In Atlanta for the season's last audition show, ''So You Think You Can Dance'' features both true talent and fascinating eccentrics, plus a star turn from Shane

By Adam B. Vary
June 01, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Kelsey McNeal
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”So You Think You Can Dance”: Atlanta’s brave

If you’ll forgive the obvious pun, it was two steps forward, one step back on last night’s So You Think You Can Dance, the final audition episode of the season. Okay, two and a half steps forward. Maybe three. Anyway, you get the point: Much like the vast majority of dancers last night, the episode had a great deal to love but just enough rough edges to keep it from going straight on through to Vegas.

First, the good. The show spent time in just one city — that would be, according to Cat Deeley, the great Southern metropolis of Atlanter — and unfolded in just one hour. Choreographer Shane Sparks returned to join Mary and Nigel in the judges’ seats, and beyond the fact that Britney Spears is nowhere near his CV, the dude proved so shrewd, sharp, and playful that I’m seriously thinking the producers need to give him the gig permanently.

To see why, you need look no further than how Shane handled Bryan Gaynor, the computer-science student whose tiny frame was so stunted by scoliosis that he kinda resembled a Barack Obama Mini Me. (Yeah, I just went there, but I mean, that’s a good thing to be, no?) Bryan’s pretty darn perfect robotic dance moves to Christina Aguilera’s ”Ain’t No Other Man” — loved the impish hip check on ”you’re badass” — instantly won over all three judges, but only Shane knew how to praise them without giving Bryan the verbal equivalent of an ”aren’t you just so special” pat on the head. Even Bryan clearly knew that his being sent on to the choreography portion of the auditions was little more than a kind gesture, but afterward Shane promised to get Bryan a part as a featured dancer in the next movie he was due to choreograph. I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit misty. Now that was some good TV. (The cherry on the Shane Sparks sundae: his so-not-feelin’-it pout as Nigel declared that ”I don’t think there was a person in this auditorium who was not entertained” by rhinestone cowboy Matthew Krabbe’s line-dancing audition.)

Shane also managed to safely navigate what is fast becoming my biggest beef with this show and that giant step back I was referring to earlier (watch out, here comes another barely excusable pun): Its beyond-silly dance around the word ”gay.” This first occurred when Shane began bonding with b-boy/break-dancer Anthony ”Tony” ”Unnecessarily Quotation-Marked Nickname” Velez, causing Nigel to ask if the two were ”hooking up.” Har-har. But Shane not only brushed off Nigel and Mary without so much as a flinch; he got the last laugh with hilarious, dead-on impersonations of the two. Yeah, Shane can stick around.

Then came the saga of Myles Johnson. A former high-school quarterback, Myles began dancing as a way to stay in shape for football after he broke his leg, but instead dropped football to pursue dance full time. At which point, Myles tearily told Cat on the theater steps, his father pretty much disowned him. Now, those of you who’ve seen Billy Elliot know this is a tried-and-true tale of father-son strife and redemption, right down to the pigskin-tossing-session pirouette that caused the pop to anxiously chuckle, ”Don’t do that in front of people.” But come on. I personally saw a massive pink elephant plopped between Myles and his dad. Which is not to say that I’m drawing conclusions about anyone’s sexuality based on a five-minute reality-TV show segment. No, it was just painfully obvious to me that Papa Johnson was terrified that because his son was dancing, his son was gay, whether it was actually true or not.

I’ll be curious to see how much further the producers choose to milk this tension as Myles progresses through the Vegas auditions. Since we saw but a glimpse of his attempt at the choreography, I’m going to have to take it on faith that the judges concluded that only eight months of dancing experience was enough — and not that his story was just too juicy to pass up.

I don’t mean to harp on this issue — I probably wouldn’t have even brought it up were it not for Nigel’s groaningly insufferable Brokeback Mountain joke to ex-Marine and booty-shaking cowboy Christopher Garmon — because there really was so much to love in the ATL tryouts. Eighteen-year-old Caitlin Cucchiara twirled on the stage like a figure skater, winning a ticket to Vegas without resorting to the growing trend of hot pants and a bikini top. Clogger Brandon Norris — a cross between Clay Aiken, Elliott Yamin, and Kenneth the NBC Page on 30 Rock — shut Nigel up but quick with his Roadrunner-quick feet after the judge prefaced the audition with the warning that they had never put a clogger through before. And Ashley Simpson — who, if she’s reading, really needs to cut back on the tanning bed lest her skin look like Abe Vigoda’s before she’s 30 — stuck her claim to the famous (if differently spelled) name with a game lyrical routine that caught Mary’s eye and had her forcing Shane and Nigel to send Ashley off to Vegas instead of the choreography line. Which is too bad, ’cause I’d have loved to have seen what would’ve happened when Ashley Simpson took orders from Mandy Moore.

Even the bad auditions didn’t make me want to start looking for spare change in my couch. Christopher Crabb should maybe have considered that, as a teacher, confessing one’s teenybop obsession with Justin Timberlake on a show that is almost certainly being viewed in at least one of his students’ living rooms is likely to result in the following exchange: ”Mom, look, it’s Mr. Crabb! Look look look!” ”Honey, that’s so great! You must be so exci—…Oh. Oh dear. Hmm….Oh wow, definitely didn’t know that….Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.” (Before you call me a hypocrite, I would’ve said the same thing had Mr. Crabb papered his bedroom walls with, say, Ashlee Simpson posters.) And, finally, my sense of good taste and manners prevents me from saying anything at all about Kippery Rigsby’s ”skreet” hip-hop, let alone her decision to spend $1,400 on a ”dancing workshop,” so I’ll just hand it over to Mary. Mary? ”Ugh. She’s sucking the life force out of me.” Couldn’t have said it better.

But I will say one more thing: For the Las Vegas auditions (which look to be quite brutal), my money’s on Hokuto ”Hok” Konishi, hip-snapping ballroom dancers Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev, former cruise-ship dancer Brianne Healey, Benji’s sister Lacey Schwimmer, and rubber-jointed hip-hop-popper Phillip Chbeeb to make it to the final 20.

Who do you think has what it takes to go the distance? Also, given the backlash for Nigel’s ”fat” comment to EJ from Wednesday, was Shane out of line to tell Kippery that her ”type” was kind-of-overweight people who can’t dance?

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