Debbie Allen joins the panel to judge the 'Fame'-seekers at the Atlanta auditions

By Meredith Hoffa
June 07, 2012 at 10:13 AM EDT
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It appears there is no limit. The sky itself might not even be the limit! On the one hand I’m chomping at the bit to leap ahead in time and meet our top 20 already; I want to get to know the dancers and dive in to the competition in earnest. But let’s face it: I’m enthralled by these audition rounds. I could watch them until infinity. After truly exciting auditions in Dallas, NYC and then L.A., tonight’s ATL auditions were just as full of jaw-dropping skill and big personalities. Two hours a week is just not enough!

Tonight’s guest judge was the low-talking, life-affirming Debbie Allen. She is lovely and comforting and I have great affection for her as a guest judge because she simply cannot hide that she wants to cradle all dancers in her arms. When she calls a dancer “child,” everything seems right in the world, does it not? In other judging news: Tonight Nigel’s dirty uncle persona just went ahead and let itself fly, so I suppose that is an indication that season 9 is well underway. Hooray! Also, I had a funny moment when Mary first walked out onto the stage in those fur-lined high boots and I thought What? Such boots in Hotlanta? but then quickly remembered that of course “tonight” happened way back January, when Hotlanta was not hot per se. Though still hawt!

Let’s get to it and talk about what happened during tonight’s jam-packed episode.

First, we were introduced to Audrey Case who can fart with her neck and lick her elbow. It was pretty lame the way Nigel advised her to keep that stuff on the DL because she’s a “young lady.” What is this, olden tymes? Is that behavior not befitting of a lady? “That’s probably why she’s never had a boyfriend,” Mary quipped. So mean! Audrey took it all in stride, though. And her jazzy contemporary solo was joyful and completely happy-making. The sexy playfulness in her routine had shades of of Lauren Froderman. “Magical charisma,” Nigel (I think it was) said. Yes indeed. Straight to Vegas, baby, for this crazy, neck-farting cat!

I just tried to lick my elbow and it’s harder than I thought.

Next we met Boris Penton, one third of a trio of hip hoppers who came to the audition together and call themselves Dragon House. They also live together with a bunch of other people in some digs where bathroom availability is scarce but dancing in the dining room is not! Boris performed a mesmerizing hip hop solo set to piano music during which he magically managed to articulate every singe note with his body. His fluid movement combined with the music had a really calming quality, and his blue double mohawk had an adorable quality. I loved him, but have to admit I was surprised he got a ticket to Vegas, baby. It seemed to me that in seasons past, a performance like this one — strong and captivating though “non technical” — would have earned a visit to the choreography round.

NEXT: Nigel’s eyes fall out of his head

Joshua Alexander took the stage next and holy crap. His contemporary routine set to Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” was one of the more passionate and intense routines we’ve seen this season. Watching his solo was like witnessing something intimate. Vegas, baby, for this darling man whose performance caused Debbie Allen to make some deeply enraptured, pleasured-yet-appearing-displeasured stankface.

We then were treated to fleeting glances of a few more dancers who made it through to Vegas. There was the guy who grew up poor in Chicago, a girl with Tourette Syndrome and a guy who lost his mom at a young age. Like I said, two hours is not enough. Hopefully we’ll get to know some of these dancers in Sin City.

I always appreciate a late bloomer story, and karate instructor/ten-time national champion/three-time international champion and general badass Tim Conkel was tonight’s. Tim — who brought a ton of personality, many cute aw shucks grins and a Selena Gomez backpack — didn’t start dancing until his freshman year of college, which, judging from his babyface, wasn’t very long ago. I like a person who admits he started dancing in order to meet girls. After stowing Selena safely upstage, Tim performed a hip hop/breaking/martial arts mélange that highlighted his insane sideways-flying skills. Afterward, Nigel asked him to perform some ballet, and what ensued was some maniacal, glorious leaping about (after all, Tim’s had only has seven days of ballet training) and then a ticket to Vegas, baby! Selena, too! This guy obviously has boatloads of potential and even more teddy bear charm, but again, I was surprised that he got to the skip choreography round when he seemed like the perfect candidate for it.

I’ve been waiting for the hot tamale train to choo choo its way onto my small screen this season and if there was one contestant who might have been the first to summon it, it was Janelle Issis, a raven haired, sparkly-eyed belly dancer who performs in nursing homes, among other places, and doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about giving senior citizens heart attacks. Fiery and fiesty, she shook her stuff hard, and I was sitting there with my pen and notebook in hand, trying to find the right words to describe Nigel’s slack-jawed facial expression when my husband exclaimed “He’s never been dirtier!” On to choreography for Janelle.

Two other dancers were sent to choreography:  Jackson Alvarez, with his cute face and “power moves,” and Brittany Ortner, who danced a so-so solo and whose attractiveness Nigel cannot seem to cease to mention, but who, if we’re really being honest, also had a hard time stating her name, age, and hometown correctly in her intro segment.

