Vanessa really, really wants your hands

By Kelly Connolly
July 11, 2017 at 12:02 AM EDT
Adam Rose/FOX
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Four episodes, three judges, two cities, and one Hot Tamale Train later, the season 14 auditions are in the bag. So You Thought Auditions Were Held Across the Country? I mean, technically they were, yes. But this bi-coastal audition system really stuck it to every other city. (Thanks, COASTAL ELITES.) Sure, contestants could audition online, but I’d still like to spare a thought for the dancers who didn’t have the means to make it to New York or Los Angeles this year — and for all of the dresses-that-are-shorts Vanessa never got to wear.

Anyway, before we head into The Week Formerly Known as Vegas Week (now held in L.A. because there are only two cities), let’s meet the rest of New York’s hopefuls. Snap to it, before Nigel starts yelling, “CUE MUSIC” at, like, the MTA workers. (Just kidding! Can you imagine Nigel on the subway?)

Magda, 26 (Toronto, Ontario) and Kiki, 25 (Teaneck, New Jersey)
Every ballroom couple on this show is either very together or so not together that one of them has to launch into Leslie Knope’s Speech of Denial. (“He is terrible, face-wise.“) Magda and Kiki are in the latter camp, and mmm, let’s keep it that way. Their interview package is pretty awkward. Magda’s habit of speaking for the pair of them is also awkward, even though Kiki agrees it’s for the best. But when the music starts, the Polish-Canadian girl and the Jersey boy are [chef’s kiss] just right. Their cha-cha is so sharp and sultry and fiery, it’s got Mary fantasizing about doing the paso with Kiki (as with all things Mary, that’s a sexy metaphor but also literal). Magda and Kiki are going to the Academy. Finally, Kiki speaks. “Kiki says thank you,” says Kiki.

BALLROOM MONTAGE: Jorge and Claudia, Jaryd Farcon, and Allen Genkin: all ballroom dancers, all making Mary’s day, all going to the Academy. This show missed you, Mary.

Zachary Downer, 20 (Paterson, New Jersey)
Like a lot of the dancers featured in this episode, Zachary has been on SYTYCD before; in season 12, he made it all the way to the green mile. Not to get ahead of myself, but if he doesn’t make it to the top 10 this year, I’ll run a mile. MAYBE MORE. Zachary is fierce. His splits? His body rolls? His running man? “Oh my gosh I’m dying,” gushes Vanessa, who is still me. Give Zachary an African jazz routine choreographed by Sean Cheesman! Partner him with Darius Hickman! I need it to liiiiiive. And is that the best ending pose ever? I THINK IT’S THE BEST ENDING POSE EVER. Just watch it again right now. You know he’s going to the Academy.

To be clear, Nigel’s spot-on Alvin Ailey comparison is not enough to make up for the old “go buy yourself a shirt” line. It’s a LOOK, Nigel.

Ramita Ravi, 22 (Murraysville, Pennsylvania)
For this audition, Ramita fuses classical Indian dance with contemporary, which is a sweet gesture to her parents. I really wish I were more into it. Her audition is, to quote Nigel, “uplifting,” and she’s doing some intricate work with her hands, but her contemporary just doesn’t seem strong enough to stand out otherwise — not on this show. But Vanessa is very “it puts the lotion in the basket” about how much she loves Ramita’s hands, so the judges send her to choreography, where she eventually earns a ticket to the Academy. I mean, okay. Impress me, Ramita! I want you to.

Peter Mangione, 20 (Lindenhurst, New York)
This week’s “bad auditions” aren’t the kind with the fake movie trailers and the plink-plink music. They don’t get any fanfare. They’re just kind of quietly bad — which is nice because it’s over more quickly but also annoying because why are we showing the bad auditions at all? Was there any point to this one? New York bro Peter marches onto that stage in white basketball shorts and a fedora and starts dancing to Song of 2014 “Uptown Funk” (OH, YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE FREE?), backflipping and cartwheeling like he’s doing tricks around the pool at a frat party.

