It's a family affair
Credit: Adam Rose/FOX

Welcome back, dance fans! We heard you loud and clear and will be recapping this season of So You Think You Can Dance every week in all its Mary Murphy-infused glory. (Tell your friends that they can stop emailing now and that their Edible Arrangements are in the mail.) I’m excited to settle in for another Cat Deeley summer with all of you! That’s like regular summer, but you’re dressed better.

In case you missed last week: Mary is back, the contestants are all old enough to vote, Vanessa Hudgens is starting something new (it feels so right to be here with her!), and the last two seasons were a fever dream. For the second week in a row, we’re auditioning dancers in “Los Angeleeez,” where Cat pretends the sun is making her squint so as to maintain her cover as a mere mortal. Nice try, Cat.

Let’s meet the next batch of hopefuls, shall we?

Tristen, 20, and Jensen, 19 (Provo, Utah)
Unlike last week’s ballroom couple, Tristen and Jensen are not even a little bit married. When Nigel asks if there’s any romance between them, Tristen pulls the old Robin Scherbatsky (“Really? Sixteen ‘no’s?”), then tries to make up for it with a “No, she’s great.” And he’s still more convincing than Nigel trying to pretend he doesn’t already know who Jensen’s sister is. You may recognize big sis Lindsay Arnold from season 9 (and, more recently, that other dance show).

You may also recognize Jensen from the season 12 auditions, when she partnered with Brandon even though she was too young to compete. (Rewatch if you’re in the mood for haunting flashbacks to The Year Every Audition Was Set to “Uptown Funk.”) She was great then. Today, her hips and feet could be sharper, and she slips out of her last pose. Mary blames it on Jensen and Tristen’s connection, which doesn’t exist.

That said, Tristen is F.I.R.E., and nobody is even paying attention to him. He does a cute jump when the pair earn tickets to the Academy, which was as inevitable as Uncle Nige telling Jensen that “girls like her” got him into dance. Cooooooool.

Cody Ostrenga, 25 (El Paso, Texas)
Did everyone else know that there’s a sport where you ride around on a horse and shoot at targets? I mean, that’s peak Texas. Cody is a “three-time world champion mounted-shooter horse-rider” (that is the actual order of the words that came out of his mouth), and he calls it a “beautiful experience,” but, ugh, I’m just so worried about the horses.

As it turns out, Cody’s true passion is not mounted-shooter horse riding but dance, a twist SYTYCD decides to dramatize with a trailer for a fake Western: The Deadliest Hips in the West. The narrator makes sure to specify that he makes women “cower” and men “uneasy.” [Gretchen Wieners voice] I don’t think Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman, would be too pleased to hear about this.

Cody is a sweetheart who felt pressured to hide his sexuality behind the most macho of Texas sports, then hid in his room and taught himself to dance with Shakira and Britney’s music videos. But his fusion of belly dancing and hip-hop is just too self-taught for this competition. Vanessa lets him down as kindly as anyone has ever let anyone down for anything, and Cody goes home.

Sade Keinu Austin, 21 (Brooklyn, New York)
Just as Cat’s aching for “someone with a pure hip-hop pedigree,” Los Angeles delivers: Sade’s dad, Buddha Stretch, choreographed for Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey, and her mom, Rachel McIntosh, danced for Mariah. That’s some good DNA. Sade gets up there and waacks, shablams, and splits with the best of them. Vanessa is loving it. Nigel calls Sade a “little ball of dynamite,” which is not where I thought that metaphor was headed at all. Does dynamite even come in balls?

The best part of this audition is the obvious affection between Sade and her mom. When Nigel invites Rachel onstage to dance with her daughter, Rachel is excited. Sade is excited. Sade’s godmother is very excited! There’s a lot of hugging and general family adorableness. Sade’s going to the Academy.

Matthew Deloch, 18 (Gonzalez, Louisiana)
The male contemporary dancers are really bringing the heart to L.A. this year. Matthew’s grandma put him in dance at age 2, but it wasn’t love at first plié; he cried every day for six years. “And she said,” Matthew recalls, “I can cry all I want, but I’m also gonna dance.” I like to think that also applies to life.

