The Salt Lake City auditions add some strong ballroom and contemporary dancers to the competition

By Meredith Hoffa
Updated June 14, 2012 at 09:38 AM EDT

So You Think You Can Dance

S9 E4
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Tonight’s Salt Lake City audition episode — replete with plenty of blond girls and plenty of adorably uncontrollable cursing from guest judge Adam Shankman — was full of talent and heart and picturesque shots of snowy mountain bluffs. Nigel (possibly sporting a subtly different new hairstyle?) was leering and lovable as ever, and the hot tamale train finally made its very first appearance of season 9. After four episodes’ worth of auditions, this season is already feeling gloriously overstuffed with phenomenal dancers, so personally I feel a certain relief that SLC is the last audition city. I don’t know how the judges are ever going to winnow the pool down from 181 to 20 dancers; the prospect of it causes me a certain kind of second-hand stress on their behalf.

Before the auditions got underway, Mary, as she is wont to do, stated the house rules: no booty shakes or self worship or The Reach allowed! Of course her words matter not one bit because these cats have already choreographed their routines and these moves will be included. But I love Mary and it’s especially dear when she and Adam tag-team: she lays down the laws while he demonstrates, and it’s fun times. Do you like Adam’s new specs? I do. I thought they added a touch of erudite to his already always-thoughtful feedback.

Let’s discuss who we met. No time to waste.

The first of the series of blond girls was Witney Carson, a Latin Ballroom dancer who did a Cha-cha/Tango routine that got a standing O from judges and a ticket not just to Vegas, baby, but also aboard first hot tamale train of the season! Full steam ahead! And the hoopla was deserved. For one thing, it was so nice to finally see some kickass ballroom dancing, which has been somewhat scarce on the show up until tonight. But I also loved the way Witney took to the stage with such confidence, ferocity and precision, and transformed instantaneously from soft-talking little girl to woman, just as Mary noted.”You. Are… Everything this show is all about,” Adam said, making me think, at first, that he was just going to say You are everything, a phrase which used to be Mia Michaels’ top compliment to dancers and a phrase which I have always have loved even though I am not a lover of Mia Michaels herself. But he didn’t say that. Still, this girl *was* everything. Did she remind anyone else of Chelsie?

Next up was beglittered Lynn Gravatt, a 33-year-old former aerospace engineer who first began dancing when a force entered her and danced her around her living room. It was clear from her video package and her age that she was probably going to be more of a story contestant than a serious dancer contestant, but I found her rather lovely to watch, both in her audition and her interview. “When I dance, I feel at home,” she said, and I really got that from her. Nigel seemed a little freaked by her I’m-in-a-human-body-but-my-soul-hails-from-elsewhere thing, but at the same time, he seemed to feel that the aerospace engineer background afforded her some credibility so he let her do this thing. Lynn didn’t go on to choreography, and while this seemed like the likely conclusion from the outset, I’m glad we got to meet her — and her earrings, as well, which I now realize from stalking her website that she probably crafted herself!

NEXT: An insect takes flight

Contemporary dancer Dee Tomasetta walked on stage and was greeted by Nigel with “You’re a lovely little cutie, aren’t you,” which is either verbatim what he said to Witney earlier or something extremely similar. Dee’s routine to “I Can’t Make You Love Me” — a song that I’ve never quite liked and now find particularly ominous for the way it reminds me of Hollie Cavanagh’s undoing — was gorgeous and fluid and full of breath and had “a beautiful wisdom,” as Adam so rightly said. I also loved her whole video package what with the big Italian family full of male relatives who think the world of her and love to eat big pasta dinners all the time, but my favorite moment of all had to be when she called her Gramma to tell her she is going to Vegas, baby, and cried into the phone. She cries = I cry. But please, tell me: when are the fakeouts going to end? “I’m afraid I’ve got to be the voice of reason here and…. come get your ticket to Vegas.” Ugh. I guess eventually they’ll just run out of ideas for nonsensical switch-ups?

We see but do not meet a Brazilian Samba dancer about whom Nigel comments “I know what to ask for for my birthday and it’s not the outfit.” I love this dirty old man so much.

