Generation NEXT: SYTYCD Season 13



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.


Warning you right now–this is gonna be a long one. Pack a lunch.

Alright boys and girls–we already know from past reading that I am a diehard fan of So You Think You Can Dance and have officially proclaimed this recently finished 8th season the best ever. After this past Wednesday night’s live performance at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, LA (October 19, 2011), I have even more cause to say so.

After trying to convince my husband to come with me to no avail, and after missing the last two tours due to unforeseen circumstances, I decided to look at tickets for this year’s show. Plus #1: the tour was again stopping in New Orleans, thus saving me the 9 hour drive I made to Grand Prairie, TX for the last two shows I went to; Plus #2: the show was on a Wednesday, an off night that meant I didn’t have to burn a vacation day; and Plus #3: I believe I’ve already mentioned the incredible talent of the Top 10 dancers. Since I was going solo, I decided to go for broke and get the VIP package that included floor seats in the center section and a pre-show “meet and greet” with the cast. I was slightly concerned that after getting my purchase confirmation, there was no information about when (or even if) my tickets would be mailed to me (though upon arriving at the Arena that afternoon, I could appreciate them holding my tickets at will call). I got an email two weeks before giving me instructions on picking up my tickets and proceeding to the pre-show event. So I wound my way to the venue, a good 2 1/2 hours before the start of the show, to stand in line with the rest of the lucky ticketholders waiting to meet Melanie, Sasha, Marko, and the rest of the dancers in a nice, cozy setting. I’ve always wondered about the VIP sections of concerts–though I’m sure there’s a little more involved for music concerts, I was about to get a small taste of what I’d been seeing in most of my friends’ Facebook pictures. Mother Nature had picked this lovely sunny day to drop a cold front on us….and did I mention the venue was the LAKEFRONT Arena? That’s not just a scenic name; that bad boy is right next to Lake Pontchartrain. Which meant whatever cool was already in the air was getting a biting assist from all that water. After a while, security took pity on us and ushered us into a hallway in the building so we could get out of the air. (A lucky break for the two girls in front of me wearing miniskirts, strapless tops and NO coats–the wind, as my grandmother would say, was blowing up their go-go.) A little more waiting and casual chit-chat with my line mates, and then we were ushered by small groups into a room where 11 of the 12 performers were seated in two rows of chairs, with the center chairs of the first row reserved for us ticketholders to take a group photo with them. After everyone had taken their turn, the dancers moved around the room talking to everyone, taking personal pictures and signing autographs for a few minutes. Then, after one final group pose for us fans to snap, the dancers move toward the backstage area to get ready for the show. I have to say for the “assembly line” beginnings of it all, it was a pretty fun experience. I got to sit next to Tadd, who I think was in a contest with Jess to see who could be the biggest man flirt in the room…hey, if a cute, 20-something year old guy is gonna sneak his arm around my shoulder for a picture, who am I not to play along? I then went to speak to all of the dancers: first Sasha and Missy (who had been eliminated in the first weeks of competition but was still chosen as a tour alternate), the former to whom I passed a message along to her sister Natalia to try again to get on the show. I then found Jess and Tadd (big huggers–I even kissed Tadd on the cheek. Who knew a baby face like that could carry stubble? Frankly, it was kinda sexy…had to remind myself he was technically jailbait.) I talked to Ricky, who was extremely smiley and friendly but wouldn’t give up the goods about the show, and then to Melanie, who looks short and soft and delicate but is one solid mass of muscle; though to be honest, she and I were head to head and she had on these 3 inch heels, so I still may be taller. I made my way over to Marko, who after taking our picture together I professed my undying love for him and try to convince him to “steal” me away from my husband. (He smiled and hugged me, but he just doesn’t understand that I’m half serious. *wink*) I then weaved around to Clarice, who’s REALLY tall and really sweet; Jordan, who really liked my dance school line jacket I wore for the occasion; and Caitlynn, who was reserved but very nice. It was so overwhelming trying to make sure I talked to all of the castmates I had trouble remembering who I didn’t get to, and when I got to Caitlynn it dawned on me that her show partner, Mitchell, was not in the room. I had really wanted to meet him too, but she told me he wasn’t feeling very well and was sitting it out (he later perform the opening cast number, a duet with Caitlynn and his solo before disappearing for the rest of the evening–I’m guessing the weather change got to him, poor baby). After checking and counting faces on my autographed picture, I noticed one guy I had missed who was in my group shot but not the Top 10. I cornered him and took a picture, then apologetically asked him to remind me who he was, as my short-term memory wasn’t working properly at that moment. He said, “That’s OK–I got voted out the first week, so you probably wouldn’t remember me.” “First week” was all the clue I needed, so I’m guessing he was totally floored that with that small hint, I knew he was Nick–and me excitedly shouting his name, jumping up and down, hugging him and saying how glad I was that he, a tapper, was on the tour probably either shot his ego into the stratosphere or scared the hell out of him. In any case I had a great time, and found my way to my seat–at the corner of the stage to the right on the FRONT ROW. A little more off to the side than I usually try to get, but it was FRONT ROW. As in, close enough to see sweat flying off people (and I did see some fly from Missy and Tadd) front row. No complaints from me. 😀

