Auditions in New York City and Dallas deliver; welcome to season 9!

By Meredith Hoffa
May 25, 2012 at 04:01 AM EDT
  • TV Show

To me, one of the most exciting things in life was always the first day back at school after the long summer break, and this is what tonight’s season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance felt like. The anticipation. The BIG DAY feeling! The excited jitters. The reconnecting with the people you haven’t seen for so long. And, of course, the wondering what’s changed since you and everyone last saw one another.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: Cat Deeley and I are still best friends/soul mates and are still going to have a sleepover, probably sometime very soon. Tyce Diorio still has chin straps made of human hair. And this show still, like always, feels particularly fresh and clean and right and loving on the heels of the mind-numbing journey that is American Idol. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still riding a Phillip Phillips high, especially after watching him tearfully nuzzle himself into the warm embrace of his family last night. But SYTYCD has always felt a little more homegrown, a little less produced and stagy than its older, sillier cousin Idol. SYTCYD has less hoopla. It has judges who give actual opinions. It has Cat with a bullhorn!

Here’s what has changed since SYTYCD and I were together last: The results show has been eliminated, which means that everything will now be folded into one two-hour episode each week. Two (2!) winners — one lad, one lass — will be crowned America’s Favorite Dancer at season’s end. That’s a big deal! In other news, Tyce already seems more gentle-hearted this season. Am I speaking too soon? I can’t explain it exactly, but it may be true. And Lil’ C has apparently worked on his vocabulary. Tonight he made sense every time he spoke and used only real words.

Sigh. Changes!

Tonight we met a ton of disgustingly talented dancers, and in the two cities we visited, storylines began for a bunch of contestants who we may well be seeing a lot more of in the coming months.

In N.Y.C., perma-judges Nigel and Mary were joined by guest judge Tyce Diorio (whose real name, I feel I need to share with you here, is Keith — a fact that I learned from my dancer friend last season, and a fact that I’ve really enjoyed having in my pocket) and the auditions got off to a swell start with contemporary dancer Amelia Lowe, a 1920s-channeling, gamine Francophile in an adorable bob and red lipstick who danced to Edith Piaf and got an enthusiastic send through to VEGAS, baby! Formidable!

My first glimpse of the possibly new, improved TyceKeith came when Toshihiko Nakazawa and his shock of red Ronald McDonald hair did a hip hop/popping and locking routine, but then couldn’t understand much (any?) of the judges’ feedback because of his limited English. TyceKeith was just so super sweet and classy about it. He talked to Toshihiko simply but not condescendingly and didn’t shout or speak in broken English, which is, let’s face it, what 90 percent of us inadvertently do when we are trying to bridge a language barrier. Toshihiko was sent on to choreography.

NEXT: An acrobat, a wiggler and a ballet beefcake

The first inevitable sillypants of the night was Austin Freeman, who introduced his genre of dancing, “the wiggle,” which is something he invented and which is something that, unlike Nigel and Fox, I am not going to give any air time. For reals you guys, I know this show has two hours to fill but these auditions are teeming with good dancers and I look forward to the day when SYTYCD will dispose of the filler sillypants auditions. TyceKeith said to him, “Your dancing made me sad,” and it was said so straightforwardly yet non-meanly that once again, for the second time in 10 minutes, my TyceKeith approval meter surprised me by inching up yet another notch.

Next we were introduced to Shafeek Westbrook, a street dancer with a gap-toothed smile which I just have to say is one of the physical qualities I adore more than almost any other in the world, even more than babies with glasses. This guy loves to flip over things, he explained in a little interview with Cat, who was rocking some over-the-knee suede boots that looked fantastic. Shafeek flipped his way around the stage and it won him a ticket to VEGAS, baby!

Leo Reyes, a beanstalk of a contemporary dancer, was introduced and was clearly meant to be our First Compelling Backstory of the night. His mom attempted suicide, Leo explained, and now, more than anything, he wants her to see him dance. His fellow auditioners went crazy for his routine and he got a ticket to VEGAS, baby! I liked Leo’s dancing, but more than that, I was so tickled by the way he honestly, seriously could not believe he was being sent through and kept shaking his head nooooo like “no you didn’t.”

Then came a bunch more footage of sillypants auditions and to one alarming undulating gentleman, TyceKeith said, plainly: “It’s just filthy.” Another notch!

Our last featured audition in N.Y.C. was Cheehon Wespi-Tschopp, a hunky (Mo-om!) ballet dancer who did a ballet-meets-contemporary/jazz routine that easily earned him a ticket to VEGAS, baby! — and after the two days of N.Y.C. auditions, 38 dancers were Vegas bound. Sweet Toshihiko was unfortunately not amongst them, but he did offer a cute little goodbye as he ducked out of the choreography rehearsal, explaining that he couldn’t do lifts so sayonara.

