Generation NEXT: SYTYCD Season 13

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So You Think You Can Dance has returned to the small screen for a 13th season, and this year the kids get their turn in the spotlight.

The show has revamped its entire look and contestant base, auditioning dancers between the ages of 8 to 13 and mirroring every popular social network platform with its graphics, peppy music and bright colors. They’ve even extended the youth appeal by adding a new judge to join Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason DeRulo–15 year old dancer Maddie Ziegler, made famous by her appearances on Dance Moms and countless Sia videos and performances.  Limiting their audition cities to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, the core trio of judges mines through the hundreds of pint-sized hopefuls to select a few hundred to attend The Academy, the kids’ version of the Vegas intensive. The selection has a twist, though–only ten young dancers are selected for the stage shows, and not by the three judges.  Ten All-Stars–former contestants from the previous 12 seasons–are judging at The Academy to select one dancer each to take to the Hollywood stage that they feel they best connect with and has the skills to win.

Los Angeles had a good number of surprising talents: hip-hop dancers Merrick and Kida, ballerina Avery, contemporary dancers Jordan, Sage, Ava (tallest in the auditions at 5’9″ at only 11 years old) and Sophia, tap dancer Ava (complete with embarrassing tap dad), and ballroom dancers Lev, Ivan and Camilla. One particular standout audition involved dancers Stella and Geramy, who initially got a pass from the judges before Stella pleaded their case and asked to show something different. The two did a more dramatic paso doble and Stella was passed through, though Geramy was still rejected.  However, Nigel–presumably impressed by both his performance demeanor and the 25 pound weight loss he accomplished in practicing for the auditions–convinced his fellow judges to give him the opportunity to go through to The Academy to get a feel for the amount of hard work it would take to pursue the show.  Chicago brought us the ubercuteness that was 10 year old J.T. Church, and the extremely excited Tahani, whose happiness bubbled right out of her….and onto Paula Abdul’s jacket.  Poor baby–I have never seen anyone throw up after getting a positive nod, and particularly not all over a judge.  But she and Paula took it in stride.  Other Chicago standouts included lightning-fast tapper Emma, ballerina Tia (who got to dance in front of Fabrice Chamels of the Joffrey Ballet), hip-hop dancer Alex, contemporary dancers Diana, Quinn and Enoch, jazz dancer Ainslee (who though completely adorable and energetic with her pocket-sized 8 year old self was turned down), and ballroom dancers Leana and Daniela.  11 year old Daniela had a bit of an ace up her sleeve: her mom, who teaches her, is a Latin ballroom champion.  She even got to show Nigel and Jason a few moves.  New York seemed to host the largest and most diversely interesting auditioners on the tour, from Latin dance junior champion Ruby to Kinky Boots swing Dougie, amazingly mature contemporary dancers Tate and Olivia, mini “Magic Mike” hip-hoppers R.J and Jake (who reminded me so much of Nick and Rudy from Season 11), 12 year old breaker Kai who’s so badass he rocks with an ADULT crew, ballroom dancers Valeriya, Alex, Liza and Joshua (all but Liza moved on, but I thought her personality would at least get her in the door), and 13 year old tapper Lucas, who caused a bit of discussion with the judges but was eventually sent ahead to the next round.

After arriving at The Academy, the young dancers performed their solos for the All-Star judges who would evaluate them.  The All-Stars roster for Season 13 is a pretty fair balance of all of the available genres: ballroom is represented by Paul Kamiryan, Jonathan Platero and Jenna Johnson; hip-hop is covered by Comfort Fedoke and champions Joshua Allen and DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagel; contemporary is represented by Robert Roldan, and first runners-up Kathryn McCormick and Sasha Mallory; and rounding out the numbers is reigning champion, Season 12’s tap mistress Gaby Diaz.  Each dancer gets to pick their five favorite dancers from the Academy soloists, with at least three that are not necessarily of their specific genre.  Things get interesting a few times as some of the dancers are selected by more than one All-Star, which gives the dancer the option of which team he or she wants to be on.  By the end of the rounds the five dancers are cut to two, with those two being in contention to go to the live shows.

