So You Think You Can Dance is like college: When it’s over, everyone goes to New York. Now that the audition rounds have also made it to the Big Apple, it’s time for an alumni reunion—which, like all alumni reunions, is bittersweet. I’m glad to know that season 11 winner Ricky is currently loving life in Broadway’s On the Town, but do we really want to be reminded of life after college right now? These kids are still applying to college!
Tenured professors Nigel, Paula, and Jason address the hopefuls to fill them in on the admission requirements. “Me, personally, what I’m looking for is basically what I’ve never seen before,” says Jason. He’s been wearing the same white cutoff sweatshirt since day one, so I don’t believe him. Paula tells the dancers to raise the bar. Barre? Ballet pun? Let’s hope so. Now to the auditions.
Virgil Gadson, 27 (Team Street): After making it to the top 30 in season 8, Virgil is back, and he’s ready to play—not just because it’s Stage vs. Street, but because he spent his gap years in the Tony-winning show After Midnight. Is So You Think You Can Dance a stepping stone to Broadway, or is Broadway a stepping stone to So You Think You Can Dance? The world may never know. What I do know is that the judges have memorized every word of “Uptown Funk” by this point, but I’m still not tired of watching people light up to this song. Virgil glides across that stage and lets his personality shine. “You were like a day at Disneyland in a minute and a half,” says Paula. New online dating headline—I call it. Virgil is going to Vegas.
Alexia Meyer, 19 (Team Stage): Alexia wants to show the judges her sassy, edgy side, and she delivers—maybe a little too much. She has great musicality and good technique; she just needs to tone down some of her facial expressions. Paula is with me on this. She thinks Alexia lost her connection with the audience every once in a while, but since petite dancers have to stick up for each other, she gives her a “yes” anyway. Alexia is going to Vegas.
Korey Cleveland, 24 (Team Street): Korey gets emotional as he describes how his mother’s struggle with cocaine led to his own. He did two years in jail, but he told himself that if he got his 30-day sobriety chip, he’d audition for So You Think You Can Dance. Today, Korey is 31 days clean. That deserves a standing ovation. He says that dance saves him, so it’s rewarding to see him hit hard with a forceful hip-hop routine. The judges give Korey a new reason to stay sober—he’s going to Vegas.
Justin Ballasy, 19 (Team Street): Justin is one of those kids who could tell you the date of every significant World War II battle but couldn’t tell you why it mattered. He has all of the facts on the history of tap dance. He knows his technique. His feet move like the wind. He just doesn’t listen to the music. His routine starts out smooth, then segues into a barrage of what Nigel calls “machine gun tapping.” Paula sums it up with a quality pop culture reference: “I feel like I just saw the movie Whiplash with tap.” These are the same critiques that initially sent Gaby Diaz packing, but the judges see something in Justin that convinces them to send him through anyway. He’s got a lot to prove, but Justin is going to Vegas.
NEXT: You’re not about that life
Thomas Condello, 20 (Team Street): After last week’s episode basically rained tickets to Vegas, this one compensated by playing up the failed auditions even more than usual. Thomas is the first of those. Also known as “Mr. Hollywood,” he likes to entertain, but he just doesn’t connect with the audience. We’ve seen a few people this year who weren’t right for the competition, but who avoided embarrassing themselves because their joy was just that contagious. No matter how much Nigel might claim that this is true for Thomas, he just can’t sell it. Thomas is a sweetheart with a venerable Jason Derulo impression (just add cutoff sweatshirts!), but he’s going home.
Angela “Angyil” McNeal, 22, and Angely “Cookie” Deaza, 22 (Team Street): As Jason points out, Angyil and Cookie already have a built-in act that people would pay to see. They’re fun to watch. They engage with each other and with the audience and generally seem like the kind of robots who would be cooler than you at school, even though they’re robots. But while Cookie looks like a model at all times, it’s Angyil who shows off the most diverse array of skills. In one of those emotional “one friend’s happiness is another friend’s pain” scenes that we usually don’t have to prepare ourselves for until later, Angyil is going to Vegas, while Cookie is going home. She and her amazing wardrobe will be back next year.
Allyson Wilcox, 18 (Team Stage): Allyson, who dances in a Medieval Times-esque show on the Vegas strip, opens with a strong arabesque and a lot of artful floor work—but as Paula points out, her routine falls apart at the end. Allyson may be stronger than her choreography, but she gets another chance to prove herself: She’s going to Vegas (which is also her home, but you get it).
Alain “Hurrikane” Lauture, 28 (Team Street): Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, locker Alain learned his trade watching music videos. He and I both get choked up as he talks about showing the kids back home that they can dream. Dance is obviously pure joy for him, and I’m so glad that he showcases that in his smooth-as-can-be audition, which features both a jump off the stage and a slide down the stair rail. Nigel is happy that he enjoyed himself: “Dance is sometimes taken too seriously.” He’d put Alain through on the strength of his smile alone, but the routine—which gave Paula a bit of ‘70s/ ‘80s nostalgia—didn’t hurt, either. Alain is going to Vegas.
