The show wisely pads out its two-hour Milwaukee audition episode with some earlier highlights
Cat Deeley

”We don’t have a lot of money. We just have our friends and our dancing.” What can I say, dear readers? It’s this kind of line — delivered with simple sincerity and spirit by Philip Courter after witnessing his friend Yesenia Gomez’s year-long dream quashed by a bum knee — that just gets my eyes all soggy no matter how many hair dryers my snark demon Smirkelstiltskin fires up to keep ’em tear free. You can scour through hour upon hour of America’s Next Top Models and America’s Got Talents, Shear Geniuses and Top Chefs, Project Runways and American Idols, and I doubt you’d be able to find a clean dozen moments that when added together equal the deeply felt heart in Yesenia and Philip’s auditions. Yeah, it was a twinge self-congratulatory for Nigel Lythgoe to air so much of Yesenia heaping praise upon him, the other judges, and the show itself for changing her life, but, TV-friendly cliché or no, it’s pretty darn clear Nigel, the other judges, and the show itself changed her life, as shown by the 50-pound weight loss, the massive leap in self-worth, the unshakable determination to become a great dancer.

That ain’t manufactured drama, of which I’m certain we’ll get plenty during So You Think You Can Dance‘s Vegas-week show tonight. Nope — if I had any doubt why Nigel and Co. chose to end their audition episodes in the apparent dancing mecca of Milwaukee (which, I’m sure, has nothing to do with its proximity to the more expensive theaters of downtown Chicago), it was blown clear away by Yesenia and Philip’s twin bull’s-eye shots at my sappy sweet spot. (Meanwhile, because Smirkel’s now turned the hair dryers on my ears: Who wants to place bets now on the number of times Cat utters variations on this line tonight during Vegas week: Will both these roommates/partners/BFFs/part-time lovers make it to the Top 20? He’s also curious if Cat’s stank face over the blizzardy Milwaukee weather really means that she loves it; the calculus of stank facery is evidently too much for his wee horns to handle.) (Ouch, watch the lobes, dude!)

It really does seem like the producers and editors are listening — to me, to you all in the comments, or maybe just to the subliminal directives Smirkel’s lately been whispering in their ears at night (I’ve got nothing to do with that, honest, but I’m not complaining either) — since I couldn’t help noticing a few marked improvements from previous episodes. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in worrying at the start of last night’s episode about how the producers planned to stretch a single city’s auditions into a full two-hour episode. Is a stay-at-home B-boy dad going to walk us through his laundry routine? Were we going to visit the adjoining office cubicles of the ballroom couple who can barely manage a single twirl? Mercifully, to fill the time, we were instead treated to four auditions from previous cities that we hadn’t yet had a chance to see. Michael Kim’s ball-bearing joints won him a ticket to Vegas (rare for a popper, though, really, will any popper ever be able to surpass the insanity of Robert Muraine from the L.A. auditions?), and Janette Manrara and Romulo Villaverde showed off a few tricks that came off more like a rough rehearsal of a sub-Cirque du Soleil acrobatic routine than what I’ve come to expect from salsa. Meanwhile I’m not sure what Katee Shean would call the move where you clench a fist and then wiggle your other hand’s fingers, but I’d hazard it’d be a close relative to the ”shimmy shim.” According to Mia Michaels, we should call her roommate Natalie Reid’s variations on the bow-legged straddle ”honest” and ”vulnerable.” Okay? I guess? If you say so? But hey, at least it was dancing, and I suspect that Katee, Natalie, Michael, and Janette will feature in some part of Vegas week — otherwise, why single them out from all the other auditions we didn’t get to see?

NEXT: When they were bad, it was good

Another example of the producers’ clearly heeding our pleas: I counted only 4 truly ”disastrous” dancers out of 21 total auditions, and none of them had to bear the full time-sucking weight of Nigel’s ”outrage.” So let’s just get them out of the way now so we can concentrate on the rest of the show. We all knew exactly how bad James Davis was going to be the minute he started bragging that the team of choreographers who took his money to teach him how to duplicate moves from Footloose, A Chorus Line, and Staying Alive told him that he’d make it straight to Vegas. But who expected Victor ”Masked Arm Waver” Campos to find such penetrating conceptual insight within his ”silly pop/crap style” choreography? Although, personally, I felt it was less about a ”conflict of individuality and societal pressures” than it was about the ”conflict of trying to out-suck Tobey Maguire’s dancing in Spider-Man 3 and knowing that will never, ever be possible.” You should all feel free to engage in a healthy debate over this topic in the message boards.