Contemporary dancer Tate gave such a technically and emotionally compelling performance she literally propelled half of the judges from their seats, even though they were supposed to restrain their reactions. She wound up being sought after by both Kathryn and Sasha, and after hearing their say, she chose Kathryn’s team. Two other dancers, Kida and Ruby, would also be doubly selected, with Kida choosing Fik-Shun over Joshua and Ruby selecting Paul in favor of Jonathan, respectively. All of the dancers gave their absolute best, but with the choices limited to 5 dancers per team, the selected pool of about 100 hopefuls was immediately cut down to 50.  After that, three rounds of choreography–Broadway with Warren Carlyle, Hip-Hop with Nappytabs, and Contemporary with Travis Wall–honed each team of five down to two dancers, of which the given All-Star had to select one to take with them to the live shows.  The final choices came down to gut decisions, as each of the kids displayed varying degrees of technique, personality, determination and heart throughout the whole process. The 10 dancers selected are:

  • Tate McRae – Team Kathryn
  • Leon “Kida” Burns – Team Fik-Shun
  • Ruby Castro – Team Paul
  • J. T. Church – Team Robert
  • Jordan Wandick – Team Sasha
  • Jake Monreal – Team Jenna
  • Daniela Avanzini – Team Jonathan
  • Sheaden Gabriel – Team Joshua
  • Emma Hellenkamp – Team Gaby
  • Tahani Anderson – Team Comfort

Overall, I like the concept, as today’s young dancers are doing feats I couldn’t master TODAY, never mind when I was their age.  I’m trying very hard not to let my disdain for Dance Moms and my intense dislike for Abby Lee Miller to color my judgment on Maddie Ziegler’s role in the proceedings; I feel she’s overhyped and overexposed but it’s a very shrewd move to include her as the kids will definitely know HER pedigree as opposed to the adult pioneers…not to mention they’ll have the benefit of her expertise in competing in the public eye and professionalism as a child in the entertainment business.  The one outstanding fact is that these kids are phenomenally talented and have larger than life personalities–and this, above all of the other gimmicks and enticements, will make this season shine.

‘Dear Mr. Hamilton…’ Hypable says happy trails to Lin-Manuel Miranda | Hypable

I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING! 

They said everything I would have said had I been able to put a coherent thought together last week….

http://www.hypable.com/what-lin-manuel-miranda-means-to-me/

Fruitlessly Seeking Luvvie

There are a few bloggers that I keep up with, but there are a couple that serve as my muses….and I’ve been trying to meet both for a while. I met Vitamin Q a couple of months ago (difficult not because he’s local but because he’s reclusive), but I have yet to pin down Luvvie Ajayi. If you are one of the five people on the planet without Internet access who are not familiar with the creator of Awesomely Luvvie and Awesomely Techie, she is also the author of the upcoming release I’m Judging You, and the Mistress of Side Eye. Since Luvvie is based in Chicago and jetting off to some gorgeous locale or other every few days, my chances of running into her are slim and slimmer. Then last year, McDonald’s tapped her to be their 365Black Ambassador for last year’s Essence Festival here in my hometown….

A chance to meet Luvvie. 

For free. FA-REE.

Universe, you have my attention. 

Since she was basically posting her every move under the McDonald’s banner on every social media channel imaginable, I at least had a general idea of where to find her. And, since I was going early for the workout session anyway, I figured I’d have plenty of time to meet her before I had to leave to get ready for work. Yeah….I kinda forgot about the concept of New Orleans time–where a scheduled time can be anything from 10 to 45 minutes after what’s listed. But I’m a determined soldier, so I wait like the awkward, antisocial stalker I’m sure I looked like, scanning my quickly dying phone for updates and Luvvie sightings until my personal window of time closes. I leave disappointed into the oppressive summer heat and head back to my car, upon which I plug in my phone and find this tweet as soon as I get in:

Damn you, fate!

So, fast forward to this year where I’m again going for the fitness session (wanted to ask Shaun T. in person at what point he lost his mind), when Luvvie takes to social media with this nugget:

As I’m researching and plotting, I get a notification that nearly rendered me unconscious:

Oh HELLS YEAH I’m going! 

Well, this year I had ALL DAY, and only one other presentation I really wanted to see, so I figured between my friend and I we could track her down, make my life, and still have time to see Misty Copeland and Oprah Winfrey. I was even prepared technologically, as I had my wall charger and a fully charged power bank to keep tabs in the communications black hole that is the Convention Center. (Special props to sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s for having charging stations set up for visitor use–that gave me a few extra minutes.)

