Tickets are given out freely during auditions in Chicago and Hollywood and bring out a Miley Cyrus look-alike and a completely new interpretation of everyone's favorite flying nanny.

By Jake Perlman
Updated June 05, 2014 at 03:26 AM EDT
Adam Rose/Fox

So You Think You Can Dance

S11 E2
  • TV Show

In case you forgot from last week, Chicago is a cold city. But that didn’t mean the dancers weren’t heating it up inside. I couldn’t be the only one who thought the amount of weather/dance puns was a little excessive. The auditions continued in the Windy City with guest judge Fabrice Calmels from Chicago’s own Joffrey Ballet, and though he didn’t really say much, he definitely made an impression on a contestant or two.

Paul “The Puppet” Brushhaber, 18: I’ll be honest, when Paul first walked on stage I thought he had entered the wrong reality TV competition. From his jeans to his glasses and overall nerdy persona, “dancer” was not the first word I thought of. But Paul was a fan of Brian Gaynor’s back in season 3 (and when he was in fifth grade) and was inspired to create his own style of dance based on puppetry. No, he’s not dancing with a puppet but like a puppet. Um OK, still trying to give this a chance. Surprisingly, Paul was pretty impressive, having only performed in local talent shows before. His synchronized movements to the music were spot on and really important for what he was trying to do. The entire time I thought the guy definitely had some skills, but he should be sent to choreography to see if he can handle the varied demands of the show, beyond puppets. Nigel seemed to feel the same way, and even though he liked it, he was reluctant to put Paul through. Well, luckily for “The Puppet,” Mary pulled the genius card and almost demanded that Paul be let through to the next round. Whatever you want, Ms. Murphy. Next stop: Hollywood

Emily James, 21: What’s a girl with a marketing degree and a love for dance supposed to do? That’s the problem for Emily, who had auditioned previously in seasons 8 and 9 but took 10 off to go to business school and get her degree. Well, her parents must be happy about that, but clearly Emily’s heart is on the dance floor. Though her two adorable cousins almost upstaged her, Emily’s contemporary performance proved she was where she belonged. It was simple yet strong and not overcomplicated in any way but still showed a great amount of passion and a little bit of personality. Nigel was surprised she hadn’t been dancing all year but will obviously continue to dance — well, at least for the summer. Next stop: Hollywood

Franchesca Bass, 18: Franchesca is a beautiful young woman and she is confident enough to know that, despite the alopecia that has taken all of her hair. Franchesca embraced her unique look with a contemporary piece inspired by aliens from another planet. Though her look makes her stand out, her dancing would have done that on its own. Nigel called it totally unique and cited the alien-like quality to her movements. Mary called it captivating, while Fabrice complimented her on her fast yet controlled connections. Next stop: Hollywood

NEXT PAGE: The trainee and the star

Jenna Scaccia, 18: Talk about pressure. Not only is Jenna, a Chicago resident, a big fan of guest judge Fabrice, but she just happens to also be a trainee at the Joffrey Academy and occasionally stalks watches rehearsals. So she has a little school girl crush, she’ll be fine. JK — LOTS OF PRESSURE! Well, not that much since Fabrice hadn’t seen her before but said he would look for her next time. I don’t think he will have to look far — maybe just to his TV over the next couple of weeks — because Jenna definitely earned her Joffrey acceptance. Incredibly light on her feet, Jenna showed incredible technique and flow in her movements. Mary said it was like she was floating on a cloud. Luckily, Fabrice said the performance made him very proud and especially liked how clean she was in between moves and didn’t completely fall out of anything. Next stop: Hollywood

James Thomas, 18: The final dancer out of Chicago was definitely the most cringe-worthy, and in a dance competition, I don’t think cringing while watching someone dance is a good thing. James is a hip-popper contortionist, taking elements of both hip-hop and popping dance while doing some crazy things with his shoulders and upper body. When Cat said his moves “makes me ill,” James responded “that’s what I’m looking for.” There is no doubt that what James does is unique and is definitely a talent, but the judges could barely watch the audition they were so grossed out by some of the places James was able to put his arm. Nigel joked that he preferred the puppetry and wondered what a doctor would say about what he was doing to his body. Fabrice seemed to genuinely ask if James had any tendons and ligaments in his body, and all three were curious enough at least to see what more he could do. Next stop: Choreography

James was one of 22 dancers to make it to the choreography round at the end of day 2, but after 40 minutes, he dropped out of the competition because he felt like he was holding his partner back. Gotta respect someone who knows when to throw in the towel. Though James didn’t make it, 10 more dancers eventually got their tickets to the next round in California, which just so happens to be where the auditions were going next.

