancers Exceptwhenhe Knowsthey’llmakeforgreatTV — EEK, for short. This guy/gal/work of bad performance art was either a complete put-on or seriously delusional, and all three judges bet squarely on the former when they released the full measure of their scorn on his coyly awful dancing, thick-as-molasses Southern accent, and Old French Whore makeup job. (Poor Paula Abdul, meanwhile, just can never catch a break!) My PC alarm quivered a bit at the notion that this was all so disgraceful! — it’s not exactly clear what about dear EEK was making Mary so sick! — but mostly Smirkelstiltskin and I had a right good chuckle at the judges’ expense for giving EEK exactly what s/he was looking for: attention, and airtime.

NEXT: A slap in the face

But Smirkelstiltskin has since moved on. Even as I type this now, he just will not stop repeating Anthony Bryant’s T-shirt-worthy catchphrase of ”F— these peeee-pullll” over and over and over again. Bryant’s meltdown was actually completely understandable. It must be absolutely maddening to graduate from Juilliard (in three years instead of four, no less); return to audition for the show after your first ribbon-twirling tryout back in 2005 generated an altogether unflattering clip repeated ad nauseam by TV comedians and snark demons alike; dance a routine that wins high marks from everyone on technical prowess but still be told you must go through the choreography round because of a vaguely defined lack of ”spark”; wear an army camouflage jumpsuit clearly meant to comment directly on Nigel Lythgoe’s damning slam three years earlier that you’re not masculine enough, only to have Nigel not even acknowledge said event even occurred; dance the aforementioned choreography without the camo and with a smile and attitude that earns a scripted voice-over remark on said smile and attitude by host Cat Deeley; and still be told you’re not good enough to go to Vegas. And then, on top of everything else, they won’t let you have your shoes. Say it with us now: ”F— these peeee-pullll!”

The Great Dancing

But not these people. Wednesday night, the standouts were both women; last night, it was identical twins Anthony and Antwain Hart and new Official Front-Runner Brandon Bryant who totally won me over. (And, he admits it, Smirkelstiltskin too.) The entire sequence — their introduction (when Anthony said of Antwain, ”I’ve lived with him just about my entire life,” and Antwain added, ”Yeah, same here”); Antwain sticking up for his brother after Anthony failed to wow the judges; Nigel giving Antwain a Sophie’s choice between Anthony and Vegas; the brothers’ double-wide-grin-inducing dance together; Anthony saying of Antwain after they’d won him the rare second chance, ”I love this guy; you’re my lifesaver, dude” — will heretofore be Exhibit A whenever I find myself trying to persuade someone to watch SYTYCD.

And Brandon Bryant will be my closing argument. He’s handsome, winning, exuberant, and, as judge Dan Karaty pointed out, gifted with a rare mix of dancing talents. If this kid doesn’t make it to at least the Top 10, then, well, something’s wrong with America, dagnabbit. Is that placing a lot of hype on one muscular and dynamic audition set to the driving chords of Clint Mansell’s score for Requiem for a Dream? Perhaps. But you tell me, dear readers: Who have we seen so far this year who appears to have a better chance at taking on all the disparate styles thrown at the finalists?

And, while you’re at it, can anyone tell me the name of Courtney Galiano’s haunting audition song? Or who that guy leading the ”Thriller” routine in Charleston was? (I think he also made it to Vegas, but I can’t quite tell.) I really would’ve preferred seeing more of ”Thriller” dude than of Dancing Derrick, who wore out his welcome with me last season — am I alone there? And why in the world would Nigel tell someone like Jeremiah ”Most Intense Push-Up Face Ever” Hughes to ”do his shirt up”? Doesn’t he know the vast majority of his audience would much rather the man’s shirt remain very much not done up? What, the show’s all of a sudden gone all upstanding and respectable?

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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