Our other two disasters both suffered from unfortunate wardrobe: Travis ”Look, Ma, I Can Jump and Touch My Toes If You Squint” France looked like an extra who showed up late to the set of a 1980s episode of Dr. Who and got stuck with a costume one size too small. And Hau Hou, well, I think the only reason we got to enjoy his burlap ”tribal” outfit was for the moment when new judge Tabitha (of the hip-hop choreography team Napoleon and Tabitha, which sounds like a book I saw once on Reading Rainbow) said she’d noticed he had to hold his ”package” in place while he was dancing.

And that’s it. Other than Nigel’s mild lecture to the Masked Arm Waver about being rude, they were even all enjoyably bad — but with the emphasis still squarely on bad. Tom Kozal, Brice Casimir, and Ashley Henry, by contrast, may have not been good dancers per se, but they were far too entertaining to be classified anywhere near ”bad.” I doubt that Tom ever stops having fun; I have a feeling that the Venn diagram of ”daffy fun seekers” and ”earless-goat raisers” would pretty much have to be one giant circle of ”daffy fun seekers.” Brice’s routine did come off as if we were sneaking a peak of him grooving out in his bedroom, but the guy dances for retired folk, and they certainly seem to love it, so why should I haterate over the charming man’s efforts to brighten the day of someone’s grandma? And if Ashley Henry landed her own talk show tomorrow, I know I’d tune in for at least the first week to see if she’d keep spilling gems like ”You’re not crazy, you’re feeling the vibe.” Ashley, if you’re reading this, I do hope you’re taking those dance classes, because I agree with Nigel; we really do need more people like you in our lives.

NEXT: Those silli names

I do have to wonder, though, if Ashley’s kandy-kolored personality is simply her way of compensating for having grown up with such an unimaginatively spelled first name. Seriously, have parents just, you know, abandoned the letter y altogether? It’s become a fun little game for me this season to see how precisely I can spell a person’s name after I hear Cat speak it but before it officially flashes up on the screen — that is, until I was ejected from the entire fun-little-game western conference trying to tackle Kourtni Lind’s moniker. I mean, Kourtni’s mother is unquestionably devoted to her, right? I didn’t misinterpret that? So why would she spell her daughter’s name like it’s Pfizer’s new prescription remedy for muscle aches and pains?

You know what wasn’t painful? (What a segue!) Watching two actually decent tap dancers make it to Vegas, even if it was quite obvious that Bianca Revels, our first dancer of the night, couldn’t really hold a candle to Lizz Plott, our second to last dancer of the night. Lizz did her whole routine with the front metal sole of her right tap shoe duct-taped on, for Fosse’s sake. And speaking of Fosse (two for two! segue master!), how about that Evan Kasprzak? A swoon-worthy smile, an open love for musical theater, fantastic hair, sexy arms, and some slinky, Fosse-esque dance moves — I think I may have just found my first official SYTYCD crush, dear readers. Cooper Zamorano was also impressive, but it was strange that Nigel didn’t take him to task for wearing close to the same gym shorts that Matt Dorame wore in Salt Lake City.

It was also strange at first when Nigel stopped Raymond Love just a few seconds into his audition to rebuke him for failing to connect with his female dance partner (who, inexplicably, was not auditioning), giving the guy the quite rare second chance to do it again. Turns out the guy’s a minister and, I guess, unable to portray any kind of sexual heat in his performance lest it fall precipitously into baser, sinful lust. At least, that’s what I read between the lines, because Raymond barely got the words out that he’s a minister before he was overcome with emotion. Of course, this also came right after Nigel said he might as well be dancing with another man, an inadvertent insinuation about his sexuality that Raymond didn’t appear to appreciate.

Now, I know there’s a growing cadre of readers who’ve made discussing the gayness of male dancers and any homophobia on the part of Nigel into a regular blood sport on the message boards, and I imagine y’all will have a field day with this moment between Nigel and Raymond. To you, all I can say is pick your battles. Well, that, and any show that ends with its season 2 runner-up finalist dancing an outrageously entertaining number in drag to ”It’s Raining Men” isn’t exactly afraid of coming off as a little gay.

Okay, yes, Nigel’s Ryan Seacrest joke at the end was rather…bleh. But before you have at it in the boards below, I also gotta know, was it really necessary to remind us three separate times during the what-we-hadn’t-had-time-to-show-you auditions that this episode was actually taking place in Milwaukee? Or, for that matter, show all the ”support” that dancers we’ve never seen before and never will see again brought with them to the auditions? Couldn’t we have used said time to see at least one more great dancer? Also, would you like to see Kill Bill: The Musical, starring Uma Thurman? And what subject, precisely, do you think Susie Garcia teaches in her Florida high school? Or, rather, what subject could she possibly teach that her straight male students would actually learn?

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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