NEXT PAGE: A Hollywood contender

Next, we headed “home” to Hollywood for the Los Angeles auditions at the Orpheum Theatre, where expectations are always high because this city is full of performers and dancers from all over the country, let alone the world. Christina Applegate returned as guest judge, and they wouldn’t have to wait long before a real potential winner entered the floor.

Jessica Richens, 18: Finally, we have a contender. No doubt there have been great dancers featured so far, but young Jessica Richens is really the first so far this season who could actually win this competition. Don’t believe me? Well, Mary and Christina thought the same thing: They simply wanted to be the blond teenager. Besides her good looks, being sexy comes natural for Jessica on stage — but she promises only when she’s on stage. This is a girl who once performed with the Rockettes at Radio City. Jessica took Christina’s advice by really interpreting the lyrics of her song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” into her dance, starting out wearing a hat and doing moves that emphasized her muscles. Jessica completely won me over with her personality from the beginning and then blew me away with her skills and humility, especially that last turn that transitioned into strong ending poses. The judges didn’t really need to say anything after she was done. Next stop: Hollywood

Valerie Rockey, 20: I was very tappy when I saw Valerie walk on stage with some nice red tap shoes, and she referenced some of my personal tap heroes, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Full disclosure: Tap was the first style of dance I was formally taught, and though I took a break from it, I picked it back up in high school and college. (Let me tell you: It’s very difficult to find tap shoes in a men’s size 14.) Though I thought Valerie was very good, I didn’t think she was great. Most of her choreography was good, but as Nigel noted, there were also some juvenile elements thrown into the mix that confused me and slowed down the momentum of the piece. Her personality was just as strong as the sounds her taps were making, though, and it kept her in the competition for now. Next stop: Choreography

Jana “Jaja” Vankora, 20: Jaja wouldn’t be in this country without SYTYCD — literally. The red-headed dancer from the Czech Republic met Phillip Chbeeb from season 5, and he took her under his wing and helped her develop her unique style of animation and crump and brought her to California. Once she got to the audition, Jaja did not disappoint. Girl clearly has some moves and defies any gender boundaries that may be created in the highly masculine style of movement. The judges didn’t have anything to say and all gave it a standing ovation. Next stop: Hollywood

Kyle Taylor, 28: Like the puppet in the beginning, Kyle is not what you would describe physically as a dancer, but he certainly has the passion for it. Being from Wichita, Kansas, there aren’t many other dancers Kyle could talk to, so he was just as excited to be with other dancers as he was to actually audition. Kyle has developed his style of popping in his living room because his work (and I assume lack of opportunities in Kansas) have prevented him from being able to perform in front of any crowds. A couple million people seem to be the best option then for one’s debut, right? Kyle showed he definitely knew what he was doing and had passion for the art (especially in his hips), but he didn’t blow away any of the judges right away. So Nigel had the brilliant (i.e. good for television) idea for some of the alums in the room to battle it out together on stage with Kyle to see if he could step up to the challenge. In comes Legacy, Cyrus, and last year’s winner Fik-Shun to have a little fun with the soft-spoken guy, but he definitely had the last laugh when he was able to change Nigel’s mind about sending him home right away. Next stop: Choreography

NEXT PAGE: Ballet equals (really passionate and slightly nauseating) love

Justine Lutz, 19: Justine has been studying jazz and ballet since she was 3, a very common age for dancers to begin, it seems, but chose to do a contemporary piece for her audition. I’m pretty sure it was just some editing done by the producers to make it seem like she was crazy to try something else, but she clearly has had a little contemporary experience at this point. I mean, who hasn’t? The judges love dancers who incorporate multiple styles of dance into one piece, so many dancers who audition are smart to learn as many styles as possible. Justine’s piece showed some incredible core work on her behalf, but more impressive to me was the effective and lyrical way she used her long limbs. Like Jaja, the judges didn’t need to say much after. Next stop: Hollywood