NEXT: Threats of a stabbing

Danielle Dominguez was one one of my favorite contestants of the night. I liked the way she let the camera crew into her house to film her scarfing down bacon with reckless abandon, and, moreover, I was pleased that there was an entire segment devoted to an Ode to Bacon of sorts. Danielle, I’m a bacon fan, too, and I appreciate your habit. I enjoyed all the bacon-centered conversation Danielle’s audition inspired, especially the awkward moment when Nigel was talking about a “bacon diet” and said to his fellow judges “Maybe you two ladies would like to go on it.” Eeks. That’s right, Nigel, pick up that shovel and keep on digging. Another thing I appreciated about Danielle was her adorable mom who was game enough to stand up in the audience and perform one of her old cheers. Moms like this always get me. Of course Nigel had to add a dose of leer to the moment by commenting “Your mom’s in good shape!” I mean, did anyone actually not think he was going to say some such thing? But moving on to the main main point of all this: I loved Danielle’s dancing. Totally whimsical and Ellenore Scott-ish, and as I watched, I thought to myself Sonya Tayeh is going to devour her. I’m excited to see more from Danielle. Vegas, baby!

Next we finally got to meet the other members of Dragon House. First up was Andre Rucker. I fell for him as soon as he started talking about how anxious he was for his audition. But his nerves didn’t seem to hurt his solo one bit. He performed a crazy incredible hip-hopping/shape-making routine while his co-dragons in the audience went wild for their BFF. That fear fear fear part was creepy! Then came Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer who showed us what a robot-animated-popper looks like, and what it looks like is something that I, at least, have never seen before, something uttlerly liquid yet hard-hitting at the same time. The performance was unique and super special. Debbie and Mary were exclaiming whooaa and woooo the whole time as if they were on a ride at an amusement park, and I get it; Watching Glitch gave me actual physical glee, a real roller coaster-like thrill. Nigel loved it so much he threatened to stab Glitch in the eye. I get that, too.

Day two of the auditions brought us Courtney Kirby and her grandma, who used to be a dancer herself and who also makes great television. Put a grandma/granddaughter duo on my TV screen and I will cry, it’s a simple equation. Like when Nigel asked Gram why Courtney should be on SYTYCD and grandma responded “Because she’s special.” I LOVE GRANDMAS. But what I didn’t love was when Nigel wrapped his leg around grandma during their embrace. Be classier, Nigel! Also, to be honest, I didn’t love Courtney’s heavily gymnastic routine; it felt trick-heavy and artistry-light. But that grandma is one powerful presence. Though Nigel voted for Courtney to go to the choreography round, the lady judges outnumbered him and put her (and Grandma) through to Vegas, baby.

NEXT: Copycats make good

Another dancer I’m excited to see more of is this season is Asher Walker, a cardigan-donning country boy from Franklin County, VA who practices dance in his garage on a piece of cardboard. He wants to be a backup dancer for Justin Bieber, and he just may get there. His routine was a joy; he appeared to be fueled by springs — completely weightless and exuding incredible musicality. Like a lot of the dancers we saw tonight, Asher is a real entertainer.

Mindy Kaling as a gyno in hot pink lipstick. I’m really looking forward to it.

George Lawrence II was Mary’s favorite audition in Atlanta and it’s easy to see why. The former running star was exquisite in his contemporary routine, plus he has a gentle, authentic soul that shone through in his intro segment. I had to rewind his solo twice just to fully comprehend that bonkers move where he went from an upward dog position on his stomach into a handstand. “This child is fierce,” Debbie proclaimed, causing me to experience a surge of well-being and a surge of desire to be her child. George was born to dance, she said. Truth.

The last contestants tonight were Damon Bellmon and Deon Lewis, a hip hop duo who created a bit of an uproar last season after they apparently ripped off choreography from Les Twins for their audition (“I got a million twits about it,” Mary said.) (Mo-om!). The duo maintains it was meant to be an homage and was all just a big misunderstanding, and SYTYCD is giving them a second chance. Tonight their routine — choreographed by themselves, presumably — was so playful and vibrant that they got a standing O from their fellow dancers. Both were sent on to choreography.

The two choreography rounds in ATL were pretty good to the folks we’d gotten to know. Janelle Issis and Jackson Alvarez were partnered together and both made it through. So did Brittany. And so did Damon. Deon didn’t make the cut. But some approximately 30 other dancers did.

Next week: The Salt Lake City auditions, the audition spot for several of SYTYCD‘s star alums. Adam Shankman will guest judge, meaning we’re in for some great feedback as well as an inevitable plug for Rock of Ages. I am ready.

What did you think of tonight’s Atlanta auditions? Who were your favorites? Did you adore the boys of Dragon House? Was it just me or did you think people were being sent to Vegas more readily than in the past? Is Mary parking the hot tamale train at the depot until Sin City? Can any of you lick your elbow?

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