I had two favorite auditions of the night and the first was Gene Lonardo, who was decorated in green body and face paint for his routine about the life cycle of a praying mantis. Evidence of how much I loved this audition is that my scrawled notes simply read STOP CUTTING TO ADAM. Show me the mantis! Gene was right in the show’s wheelhouse in every way. His solo told a story, the dancing was superb, and the whole performance was so original. This man seems to lack bones in his body, and I mean that in the best possible way. I was surprised that Mary and Nigel’s reactions to him were so subdued. Not in their words, necessarily, which were positive, but in their overall lack of enthusiasm, i.e. their failure to stand or scream or take him for an immediate ride on the HTT. Thank god for Adam who totally got it. Initially Adam called him “sort of brilliant” — causing Gene to freak out in the cutest way ever and hop backwards with disbelief — then later calling him plain “brilliant.” Furthermore, I loved the insanely awkward moment post performance when Gene said to Nigel “Actually, the female [praying mantis who decapitated him] was you.” Because, see, of the three judges, Nigel “strikes the most fear inside.” The comment managed to push all Nigel’s uncomfortable buttons at once and left him momentarily speechless and the whole room was deliciously, weirdly quiet for a second. Vegas, baby, for this fantastic insect!

NEXT: Dangerous nipples

Lindsay Arnold was the next blonde Ballroom and Latin dancer we met but somehow she didn’t stand out for me as much as Witney. She wasn’t as crisp somehow. And that Deadmau5 song happens to kills my soul. In any case, the judges seemed to like her a lot but not love her deeply. Mary said Lindsay reminded her of Julianne Hough (compliment) and called her a hot tamale (compliment) but didn’t actually go so far as to place her on the actual train (unclear compliment). Adam praised the way she took the stage (possibly a faint compliment?). She really did take the stage with a ton of panache though. Vegas, baby!

A bunch more ballroom routines sped by that we did not get to see — American Tango, Rumba — and then we were introduced to another blond girl, Mariah Spears, who isn’t a ballroom dancer at all but is a krumper, and who, when not krumping, enjoys riding horses. Love this girl. She’s a hard-hitting, attacking little packet of dynamite. On to choreography.

B-boy Murphy Yang had a story that killed me. He was disowned by his father, he said, and his family, who never supported his dancing, moved out of town without him. The one person who’s taken him in and stood by his side is his adorable girlfriend. By the end of the kid’s video package, Adam was on the verge of tears. Then came Murphy’s routine. It wasn’t up to the level of others’ in the competition but was so entertaining, so brimming with personality. My favorite part was his girlfriend, beside herself and practically hyperventilating in the audience, so wanting this for him. How I loved this couple. Murphy advanced to the choreography round, but already it felt like there was going to be so much riding on the outcome that there was a bittersweet tinge to it.

Day two in SLC brought us to Dareian Kujawa, a compact and handsome nugget from the wrong side of the tracks for whom dancing has been a salvation. Nigel couldn’t resist commenting on Dareian’s shirtless torso (“You could have someone’s eyes out with those nipples.”) which Dareian took in stride before launching into a contemporary routine to “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” that was just so seamless and airborne and musical it just made me feel like this guy can do anything. “Lousy feet” notwithstanding, of course. Adam, — who looked like he was going to cry again a la season 7’s Teddy Tedholm audition — loved it so much he busted out with a his own version of a hot tamale train holler that went Hooooooo! Then fake out fake out fake out — Vegas, baby! Choreographers, claw each other’s eyes out for this guy!

NEXT: A lesson in cocky comedy

Johnny Ahn, a ballroom guy immersed in an intensive DVD dating course that’s teaching him how to have the “confident characteristics” of a jerk without actually being a jerk and his partner Whitney Hallam, who can’t stand him, were up next. Shenanigans galore transpired that I shan’t take up space with here, but I will say I loved the way Cat shut him down. She was all “That wouldn’t work for me.” I also loved Nigel’s candor when Johnny asked if he was good with women. “Having just been divorced by my wife, I guess I’m not,” Nigel replied. I really loved him in that moment. The couple performed and their dancing was fine, but they wore Smoldering Face big time and it was gross. The judges weren’t terribly impressed but I got it when they said Whitney was striking. But then immediately Whitney lost me when the judges compared her to Lady Gaga and instead of receiving said comparison humbly, she said “Yeah, I get that a lot.” On to choreography. Bleh.

