I was over the moon when they announced back in November that So You Think You Can Dance was renewed for a 12th season, though I was wary about yet another format change. This new season not only seeks to balance the number of street dance contestants that make it to the Hollywood stage, but essentially assembles them as a team against the dancers with more traditional stage training. A tricky concept to pull off, it was given a huge draw by assigning alumni All-Star dancers Travis Wall and Stephen “tWitch” Boss as mentors to the hopefuls. Travis and tWitch, both runners-up in their respective seasons, have forged indelible names for themselves not only on the show but in the current dance industry as a whole, and are massive fan favorites. Add to that the addition of new show judges Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo, this proves to be a very interesting season.
(There are some complaining about the level of expertise these new judges wield; Derulo, while being a relative show business newcomer, manages to pull off scores of exciting and well-received live performances and proved his judging mettle last season. And while this generation of viewers may remember Paula’s slightly kooky antics on American Idol, many of us who grew up in the 80s are well familiar with her extensive dance and choreography resume.)
This season’s audition tour starts in the South for the first episode, visiting Memphis and Dallas. For the third season in my memory, we kick things off with a Louisiana dancer–Peyton Albrecht, a 19 year old young man hailing from Robert, LA vying for a spot on Team Stage. The judges are largely impressed with his skill, foundation and stage presence, he’s compared by Nigel to a young Travis Wall. Personally I saw a Robert Roldan/Billy Bell combination, but I see a great deal of potential–as did our judges as they handed him the first ticket to Vegas of the season. (And apparently, we are going back to Vegas this year instead of Pasadena like last year….)
Next up is Andre Rucker for Team Street….avid viewers will remember Andre from Season 9 as one of three of the members of Dragon House to audition and get to Vegas. Andre was the one so overwhelmed by the choreography that he just quietly left the competition….and as we all know, his fellow housemate Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer rode his star that season all the way to second place. So on the heels of that and his other housemate Dorian “BluPrint” Hector making the show, he’s back to try again…and he doesn’t disappoint. His creativity and precision wows the judges and gets him a return trip to Vegas….with an inside warning from Nigel about not crashing and burning the first day.
Jordan Hilgenberg is next up for Team Stage, bringing her newlywed mom and stepdad in tow on their honeymoon. She impresses with beautiful lines and incredible control and technique, giving a good enough impression to move to the next round.
Of course, we can’t leave Memphis without at least one jooker crossing the stage…and as a first that I’ve seen on the show, a young lady–Ladia Yates–brings her talents to the stage. Not only does she produce a killer audition, she’s a youth mentor, bringing her young dance team with her for support. Of course, we can’t let the moment pass without letting the kids on stage and having them dance to a Jason Derulo track. The kids’ energy is so infectious, it inspires Jason himself to take the stage and grab a microphone, giving the kids a one-of-a-kind experience. Oh, and their teacher a ticket to Vegas.
Our last “street” dancer for Day 1 is an irrepressible energy from last season–Courtney “How you doing?” Barnes returns bigger and more flamboyant than ever, if you can imagine such a thing. What is amazing, though, is that even with the inflated persona, Courtney has picked up some skills and gives a pretty amazing audition with some technical prowess and versatility I hadn’t expected. There’s still room for growth, but this year’s audition is greatly improved….and the judges see it as well, giving him a Vegas berth.
There was so much megawatt talent on Day 1 that they blew Memphis out–literally. Day 2 opens with a power outage in the auditorium (and several blocks of downtown Memphis) due to an underground fire in a substation. The hopefuls spend hours waiting to hear if their dreams will be realized or if they’ll have to go home before they even begin. The dedicated and resourceful crew, however, manages to find a generator and with a bare minimum of lighting and energy, creates an atmosphere for the dancers to audition after all. Though slightly more condensed than usual–the dancers perform in groups according to their style, and the standouts get a second solo look to see if they get to move on–at least all of the people who have spent their hard earned money to travel to Memphis get their chance at their dreams.
From there the auditions move to Dallas, where we meet valet Guillermo Morales, a relative newcomer to dance trying for a shot at Team Stage. For only three years dancing, he has incredible expression and technique. That, plus his engaging personality, is what I’m certain moved the judges to give him a ticket to Vegas.
Next to the audition stage is Jaclyn Hamric, an 18 year old jazz dancer with a technique and vibe reminiscent of last year’s Jessica Richens–even down to the flirty sass. So of course, she gets a berth to the next round to represent Team Stage.
Team Street is represented next by an unlikely specter in New Orleanian Steven Ban, who looks more help desk than ‘hood. But this long, lanky Bill Gates wannabe pulls out some incredibly smooth, intricate and surprising animation moves. His unique, laid-back, left of center approach is intriguing enough for the judges to give him a pass to the next round.
Another Team Street hopeful, Vishonda Sims, was inspired by the new format to throw her hat in the ring, delivering a freestyle performance that blends animation, ticking and krump in a vibrant but subtle way, and while Nigel hoped for more fluidity from her, he and his fellow judges agree there’s enough there in her presentation to go through to Vegas.
Next up vying for Team Street is Kiosh Monroe, a slightly different level of flamboyance than Courtney Barnes but just as memorable. His audition, while energetic and enjoyable, did not meet the judges’ expectations for the show–though it did prompt Jason to suggest he focus in the fitness arena, and inspired an impromptu “class” onstage and a phone call from Paula to Richard Simmons to look at him as a protégé. Personally, I thought he gave a solid audition (a combination of jazz, vogue and African) if slightly technically weaker than most, and I think he’d be amazing as a choreographer for Flash Mob America….but hey, I’m just a blogger and fan. Still, I may look him up and suggest that.
Day 2 of Dallas begins with Lily Leyva, a contemporary dance hoping to be the next Team Stage candidate. With the level of Sonya Tayeh-worthy technique she displayed, she’s definitely on her way. Her audition is followed by a montage of widely varying styles, from contemporary ballet to ballroom to clogging to praise dancing, which though not new to the show was remarkably moving, and I was glad to see it represented. So you’d think that Jaden Ziara, a contestant promising a blend of ballroom and hip-hop, would wow us. Yeah….the music mix had more soul. Jaden had a great personality but displayed classic “dad-dancing”…you know, the type of thing you see at somebody’s wedding after a few drinks. But the judges had fun with it.
We take a brief break from the audition tour to head to the White House with with the SYTYCD All-Stars and FLOTUS Michelle Obama. The dancers, which included team captains Travis and tWitch, joined the First Lady on the White House lawn to help promote her “Gimme Five” initiative under the Let’s Move program, geared to inspiring more movement and exercise to stave off obesity. It’s an absolute dream for all of them, but particularly the All-Stars comprising the day’s “Team Street”– tWitch, Comfort, Dominic and Fik-Shun, specifically.
Last up in the Dallas auditions spotlight is Edson Juarez, a returning auditioner from last year aiming for Team Stage. His turn at contemporary is hailed by the judges as the best yet of the audition tour, and naturally gets him a ticket to Vegas.
The next audition episode spotlights Detroit, Michigan…should be interesting!