''So You Think You Can Dance,'' Fox's hipper, sexier talent show, kicks off its third season with the right balance of skills, self-delusion, and Nigel

By Adam B. Vary
Updated May 28, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Robert Sebree
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”So You Think…”: Off on the right foot

I’ve got to start my TV Watch for the third season of So You Think You Can Dance with a couple words of warning. For one, I have only just started to emerge from the Velveeta Ocean on Planet American Idol, so my cognitive functions are slightly above those of your average, um, well, let’s see…oh, dear, this isn’t good. I can’t even manage to muster any snark about myself anymore. Well, this is only my first TV Watch ever, so what have I got to lose, right? Let’s get to it.

We started with a recap of last season — Benji wins! The tour sells out! — and a promise that this season will have even bigger crowds and sexier routines. And by sexier routines, they apparently meant, well, more camel toe, and based on the cutaways to judge Nigel, this notion left him both repulsed and highly intrigued. Meanwhile, the producers played ”Junior Kickstart,” by the Go! Team, during the what-to-expect-from-the-auditions montage — was it just me, or did that dude who fell while holding his partner in the air look like he kinda split in half? — and already my belief that SYTYCD is the hipper, smarter, more talented, and, yes, sexier younger cousin of American Idol was reinforced for this new season.

We learned that Mary Murphy will be a permanent judge this season, and I’m thrilled, as her particular brand of big-toothed lucid insanity is always welcome in my living room. Joining her and Nigel in New York City was choreographer Dan Karaty, and I gotta say, Dan, even though Britney Spears is trying to make her comeback, you may want to retire her from your résumé for a while.

On to the dancing. Host Cat Deeley — don’t you love the way she says ”Los Angeleese”? — told us each dancer has 30 minutes to warm up and one minute to show off their goods. With that time frame in mind, we began with Dancing Derrick Bradley, whose hyperkinetic, wet-rabid-cat-after-a-two-week-catnip-bender free-for-all had the kid so utterly exhausted after 60 seconds that I wondered how he could’ve possibly survived his warm-up period. (Later, we learned that at least some of that time was apparently spent dancing through his daily routine as both a fast-food fry cook and a supermarket cashier.) ”I should’ve do with my leg quickness because I can go pretty quick with my legs,” Derrick told the judges before availing himself of the on-site medic for a quick fix of pure O2. I’m guessing that had he somehow made the show, Fox would have needed to spring for an on-site dialysis machine. Other bad auditions from New York included Tiffany Green’s tweaking goth girl at an Indiana rave, Jessica Diaz’s interpretation of what Jesus’ life and death would’ve looked like had he been sporting a purple-lamé wedgie, and the intensely awkward swing dancing and romantic tension of Carmen E. Lugo and Joél Bernabel. But I think Dancing Derrick’s the one to remember for the season finale.

Just when I became nervous that SYTYCD was going to try emulating its older, cheesier cousin’s overwhelming bad-to-good ratio for the early episodes, in strutted Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev, who snapped through a sultry ballroom routine with enough fire to alight the come-hither twinkle in Nigel’s eyes that inspires Sideshow Bob-ian shudders from viewers nationwide. Anya and Pasha’s hips popped with such conviction that I daresay I was concerned they’d pop out of joint. Well, that is, until I met Heather Zampier, who, when diagnosed with a bone spur in her hip and told never to dance again, did the sensible thing and got a green-eyed tiger tattoo over her right hip — I guess to guard said hip against negativity? I was convinced, in fact, that Heather was a self-deluded sort, but then she danced, sending my blood pressure higher with each hip snap and winning over the judges with her take-no-prisoners conviction.

So remember, kids: Multiple tattoos over your entire body equal quality dancer. Whereas a single Chinese-character tattoo that you’re told means ”dance” equals doing break-dancing spins on your knee. Yes, I’m looking at you, Jenna Dejosia, but I can’t say anything mean about the fact that you actually teach dancing to children because Nigel’s not being mean anymore and I’m the sort of guy who meets that sort of challenge head on. So nope, no mea— oh, hey, Melissa Browne! Those are sure some…fun…red fishnet stockings, and your bouncy hip-hop is certainly…fun…wouldn’t you agree, Nigel? What? Melissa is ”the dancing version of Ugly Betty”? So I can go back to snark now? Phew.

Just in time, too, because nothing inspires withering sarcasm like a horrifying floor collapse that left 24 people dead and 350 people injured. Hanna-Lee Sakakibara’s story — she suffered a broken jaw and nose in a May 2001 disaster in Israel, requiring metal plates to be permanently placed in her face — ranks right up there with the America’s Next Top Model contestant whose mom died protecting her in a plane crash as one of the most harrowing reality-TV backstories of all time. Seriously, SYTYCD producers, I’m never, ever going to be able to get that image of that floor giving way and those people suddenly being swallowed into darkness out of my mind, so thanks for that.

And thank you, thank you, thank you for finding Jamal Weaver. Full of barely contained energy during his first audition — love that Nigel tried to show off his street cred by asking Dan Karaty if Jamal was ”clowning” — the large-yet-nimble-footed guy refused to give up after Dan commented that he can’t see Jamal ever bringing structure to his movement. Instead, Jamal talked his way into re-auditioning with, of all things, a swing-dance routine. And I gotta admit, I was convinced we were gonna be adding Jamal to the Dancing Derrick pile, especially after he was forced to enlist crew mate Earnest ”E-Knock” Phillips as his dance partner. But man oh man, when Jamal grabbed E-Knock and swung him around and between his legs, he created a moment that was more purely entertaining for me than every single non-Mindy Doo moment from this past season of Idol put together. (Okay, excepting Blake’s ”You Give Love a Bad Name” too.) Nigel’s right; for that brief minute at least, Jamal was a stah.

Of course, being the hipper, cooler relative means that sometimes people just won’t get you, and I just didn’t get Ashley Keegan and her teacher, Katie ”the dancing Rachael Ray” Watts. I know next to nothing about technical dancing, so I just have to take on faith that these women were sent straight to Las Vegas based on their skill and not on the fact that whatever it is you call the bottom half of their dancing outfits left precious little to the imagination. ”I think you showed us a little bit of everything,” said Dan of Ashley, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think he was completely referring to her dancing.

I’m deliberately choosing not to write much of anything about the second, er, coming of Sex because I found his exchange with Nigel so juvenile — ”Sex is back!” ”No he’s not!” — that it seriously threatened my entire organizing hip-cousin hypothesis about SYTYCD. (Okay, one piece of snark: Is it just me, or does Sex look like a character out of a Chris Cunningham music video? Warning: Link a bit NSFW.)

So instead I’ll leave you with a challenge: Who here can correctly, and succinctly, define all the dancing terms Cat and Nigel threw our way during that post-day-one interstitial? For example, what the heck is the difference between a Russian jeté and a grande jeté overentourno? And am I even spelling those terms correctly?

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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