Kenya Welch, 18, and Connor Birmingham, 18 (Team Stage): Nigel’s stern warning that these two couldn’t try again as solo auditioners had me doubting their decision to go in as partners—and I’ll admit that watching them basically try to imitate a top 20 routine took some getting used to—but these two more than pulled it off. Connor has surprising strength in his lifts, Kenya has good control in her pirouettes, and they’re both impossibly in sync. “Say Something,” as a song, needs to burn, but they’re young. They’ll learn. The judges love them—Nigel’s so tongue-tied that he can’t even play his usual emotional warfare. “Only one of you—um, I can’t think of anything clever to say! Come on down and get your tickets.” Kenya and Connor are going to Vegas.
DAY TWO: Paula’s pants and shirt are a matching purple-and-black set. I feel like I didn’t know what it meant to be alive until this moment.
Ryan Raffloer, 18 (Team Stage): Ryan is a Latin ballroom dancer with hair like Jack from Titanic, if Jack from Titanic were in an animated boy band. His mom forced him to go to his first class. She has every right to be proud of herself for that—Ryan is a great dancer with lightning-fast footwork and an “expensive” personality. He could stand to tone down that personality, but Nigel chalks it up to overcompensation, since he’s never done a partner-less solo before. He’ll adjust. Ryan is going to Vegas.
NEXT: Paula gets a tribute
Bobby “Anime” Major, 21 (Team Street): Bobby started imitating dancers on the subway at age 4. He’s a born performer who uses both his pants and his mouth as props, but none of this matters as much to me as his adorable fiancée with the glitter glue sign. I’m almost happier to say this for her than I am for Bobby (and I’m very happy for Bobby): He’s going to Vegas.
Eliazer Chapman, 18 (Team Street): I am obsessed with Eliazer, for both his dancing and his story. Eliazer moved into a shelter with his father when he was 4 and stayed there for 10 years, during which time he got into breaking to stay out of trouble. He eventually figured out that he could make money dancing, giving 75 percent of his earnings to his dad until they were finally able to move—but “at first it was just a passion.” Which is an important thing to say. Most of the rhetoric of this show is all about putting passion first, but for some of these kids, passion just won’t pay the bills. There’s nothing wrong with monetizing it. In Eliazer’s case, it changed his life.
In addition to having a cute relationship with his dad, Eliazer has the strongest arms I’ve ever seen on someone so small. He probably does more of his routine on his arms than on his legs. It’s an exciting audition that all of the judges love, and it sends Eliazer to Vegas. Just as it looks like he’s about to play it cool, he kneels down onstage and starts crying. Same, Eliazer, Same.
INTERLUDE: I’m so glad it’s not winter.
Ian Williams, 30 (Team Stage): Ian is the next of this episode’s uncharacteristically embarrassing auditions. He wants to be the pioneer “breaker-ballet” dancer, but his skills just aren’t there. It’s so unlike So You Think You Can Dance to show us these things. Ian gets emotional after his routine, apologizing as he tells Nigel that he’s been dancing for over seven years—which actually explains a lot, since it would mean he only started dancing at 23. He eventually beelines into the snow without so much as taking off his ballet shoes. Ian is going home.
Darius Drooh, 22 (Team Stage): Darius’ inspiration is none other than Paula Abdul herself, and he does her proud up there. He’s small, but he’s mighty—like a compact version of Brandon from season 4. Those leaps! Jason says that his choreography may have been straightforward, but Darius “ate the straightforward alive.” Paula also showers him with praise, all of which makes him blush. Recognizing the potential to embarrass a fellow judge when he sees it, Nigel talks Darius into performing the dance break from Paula’s “Cold-Hearted Snake” music video. He does—with a friend—and it’s a dream come true for everyone involved. (My mother, who delights in reminding me that she put me in dance class after I spent a full day watching Paula’s choreography videos, texted me, “Memories!”) Darius is going to Vegas.
Alyssa Guerrieri, 19 (Team Stage): Alyssa may not have started dancing because of Paula Abdul, but she did start dancing because of her grandma, which is fine too, I guess. Alyssa absolutely nails her audition—she’s got an easy, unforced stage presence and insane control. She makes grabbing her leg mid-flip look effortless. Alyssa is going to Vegas, but Cat wins the evening: As Nigel dances with Alyssa’s 90-year-old grandmother, Cat quips that he’s finally found an age-appropriate partner. Shaaade, Cat.
And with that, the audition rounds are over! FINAL COUNT: 140 stage dancers, 105 street dancers, one blizzard, multiple impending Vegas breakdowns. See you next week, America.