Matthew gets off to a slow start in this piece — his first two leaps from the floor don’t get great height — but as soon as he pirouettes, he is LOCKED. IN. Look at that control. His center! Did he just out-pirouette Jeanine’s Tango solo??? The more Matthew turns, the more the judges melt. I love that his upper-body athleticism is paired with such surprising lightness on his feet. I love even more that after a certain point, he cannot stop smiling. Both Nigel and Vanessa say he needs to work on making them feel what he’s feeling, but when he smiles, I feel it. Matthew is going to the Academy. Thanks, Grandma. (Recap continues on page 2)

CONTEMPORARY TRIO: Three contemporary dancers who made it to the Academy are highlighted in a montage: Peyton Albrecht (who also made it to Vegas in season 12), Taylor Sieve, and Chelsea Hough. We don’t get to see them dance individually because, you’ll recall, we had to watch a trailer for a fake sexist Western.

ASIDE: A dancer brought her dog to wait in line with her, and that dog is not feeling it. I’m obsessed with the idea of Cat Deeley recording “Down boy” in the voice-over booth in perfect deadpan.

Inyoung “Dassy” Lee, 26 (Seoul, South Korea)
The latest addition to this show’s United Nations of Dance, Dassy (please read with requisite hand motion) loves SYTYCYD so much that she moved to the States because of it. Season 3’s Dominic inspired her to leave her mark on American television — so, on her 26th birthday, that’s what she does.

Dassy breaks it right down to a remix of Shirley Bassey’s “Big Spender” (it works; I PROMISE), popping, locking, and animating with flair. I want more from her face (quoth Tom Haverford: “Make your face better”), but her personality comes through everywhere else. She even gets a whole bunch of “BAM”s from Mary. Nigel teeters on the edge of recommending a trip to choreography, but Shirley Bassey’s voice is in his head, and she’s telling him to send this girl directly to the Academy.

Blessin Giraldo, 18 (Baltimore, Maryland)
Oh, do I ever want Blessin to succeed in life. She is articulate, unapologetic, and out for empowerment — for her and the girls around her. Growing up, Blessin found her place at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, where she founded and now helps coach the competitive step dance team. And she sets Nigel straight when he has the nerve to say he thought step was just for guys, which is so obviously wrong that it seems like he’s just saying it to see how she’ll respond.

So You Think You Can Dance doesn’t get a lot of steppers; as much as I don’t want to agree with Nigel after his boys’ club comments, he’s not wrong when he says that the force of the performance is more powerful when there’s a whole team up there. But kudos to Blessin for having the courage to go out there alone and start yelling. It’s a jolt compared to other auditions, but she gets a rhythm going. The judges send her to choreography to see how she’ll pick up other styles.

In choreo — led by Mandy “Fresh Off the Box-Office Hit La La Land” Moore, who’s also the show’s new creative producer — Blessin eventually falls short. She’s going home, but I’m guessing there are some girls who will be glad to see her.

A note: Blessin is thrilled when Nigel says he’d love to see her whole team on that stage. Does he know he can see them on the big screen? This episode doesn’t mention it, but Blessin and her teammates are the focus of the upcoming doc Step, which took home the U.S. Documentary Special Award for Inspirational Filmmaking at Sundance. It also took home the award for “I’m Crying at the Trailer” just this weekend, in my apartment.

LOOK AWAY: Two more contortionists advance to choreography before getting sent home: Eric “Frenchie” Bossett, 22, from Oakland, and Felix “Bad Bonez” Gomez, 24, from L.A. Both are triple-jointed contortionists whose bone-cracking antics turn the show into an over-the-top horror movie. Audience members cover their faces. Mary wails. Vanessa hugs herself: “I don’t understand!” I can’t look at these guys, but I would watch people react to them all day.

Dustin Payne, 25 (Columbus, Georgia)
Dustin and his fancy hat got into dance through the dance ministry his mom started at her church. To sharpen his skills, he moved to L.A., where he now street performs on the side — but never in costume. That’s good news for Cat, who’s relieved she doesn’t have to start being nice to Snoopy. (Please. She already is and you know it.)

Anyway, Dustin and Fik-Shun should probably team up to discuss the fine art of moving like there are wheels in your sneakers. Dustin is fun! He’s got mime skills, lots of personality, a broad hip-hop vocabulary, and early-onset knee problems. (Thanks for bringing that up, Mary.) Nigel believes people will pick up the phone and vote for him. He also goes out of his way to praise Dustin’s jookin. Between that and Sade’s shablam, Nigel is really making an effort to show he’s been reading his hip-hop dictionary. But he’s still never seen girls do step! Dustin is going to the Academy.

And that concludes our Los Angeles auditions. Next week, it’s on to New York, where we can finally get that “whipped it out” clip out of the way and move on with our lives. See you then.

CAT DEELEY-ISM OF THE DAY: “That is one fancy hat! I like it I like it I like it!”

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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