Welcome back to So You Think You Can Dance! Reality TV’s little engine that could has returned for another season of unlikely partnerships, emotional backstories, and dresses that only Cat Deeley can pull off. The series is shaking things up this year, but Cat is still here to guide us through—so we’re going to be okay. Let’s meet our “jidges.”
Jason Derulo: R&B star, experienced dancer, professional dirty talker. He can make you famous on Instagram. His next album drops tonight. He likes singing his own name. Cat pronounces it like “Derillo,” which is potentially humbling for him.
Paula Abdul: Cat introduces Paula as a “multi-platinum, Grammy-winning pop music and dance icon” but neglects to mention that she once did a music video with MC Skat Kat or that my parents put me in dance class after I spent an entire day watching her choreography videos. Wipe American Idol from your brains, kids. This woman danced with an animated cat. She deserves this.
Nigel Lythgoe: As always, the man who created the show is here to watch everyone’s feet and make the tough calls. Remember when he told Mary not to touch his water because it was vodka? Classic.
We’ve said goodbye to Mary Murphy and her Hot Tamale Train—will Paula and Jason step it up and invent a new imaginary ride for the hottest dancers? The panel of judges isn’t rotating this year, but I’ll continue to hold out hope for a surprise visit from Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
In another season 12 shakeup, “stage” dancers and “street” dancers are now going head to head. The top 20 will be split into two teams, with one member of each team going home every week until the finale, at which point one winner will be crowned. The teams will be captained by two of So You Think You Can Dance’s most prolific all-stars: Travis Wall (for Team Stage) and tWitch (for Team Street). It remains to be seen how well this new system will hold up in the performance round; what matters now is that we get Travis and tWitch every week. That’s always a good thing.
And just so we can all have something familiar, callbacks are back in Vegas this year.
Everyone caught up to speed? Cue music on day one of the Memphis auditions.
Peyton Albrecht, 18 (Team Stage): In one back of his head, Peyton knows he’ll make it. In the other, he’s not so sure. No one follows up on what this implies about the shape of his head. Peyton is a powerful dancer who does a weird move with his pants at one point, but is otherwise engaging, blending graceful pirouettes with sharp contemporary moves. He looks like a young Travis Wall. I just want to get that out there now, because in a few minutes, Nigel will also call him a young Travis Wall. Stop looking at my notes, Nigel.
Jason calls Peyton “the kind of dancer that wakes the audience up,” which is a good way to start the day. Paula sounds almost disinterested as she tells him that he has it all. She might not be fully awake yet, but Peyton is going to Vegas.
NEXT: Twerking in Memphis
Andre Rucker, 24 (Team Street): Dragon House is back! Best known on So You Think You Can Dance as the crew that gave us Cyrus in season 9, Dragon House is a 22-person group of animators who live together in one apartment but inexplicably don’t have a reality show yet. Andre made it to Vegas with Cyrus back in the day, but he left of his own accord. Now he’s back to try again. Andre is technically a great animator, but what made Cyrus a crowd favorite was the way he engaged with everyone. Andre’s personality doesn’t come through in this audition. Still, Jason calls it “fire.” Nigel says that Andre will have a lot of work to do if he wants to master other styles (which is what Nigel says to every street dancer). Andre is going to Vegas.
INTERLUDE: Cat hurt her arm in what she claims was the end of her arm wrestling career. She’s wearing a sling. She pulls it off. Also, one of the auditioners lives with over 60,000 turkeys.
Jordan “JoJo” Hilgenberg, 19 (Team Stage): JoJo’s mom and stepfather just got married, and they gave up their honeymoon to come to Memphis for this audition. When Cat asks if they’ll get a proper honeymoon later, JoJo suggests that they’ll be fine because they can have popcorn at the movies. Fair point. JoJo’s mom is a dance teacher; the camera cuts to her reaction multiple times throughout the audition, like it’s trying to make me cry (it WORKS). JoJo is really feeling the music. She has great control, and Paula actually claps at her turns. Nigel and Paula both compliment her feet. Nigel’s one critique is that he would have liked to see her use the stage more, but when she did, she was like a bird let out of her cage (such a Nigel metaphor). JoJo is going to Vegas.
Ladia Yates, 24 (Team Street): Ladia takes the stage to show everyone how Memphis Jookin is done. Her footwork is crazy intricate—she goes from gliding across the stage to walking on her toes (in sneakers!)—and she’s obviously having a blast. Jason says that she just made a movie for us all; when Ladia replies by offering to take him to the movies, the other judges jump on board as matchmakers. Jason then floors Ladia by telling her that she should teach him and his dancers.
As it turns out, Ladia is a teacher already—she’s got a dance team full of kids, who come onstage in matching letterman jackets and bounce along to “Talk Dirty to Me.” (Nigel: “Talk dirty to you? How old are you?” Noooo, Nigel.) Jason sings with them and gives them all hugs, which they’ll be talking about forever. And yes, Ladia is going to Vegas.
Courtney Barnes, 23 (Team Street): Courtney auditioned last year in New Orleans and has since become a local celebrity “from the bus station all the way to the funeral home.” He’s not kidding about the funeral home, and if you missed last year’s auditions, the fact that Courtney rolled up to a funeral just because it was packed should tell you everything you need to know. His routine has “one too many hair whips,” which spell death for Jason. But Courtney is an energetic performer, so Paula votes yes. Nigel, who’s always telling people to be unique, votes yes, too. Courtney is going to Vegas.