We quickly flew through a handful of return auditioners, including one woman who is definitely not under 30 but that’s OK and then we (re)met Adrian Lee, who came *this close* to Top 20 in Season 7. They showed the footage of Mary arriving at his house and telling him he didn’t make while he smile-cried. Back in the current day, Adrian said how devastating that had been, not just to him but to his entire family, so much so that he said he didn’t even tell them about this year’s audition so he wouldn’t disappoint them anymore. Gawd. I found myself feeling really uncomfortable by all this. I can’t take the pressure! What are the judges supposed to do in the face of that? Then he danced to “Try a Little Tenderness.” It was the kind of performance where I felt like I was supposed to love it, but didn’t. Choreography aside, even. Anyhoo, onto Vegas, where presumably we’ll meet his mom, The Mother of Disappointment. I am open to the idea that Adrian will grow on me — or he will fall short of the Top 20 again and his family will throw his belongings out onto the street and it will all be moot.

Flying across our screen we caught glimpses of two contemporary dancers who got tickets to Vegas, a ponytailed brunette girl who was “certainly one of the best auditions [Adam] saw today,” and then a boy who Adam said “could be as good as any of the best boys who’ve been on our show.” uh huh. So WHY AREN’T WE SEEING THEM??? Why are we watching Johnny Ahn hit on high school girls and not watching these people?? For cripes sake.

Alicia Silverstone/Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls era) lookalike Rachel Applehans was up next, and I liked her immediately for the way her last name conjures apple pastry. Apple turnover, apple pie, you name it. Rachel, whose mom initially put her in dance because she was painfully shy as a toddler, is not shy now. She wanted to make Nigel a little uncomfortable during her burlesque jazz routine and she succeeded. In fact, she reduced the entire judging panel to pile of giggles, and she also elicited the best line of the night, which came from Adam: “I think that if some things in my life were a little different I would move to Salt Lake City.” Still, Adam truth-told that her routine was “a bit of running around” and she was sent on to choreography to see what else she can do. Sexily. In a white mesh bustier.

NEXT: The last contestant brings the house down

We were treated/subjected to a bloopers-n-bad dancing segment before meeting the last auditioner: Leroy Martinez, a big bear of a guy who works with an organization that exposes kids to dance to keep ’em out of trouble. Nigel, who never misses an opportunity to hammer home for people the power of dance in society — and by proxy, the power of SYTYCD — ate this up. So it’s a “give back” he clarified, naming something that needn’t have been named. Leroy rocked the audition which included a back handspring onto his elbows and another one into a straight up and down headstand. There was joy in the room. The big guy can dance even though he doesn’t look like a dancer! Mary and Nigel high-fived. An impromptu P.S.A. for dance was suddenly underway. Adam said Leroy is “why dancing is so amazing and important.” Mary said she didn’t know whether Leroy could be a competitor on the show but he is a competitor in life! Nigel, to the surprise of no one, said that dance makes us better people. They sent Leroy to choreography with a huge vote of confidence. Just kidding, they sent him with a huge dose of goodwill and no confidence. Nigel prefaced his “yes” vote with “I don’t think you’re gonna be able to do it but.” I guess it was honest. And honesty is good. But something about it seemed dismissive.

After the two choreography rounds, here’s what happened: Murphy, Johnny Ahn and his partner Whitney were a no-go. Mariah, Rachel (apple turnover) were yeses. Leroy was last, and got The Slow Clap from Nigel and a standing O from the room. But no to Vegas.

So, We made it to Vegas, you guys! I’m so excited for next week. My only hope is that the dancing will get more airtime than sobbing, ambulances, oxygen masks and stretchers. For what it’s worth, TyceKeith appears to be back to his barking ferret self, so that’s something to look forward to.

Episode Recaps

What were your favorite auditions tonight? Who are you most excited to see again in Vegas? What did you think of Leroy? Did Adam always cry this much or is he getting tearier with age? Am I the only one who experienced an extra surge of love for Cat when she said she doesn’t mind being covered in peoples’ sweat?

So You Think You Can Dance

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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