Daisie Mendosia and Mauricio Vera, 27: Warning: If beautiful and talented people in love make you jealous, then don’t follow Daisie and Mauricio for the rest of the season. The couple met dancing in Santiago together and have been in love ever since. No, but seriously, they are in love, y’all — or at least like to kiss a lot, maybe even too much, to be honest. The thing that struck me the most about the couple’s performance was the high level of professionalism and precision they displayed. Clearly, they had been partners many times before, but the performance still felt fresh and alive. Christina was in tears, partly from the love she felt from the performance and partly from the regret that her toes were never strong enough to be a ballerina. Nigel was worried that it would be difficult for Mauricio to show his complete skills while at the same time complementing Daisie, but felt the piece showed they definitely deserve each other. Next stop for both: Hollywood

Miley Cyrus Hailee Payne, 19: If someone says they are a little like Miley Cyrus, then that gives you permission to make fun of them, right? All kidding aside, the spunky and quirky teen had a lot of energy on stage, and as Mary noted, she committed 100 percent to every move and piece of her jazz-funk choreography. I’m pretty sure Nigel even said that he “loved her to death” before the audition was even halfway over. Hailee’s personality is almost as big as her high kick, which will be very important later on in the season if she can make it to the live shows. Side note: Did anyone else find her “cute” family a little confusing though? Why was her softball-loving mom sitting so far away from her dad, the one who got her to dance, with his male friend? Oh wait, I think I just got it… Next stop: Hollywood

NEXT PAGE: Mary Poppins, like you’ve never seen her before

Sebastian Serra, 24: Sebastian is another dancer coming back from rejection in past seasons and he knows that expectations are bigger coming back again so he wanted to make the most of this second chance. And by most, I guess he meant he wanted to take up most of the stage. While looking to have just as fun as before but with a better result, Sebastian didn’t hold back at all, making huge leaps across the stage from the moment his music began. Mary even commented that she thought they were going to need a bigger stage because he was filling it up so much — in a good way, of course. That ability to really command the stage reminded Christina of Chehon Wespi-Tschopp from season 9 and he won, so you can’t ask for a better compliment than that. Next stop: Hollywood

Dani Platz, 18: Another inspiring story from a young dancer came from Dani, who stopped dancing at 16 after 13 years due to an eating disorder she suffered in high school where she claims “self-judgement became a problem.” There were no physical signs of the disorder on her body, but the emotional scars were definitely permanent and evident in the moving piece she performed after taking off more than two years from dancing. Due to some contortion elements, Nigel called it both beautiful and ugly and felt the music and sadness in her performance. Clearly, dance has given Dani a second chance in life and loving herself and the ability to not only heal, but to share that story and part of her healing on national television. It’s incredibly brave, and as Christina said, she will help a lot of girls watching the show, beyond just perfecting their turnout. Though Christina would have sent her through right away, Mary and Nigel wanted to see her again, maybe without as many emotions around her (and them). Next stop: Choreography.

Marie “Poppins” Bonnevay, 27: The last dancer of the night wasn’t trying to be practically perfect in every way; that really isn’t Marie Poppins’ style. The French native took on her nickname from the popping style of dance she has come to love over the past seven years, performing in Vegas casinos and along the strip, trying to catch any and everyone’s attention she could, a real test of a true performer, in her mind. Well, if there was a real test, Marie Poppins just got an A+. Beyond the popping, you could see the influence of other dance styles and that, as a dancer, she would probably be able to easily transition across them all. Then she got off the stage and right onto the judges’ platform and had some fun with them and Fik-Shun, who I guess can’t let it go that he won last year. Don’t get me wrong, Fik-Shun is great and his performance with Kyle was worthy, but I felt like he was unnecessarily trying to upstage Marie here. Luckily, it further proved Marie’s skills and her ability to go with the flow. Marie got emotional when she was finished, mostly just grateful for the opportunity to perform. I’m grateful it won’t be the last time. Next stop: Hollywood

At the end of day 1 in Hollywood, 14 dancers were sent to the choreography round. Not surprisingly, Kyle couldn’t really handle the drastic shift in style and bowed out of the competition. Well, at least he didn’t puke in front of everyone! That would be really — oh wait, someone totally just vomited all over the stage. As Valerie Cherish and Mary Murphy say, “I didn’t need to see that!” Valerie the tapper and Dani fared better, though, and kept their lunches in their stomachs after receiving their tickets to the next round.

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So You Think You Can Dance

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