NEXT: Blame it on the ghost
MEMPHIS, DAY 2: The second audition day hits a roadblock when an underground fire at a subway station blows out the whole city’s electricity, threatening to cancel auditions entirely. For some people, Memphis is their only shot: One woman tells the camera that she spent her entire life savings to get there. But the team is able to track down a generator, and by late afternoon, crew members are rigging lights and chalking it all up to the theatre’s resident ghost.
Because so much of the day has been lost, dancers are organized into groups according to style. Those who impress the judges are asked to stay and perform their solos. We don’t get to meet anyone in particular, but one girl earns a ticket to Vegas by dancing in overalls. Watch out for her.
DALLAS, DAY 1: Cat’s arm is fine now.
Guillermo Morales, 19 (Team Stage): The first thing we hear from Guillermo is that he’s “feeling a little ‘ugh’” about his audition. Guillermo is a character. He works a valet parking job in Miami and stumbles to define his style as “contemporary with an influence of contemporary.” He only started dancing three years ago, but you’d never know it. The minute the music starts, Guillermo goes from an awkward kid to a graceful, athletic dancer who gets so much height on his switch leap that he could probably clear another person. Guillermo is going to Vegas. “He’s a star,” says Nigel, who doesn’t see Guillermo drop his ticket as he goes to high-five someone in the audience. Guillermo is one of those people who should just always be dancing.
Jaclyn Hamric, 18 (Team Stage): Any time a dancer describes her audition as “sexy,” I’m going to compare her to Lauren Froderman, and no one can be Lauren Froderman. Jaclyn could use a little more strength and control when it comes to pulling herself off the floor, but she’s got good lines, and she’s fun. She also calls her dancing “smiley,” and Nigel thanks her for not making everyone feel like the world is going to end. Jaclyn is going to Vegas.
Steven Ban, 24 (Team Street): Steven is a self-proclaimed video game and comic book nerd—Nigel describes him as a “dancing Bill Gates.” His arms are so lanky that he’s able to contort them into some pretty unimaginable positions, and he can isolate his shoulders to the point where they seem completely separate from the rest of his body. Steven needs to work on his stage presence. He needs to work on his stage presence so much. But the judges are entertained by the idea of putting him up against the other street dancers, so they let him through. Steven is going to Vegas.
Vishonda Sims, 21 (Team Street): The most emotional backstory of the day comes from Vishonda, whose grandmother was paralyzed in a car accident when Vishonda was 8. Vishonda took on the role of caretaker until her grandmother died last year. Everyone at the judges’ table is rooting for her to be good, and she is. At one point, she slumps artfully to the floor in a move Mia Michaels would probably be proud of. She could stand to use more of the stage—Nigel calls her routine “a little static”—but it’s “dope” nonetheless. She’s already mastered how to tell a story with her dancing. Vishonda is going to Vegas.
NEXT: Casting for Cooper Nielson’s new company
Kiosh Monroe, 22 (Team Street): One of the best things about this show is how little time it spends on bad auditions. Everyone featured is either going to Vegas, just shy of Vegas, or too fun to resist. Kiosh falls into the last category. He’s a little uncontrolled, but his audition is all joy. Jason, who may just turn out to be our resident spoilsport, isn’t feeling it: “It was like the good cousin that can dance. Everybody’s got that good cousin.” Everybody?
But Jason does offer the suggestion that with his big personality, Kiosh could make some hit workout tapes—which leads Nigel to bring the women of the audience (and Jason) onstage for an impromptu lesson. Paula gets out her phone and calls Richard Simmons, and I’m not sure what’s real anymore. It doesn’t matter. Kiosh is going home, but he thinks today was a win anyway.
Lily Levya, 19 (Team Stage): Lily’s got the most Center Stage-y answer for Cat’s question of why she’s here: She wants to be a professional dancer. It’s not original, but it’s true. Lily has a contemporary edge and the necessary leg strength to hold herself just above a full split for a few counts longer than any normal human being should. Her moves are precise, she’s gorgeous, and her name is alliterative. Lily is going to Vegas.
Jayden Ziara, 19 (Team Street): Paula starts laughing the minute she hears that Jayden is from Orlando, but she really loses it when she dubs his ballroom/ hip-hop fusion “ball-hopping.” Jayden’s routine—set to a remix of “Hey Big Spender”—is more Broadway than anything else. Nigel calls him “Stephen Colbert’s dancing double,” which feels like something the world needs, even if So You Think You Can Dance does not. Jayden is going home.
INTERLUDE: To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, the SYTYCD all-stars took a trip to the White House this Easter. They danced to “Uptown Funk” with the First Lady—who is a great dancer, by the way. What a life.
Edson Juarez, 24 (Team Stage): Edson auditioned last year, but he didn’t make it to the top 20 because he needs to work on connecting with the audience. He could still stand to get out of his head when he’s dancing—and the song, “Hope This Makes You Love Me,” is a little on the nose—but Edson is a powerhouse. His even does backflips. Paula calls his routine the best of the day. Edson is going to Vegas.
FINAL COUNT: 43 new members of Team Stage, 37 new members of Team Street, one sling, one First Lady, and over 60,000 turkeys. See you next week, America.