Missed her again. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. She had just finished taping a presentation (according to her Instagram), so at least I knew what she was wearing. Saw a couple of seminars that fit her MO but conflicted with other things (it’s very small comfort that I missed Todrick Hall, too). I walked by one of those stages going back to wait for Misty, and my friend and I took tag team seat breaks to stretch legs, charge phones and take care of other necessaries. But, as it happens, I fell victim to that New Orleans Time scheduling again, and as seats were filling up four seminars early for Oprah, I was kind of captive where I was. But I thought at the very least, if there’s one place I might stand a chance of spotting her, it was in the same room with Oprah. I grossly underestimated exactly how many people were willing to smash themselves into a ballroom just to see Oprah’s first appearance at Essence Fest. I’m lucky I saw my friend, and he was sitting right next to me. Looked for her after amongst the rest of the celebrities but no luck. And by the time Oprah finished, building security was herding everyone towards the nearest exit, and as my friend managed to score a free ticket to the concert that night, I had to get him home post haste.

Upon stalking social media after I got home, that cruel butch named Irony dealt me a couple of blows–first, Luvvie DID have a presentation in the grand room at the very stage I’d intended to stop and wait at earlier. Second, apparently one of those stretch breaks my friend took turned into a walkabout that found him a couple of celebrities and took him past that very stage. And the cruelest of all, Luvvie was in the Superlounges with the artists I’d have gone to see had I had a ticket….and less social anxiety. 

A family obligation kept me from renewing the search on Sunday, and an early Monday morning flight crushed the last of my hopes. I probably would have babbled like an idiot anyway…still, the fact that I’ve come thisclose TWICE and come up empty is just frustrating.

And Kim Fields too?!? We grew up together, through several models of TV screen!

Oh well…..at least there’s a book tour coming. And we friends now, so we go together for LIFE.

My dearest, HAMILTON: A Love Letter from a Really Big Fan

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"Raise a glass....tomorrow there'll be more of us, telling the story...."

My HAMILTON journey has ended. And yet it’s just beginning.

Like most rabid fans I played the White House YouTube clip over and over and over to fully absorb the newness Lin-Manuel Miranda was putting out into the atmosphere. I have followed along with Lin’s every Facebook and Twitter antic and kept up with updates on the writing process, the development journey and the various stagings, being blessed to have attended a few and to have met those involved. I have watched and listened and blogged and shared everything imaginable. I have waxed incessantly to friends about this work and endured many a side eye at my explanation of the concept. I have met and expressed my admiration to many of the performers who have breathed life into this thing (and still have many more to see–I’m looking at you, Javi, Thayne and Ariana!), I have read and shared photo spreads, think pieces and other press to help shine a pinlight from my small corner of the world….all in an effort to make sure the world knows that it’s not overhype, that HAMILTON: An American Musical is THAT special.

And now the curtain has fallen, the dust has settled, and of the 16 record-breaking nominations, our show walks away with 11 trophies. To borrow from Lin’s lyrics, pride is not the word I’m looking for. Lin made a thing, y’all. He made an incredible, inspiring, enduring thing. I don’t have adequate words to thank him or Alex or Tommy or any of the incredible ensemble and creative team for this masterwork that has transformed the Broadway stage, reached into the hearts and minds of people who may never have been exposed to live theater, worked tirelessly to get this staged in as many places as possible and just flat out created magic. I am a mere viewer who was blessed to be in a few special rooms when things happened, and for these and many other reasons makes this my show, too. It’s more than something like Wicked or The Lion King or even In The Heights, that I love and cherish as great shows that I hold in my heart. This really feels like MY show, like I had some small part, some tiny investment in its creative formation. And it won 11 Tony Awards.

I don’t know what else to say. If you can see it without mortgaging vital organs, GO. If you can’t, get the cast album. Get the book. Get the audiobook. Wait for and support the regional and international tours. Get the experience, because it’s more than just a retelling of history. It’s an outpouring of love from the stage. It’s a reminder of our humanity, flaws and all. And it’s an affirmation that we all have a story that deserves to be told, and with any luck those who tell them will be kind and fair.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for turning my world upside down in the best possible way.

How Lin Manual Miranda’s Hamilton foregrounds the pleasure and power of words.