I had been to a few shows, so I was expecting a similar set-up of favorite numbers from the TV competition interspersed with verbal play and introductions from the cast members. What transpired was one of the most amazing dance productions I have ever seen. Yes, I am a huge SYTYCD and Season 8 fan, so them standing on stage reading the phone book would have wowed me–but this was so seamlessly woven together I couldn’t decide whether to snap photos, clap, cheer or simply watch in open-mouthed awe. Each number had a separate interlude that melded into the next–all of the favorite individual and group routines coupled with these spacers made each act its own giant production number. Add to that the pre-taped anecdotal snippets from Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy, and the dazzling scene changes projected on the LED screen backdrops, and it was much like watching a star-studded Broadway revue. It moved so fluidly and beautifully that by the time the announcement came for intermission you felt slightly let down because they had to stop. Of course, sprinkled among all of the duets and group numbers were the individual solos–and for the first time in my memory, that included the two alternates. Who proceeded to tear up the floor. I knew everyone was capable of greatness from their appearances on TV, but I have to give a special shout-out to Nick Young, whose classical-inspired tap solo made me wish I had a red vinyl boot to throw at the stage–or at least a tap oxford. Somebody on Broadway needs to hire this boy. Somebody needs to hire ALL of them, repeatedly, because they were that damn good: Jess, a Broadway dancer, was killing the jive, contemporary and the hip-hop numbers he was in; Jordan’s high-energy combination of technique and booty-shaking in her “Freakum Dress” solo made me say “Beyoncé WHO?”; Clarice and Caitlynn’s extensions were up to HERE; Tadd proved adept at more than just the hip-hop he came in with (and further made me forget his jailbait status when I saw all the muscles in his back–Lord have mercy….); Missy slaying everything but especially blowing up the samba number like a seasoned ballroom pro; Sasha, Marko and Melanie being their usual magical selves; and even Mitchell performing through his illness with grace and style. But I have to admit my surprise and utter delight at Ricky’s transformation. Not that I didn’t think he was a skilled technician, but there was some magic I thought was missing from him during his TV run that some time and seasoning would develop. I don’t know what kind of work he’s been doing to get ready for this tour, but his strength and versatility were OFF THE CHARTS. His solos are always technically brilliant, but it was his star turns in two iconic All-Star numbers (both with Sasha–the Fool of Me contemporary done by Kent and the Misty Blue hip-hop done by Twitch) that showed he means business. In the latter, he was on a nearly equal par with his predecessor–and for me, a HUGE long-time fan and follower of Stephen “Twitch” Boss, to say that about ANYBODY is a huge thing. The last number was a new high-energy group hip-hop where the dancers encouraged the audience to stand and clap along with them.