On to the Dallas auditions, which were really, really great entertainment. Now I see that Dallas is where things happen! TyceKeith is out, Lil’ C is in as guest judge.

NEXT: Buckness and babies

First up was Bree Hafen, a mother of two who’d been away from dance for some time but is now working to bring it back into her life. I like her immediately for the way she said “29” in a way that was so clearly like “this is such bulls—” when Nigel asked her age. And then I loved her even more when, as she took the stage, her tiny son shouted “Go Mama I love you!” Please. I died dead.

But that wasn’t it! Then Bree performed her contemporary solo to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Sort of,” a song that I can (and do) listen to on a loop all the livelong day. Her dancing is good, though not super innaresting to me, yet it doesn’t matter because in the middle of her solo her son walked on stage with the ticket to VEGAS, baby! and Bree was all whaaa?? AND THAT’S STILL NOT EVEN IT. Then her 2-year-old daughter came up onstage, and the adorablest thing about it wasn’t just that it was a 2-year-old dancing, it was that this baby person could *actually dance.* I saw a passé, an arabesque, some solid relevé, a lot of spinning around and then some dropping to the floor and rolling around and I’m telling you, it was like an E*trade baby but 100 times better. For godssake. I am all about the Hafen family. All of them.

Next we were introduced to two scary performers. First we met Stepheon Stewart, whose style is “zombie.” What does that mean, you ask? It means he is like MJ in the Thriller video, only scarier because it involves his eyes rolling up into his head and a scary joker-from-Batman-esque mouth, and because in his video package he looked square into camera and said “I’m going to get you.” Lil’ C was on cloud nine and said Stepheon was the reason he does what he does. VEGAS, baby!

Part two of the scary dancer package was Hampton Williams, whose style is “exorcist.” “When I actually do it,” he said, “I can take your pain and your fear and I can interpret it and you won’t have it no more, you know?” His performance — something between dance and performance art and a full-length play — was totally arresting. By the end of it, Mary was a weepy puddle and so were a number of the dancers in the audience, who were on their feet and chanting his name. It was a moment! It’s definitely hard to tell from that performance what Hampton’s technical dancing ability is, and possibly it is zero, but tonight that seemed irrelevant. My favorite of the judges’ feedback was Lil’ C’s: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I want to kick you in your face right now.” I totally get it, C. It was buck! VEGAS, baby!

What is up with Dallas, yo? I like it!

Day 2 of Dallas auditions brought us to Daniel Baker, an Aussie living in San Francisco who is (or was) a professional ballet dancer who now wants to spread his wings beyond that genre. The girls in the room went crazy for his outfit of shorts and nothing. It turns out Daniel Baker can fly. Crowd goes wild. VEGAS, baby! I have feelings — albeit unsure, not yet fully formed feelings — about pro dancers quitting their companies and coming on this show. Like Alex Wong, right? But let’s talk about it later. It’s super late and my ears are starting to buzz from the massive hunk of frosting I just ate off a spoon.

NEXT: Suspenders!

Two auditioners did their part to bond the SYTYCD family. First there’s Sam Shreffer, a young, autistic dude whose style is “lyrical freestyle” and who isn’t fit to move on in the competition, but who gets everyone in the room drunk on life by doing one of his moves called “the ocean.” He gets a standing O, and Nigel just loves it because it perfectly demonstrates how dance, which he invented, brings everyone together just like he always says it does. But really, this was genuinely a special moment.

Then we met Von Kipper, a big jerkface who came on the show to spread hate and do just so-so b-boy moves, and everyone from Nigel to the other auditioners to Cat did their best to shoo him far far away from the SYTYCD family. See, this is what I love about Cat: her loyalty. It’s one of the reasons we’re so close.

The final performer of the night was the adorable Jarrell Rochelle, who donned suspenders and preppy shorts to dance/mime for his mom, who sat in Nigel’s seat so she could see better. While Nigel held her hand. And while she beamed with pride. Oh my. Proud moms. Cute babies. The power of dance. I think Nigel Lythgoe is really on to something.

All told, 17 from the Dallas auditions moved on to VEGAS, baby!

Next week: L.A. auditions, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (my — and everyone’s — favorite guest judge from last season) and new interview outfits for Cat. I excite! Who are your early favorites? What did you make of the exorcist? Am I onto something re: Tyce and/or C?

Until then! What did you think?

Episode Recaps

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