I will never not share Hamilton thinkstuff. Everyone needs to make space in their brains for Hamilton thinkstuff.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2016/05/10/how_lin_manual_miranda_s_hamilton_foregrounds_the_pleasure_and_power_of.html

Good Night, Sweet Prince…

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Prince lives.

That’s how my world is framed.

The headlines, memes, artwork and tributes have floated along my timeline…I have read and watched very few.

I am by no means the biggest Prince fan–three of my friends take that title, and were the first three people I sought out when the headlines broke. They are devastated, literally heartbroken…and my heart breaks for them.

It may be a state of denial I’m choosing to live in, but I don’t think I can function any other way. I was curled into a weeping ball the day CNN broadcast Michael Jackson’s service, but I at least knew His Royal Badness was within reach.

I can’t use the D word–not now, not ever. The music lingers, and that helps, but I can’t mentally assign them to that state. Michael has been enjoying life on the beach of a private island for the last few years (along with Whitney, Biggie and Tupac….who is probably decking out the villa he saved for him mom right now), and I can just as easily put Prince in a similar locale. I WILL borrow from one Facebook post, in believing that he jumped from the top of the speakers, made two spins, played the sickest guitar riff EVER and then disappeared in a puff of purple smoke. A stage exit befitting our Royal One.

Good night, sweet Prince. ♡

Hamilton/Shuffle: No Way To Choose

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It's gonna be an all-out stand....

So the Tony nominations came out this morning….

I’ve been waiting for the last seven years, through every tweet, concert and staging, for this moment to arrive. And arrive it did–like gangbusters. Just like it burst onto the Great Wide Way, HAMILTON fired into Tony history with a record-breaking SIXTEEN nominations in every category imaginable. If they could have nominated the theater ushers and the #Ham4Ham shows I bet they’d have found a way.

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History has its eyes on you....

I’m very excited, but I’m thoroughly torn. Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921, and All That Followed, the George C. Wolfe staged production of the Eubie Blake musical, is also nominated, head-to-head with HAMILTON in several categories. You see, the last bit of news I’d heard was that Shuffle Along was delaying their eligibility for consideration this year. All the powerhouse talent I adore–Billy Porter, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Joshua Allen, Savion Glover–is involved with this show. Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald is in this show. And Adrienne Warren (who ironically has Lin-Manuel ties from her role in Bring It On), is part of the Shuffle Along family as well.

I don’t even know how to feel right now. As far as musical talent and stellar humanity, Lin and Billy are my end-all, be-all. I LOVE them. That old saying about having to choose your favorite child is in full effect. As much as I’ve crowed endlessly about HAMILTON, it was the musical EUBIE! that was my very first exposure to a Broadway style production….so by extension, Shuffle Along birthed the love for musical theater that allowed me to fall ass over tea kettle in love with HAMILTON. Both of these shows are at the core of my being.

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"Fellas, these nominations ain't no parts of right...."

Tony Night will be bittersweet indeed as I wait to see how the votes tallied. The HAMILTON vs. Shuffle battle alone is tense enough (and I’m just going to ignore the Best Musical category altogether, as they just need to make five statues and hand them out NOW)…we have to choose WITHIN categories. There’s a three way scuffle between the Georges, Lafayette and Jefferson, as Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs and Jonathan Groff have all been nominated for the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award. I’m leaning most towards Chris because he’s long overdue, but how do you not look at the contrasting dual energies Daveed pours out or all of the emotions Jonathan wrings out of his nine minutes onstage? And in clearly what is someone’s idea of a twisted joke…Hamilton and Burr–in the guise of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.–battle among themselves for Best Lead Actor. You savages.

This is a Tony year like no other. HAMILTON is my clear and biased choice for everything because I feel like it’s MY show…like I’m a part of its development. In a way, Lin lets us feel like we are, so I’ll be mentally standing on stage with the producers as they claim the trophy. But there are so many other variables and connections in play, and I feel like I’ll be happy if either of my loves wins, yet will also weep for the names not called. Even though HAMILTON is the Jacob to Shuffle‘s Esau in my mind, I can’t completely cast off my other child. Maybe I should contact Olivia and Archie Manning to see how they dealt with it……

Either way, whatever happens in the shuffle, come June 12, I’m raising a glass.

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"Tomorrow there'll be more of us, telling the story of tonight...."

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