I made sure to wait outside in the windy cold (this time minus the sunlight) and tell all of the dancers what I just said above…plus apologize to Missy for not giving her equal time at the meet and greet, AND try to convince Marko one more time to come back for me after the tour. 😉 To say this show was utterly amazing, inspirational and life-changing, for me, would be a gross understatement. I don’t think I have adequate words for how incredibly awesome that entire performance was. I will definitely be either a permanent audience member or will find a way to get on the stage crew–even if I have to sweep up sequins. Those 12 kids–their entire top 20, in fact–have a fan for life, and Nigel Lythgoe–now more than ever–has my undying gratitude.

Dance’s best season ever

I am a fan of So You Think You Can Dance from the beginning–I started watching when it premiered in early summer of 2005 and held onto it like a lifeline shortly thereafter. (For those not in the know, I am from New Orleans, and was shooed up to Central Louisiana by a weather phenomenon we prefer not to call by name) I have watched each season and managed to record from Season 3 forward, scoured YouTube for clips to watch over and over (until Dick Clark Productions decides to flex their muscles) and have bought tickets to 3 of the tour concerts (attending 2, but that’s a long, bitter story)–4 if you count the one I just bought for this year’s tour. I have had a number of favorite dancers and have recognized the technical brilliance of many of the contestants, which I believe makes me wholly qualified to state unequivocally that Season 8 is by far the most excellent display of dance talent I have ever seen. To date, nothing had touched Season 4 for me in the area of fabulosity (though Season 5 came VERY close)–but up to now there have been dancers who made the Top 20 that I’ve wondered how they got there. Not that any of them were bad dancers–I just thought there were other contestants that should have been chosen.

EVERY SINGLE DANCER was worthy of Top 20 status this year. EVERY. ONE. I definitely loved some dancers more than others, but this has to be the first season where I have agreed with the vast majority of the judges’ choices and comments. The very first competition show had the judges in such a deadlock that NOBODY was voted out–a first in the show’s history. I do happen to think some dancers went way too soon, but in a lot of those cases it came down to an unlucky dance style or just choosing between a great dance performance and a spectacular one.

I pretty much called the top 3 three early on…Melanie, Sasha and Marko. I usually can tell from the auditions who is gonna to capture my attention, and Melanie quite literally had me at hello. There are certain things in life that just make you stop and focus your attention–I couldn’t do anything else but watch Melanie dance. Nobody could even talk to me while she was in motion. Marko transfixed me, as well–just something about his quality of movement….and it just didn’t hurt that he was CUTE! Sasha tried out with her sister Natalia (who I will track down in Bakersfield and DRAG her to next year’s auditions if she doesn’t go on her own), and I could definitely see some power there. Though I had other sentimental favorites (including “old folks” Iveta and Robert), I knew from watching that these three would end up on top.

So this week’s finale shows really didn’t surprise me much–executive producer Nigel Lythgoe himself predicted from the beginning that a girl would most likely take the crown this year, and I found it really hard to disagree with him. The girls were incredibly strong and all of them seemed to adapt well to the styles they drew every week. And even though the guys’ efforts were largely good, it was the girls who grabbed the attention. I developed emotional connections with Sasha and Melanie through their dancing and their life stories–how do you not love girls whose main reason for getting into dance was their sisters when that’s exactly how my life in dance began?

I did hedge my bets–I assumed that Melanie would get the large share of the vote, so I did what I could to boost Sasha’s numbers. (Not to wave the race card around, but there has not been a brown-skinned girl near the Winners’ Circle since Donyelle in Season 2, and there aren’t enough visible role models for me in the dance world, so….) But I can’t explain the magic that is Melanie. Lil’ C, frequent choreographer and judge, mused that Zeus himself would invite her to Olympus to dance. She is captivating in her movement–things look fluid and effortless when she moves, and you can see the emotion when she performs. Your heart soars when she’s joyful and aches when she’s sad or anguished. Sweetheart that she is in real life, you somehow buy it when she portrays a scorned woman and ramps up the sex appeal. Is it any real wonder that she pulled 47% of the overall vote to win?

I figure that I summed up my feelings in my Facebook status after the show: “Sasha looks like me…Melanie IS me. Either way, I win. Way to go, girls!” But the true winner, as Nigel pointed out, is dance. Which suits me just fine–especially if the next few seasons bring the same high caliber of talent.