Good for Peter for having courage and confidence (I feel like he might actually be a sweet person; don’t quote me), but we’ve got plenty of other auditioners out there reminding us to attack life with joy or whatever. “I’ve never seen anything quite like that before,” Mary says. That’s her lie of the week. Peter is going home.
(Recap continues on page 2)

Arielle Disciascio, 19 (Miramar, Florida)
Ready for your weekly dance cry? Arielle’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, and Arielle made your heartless recapper tear up when she talked about watching her mother fight her obstacles with optimism. They’re obviously close. And she’s cancer-free now (congrats, Arielle’s mom!).

As for her dancing, Arielle’s style is kind of “Lauren Froderman doing any solo ever” — which is never a bad style. She’s got good control. It’s all very impressive and beautiful, but it’s missing a spark. Nigel says he was waiting for more of an impact; Mary says she wants her to “live her life more dangerously.” Okay, Mary. She needs to dance more dangerously. She doesn’t need to Thelma & Louise it off a cliff. In a judges’ split that is either genuine or entirely for the sake of TV drama, Nigel votes choreography while Vanessa and Mary outnumber him, sending Arielle straight to the Academy.

GOT DÉJÀ VU? Familiar faces Jamie Greco, Matt Damon’s Younger Brother (a.k.a. Jason Kidd), Chris Andrew, and Chase “CTut” Lindsey are back to try their luck again. They’ve got Vanessa making chin hands. (I’ve already gone on the record as strictly Team Vanessa and I stand by it, but sometimes her reaction footage is so extreme I wonder if they just set up a camera for five minutes and told her to make some faces. To be clear, I would love it if they did that.) Anyway, everybody’s going to the Academy.

Romainson Romain, 29 (Union, New Jersey)
If you thought you were getting out of this week’s episode with just one cry, think again. Romainson — another familiar face from SYTYCD‘s past — is back for one last try before he ages out of eligibility. (The Next Generation really messed up a lot of plans last year.) Always so light on his feet in the past, he’s weighed down today; his cousin Marvin died last year in a factory accident. Romainson gets teary talking about how much Marvin sacrificed for him. Marvin is the one who went with him to the season 8 auditions. The tragedy is senseless.

Dancing in his cousin’s honor, Romainson shows off some smooth moves, but he could work on his transitions. Sometimes it almost looks like his sneakers and long-sleeve button-down are getting in the way. At the same time, I loved that contrast — his unpolished look made those moments of lyricism even more surprising. There’s no denying that Romainson is dancing with a heart so heavy it pulls him down physically, but the judges are hard on him for it in a way that they aren’t hard on your typical Sad Contemporary Routine, and it feels unfair. He doesn’t have to be joyful all the time. I want to see the weight lifted from this man’s shoulders as much as the judges do, but I thought his emotional connection was the best part of this routine. In any case, Romainson goes to choreography, where he doesn’t necessarily soar, but — maybe to make up for their critiques — the judges send him to the Academy anyway.

Marc “Fullout” Royale, 25 (Queens, New York)
This is Bad Audition No. 2. You can tell because Nigel is singing Heavy D & The Boyz. Thankfully, Fullout is less embarrassing than our veteran judge. He’s got energy; he just needs to work on his technique. Fullout goes home, or maybe to his job, where I hope he gets to dance like this all the time.

Claire Rathbun, 21 (Syracuse, New York)
Yes, the girl with “bun” in her name is a ballet dancer. And she’s good! Claire worried me with all of her talk about how she’s bringing “big personality” back — sometimes routines with expressly stated purposes go over the top — but this dance was genuine and electric and a little bit haunting in a way I didn’t expect. Our girl turns a lot in the back half of this audition, but I’ll allow it. Also, I want that leotard; I think it would turn me into the kind of person who signs up for ’80s jazzercise classes. Vanessa keeps Claire in suspense for lit-ruh-ly no reason: She’s going to the Academy.

Lex Ishimoto, 18 (Irvine, California)
Lex is in Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound company! In the future, he should absolutely lead with that. He’s another one whose commitment to fusing dance styles makes me nervous, but anyone who keeps company with Travis Wall can do anything, and so can Lex. Maybe he’s not doing it backwards and in heels, but he is doing it in socks. He truly is, to quote Vanessa, doing the impossible. Did you see that double swipe? Lex is going to the Academy.

And with that, we’ve finally made it through another year of mostly-beautiful-but-still-sometimes-cringeworthy auditions. Next week, the Academy is in session. Go stock up on Lisa Frank folders.

Episode Recaps

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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  • 07/20/05
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