Last year I tuned in to So You Think You Can Dance looking for something similar to American Idol, having been in withdrawal that July for a few months. What I found was something very raw, yet ultimately very entertaining. I didn’t expect to like it that much. By the end, I very much cared who won, and was delighted it turned out to be Nick Lazzarini, and what a story it turned out to be that the runner-up was his best friend, Melody Lacayanga.
Tonight I sit here, elated that Taylor Hicks won American Idol 24 hours ago, and while “Dance Idol” won’t replace American Idol in my heart, it will replace it in my TV viewing habits. So You Think You Can Dance is changing up a few things this year. Instead of everyone that makes it to the next round in auditions having to first pass through a choreography lesson, now only some will be required to do that, as auditioners will either receive an airline ticket to Las Vegas, will receive the news to go home, or will receive and invite to let the judges take another look at them while learning a choreographed routine. Also, the show is moving to the American Idol format of performances one night and results the next, instead of results from the previous week preceding the performances every week.
The hosting duties have changed as well, since last year’s host, Lauren Sanchez, has turned up pregnant. Cat Deeley, a British television personality, has picked up in her place. She starts tonight’s debut at the second season’s two days of auditions in New York. Whoever makes it to Las Vegas here will be put through their paces for five days, until the hosts collectively pick ten guys and ten girls to compete against each other in the finals. The prize package has been enhanced as well this year. The winner will receive a one year contract to appear in the hottest Las Vegas show with Celine Dion, a brand new car, and $100,000.
The day starts off early for the New Yorkers as they’re standing in line at 42nd Street. It’s snowing, but it doesn’t seem to deter many dancers. The judges for these two days in New York will be Nigel Lythgoe, the American Idol and “Dance Idol” executive producer and ex-choreographer, Dan Karaty who has choreographed n’sync and Jessica Simpson, and Mia Michaels, a contemorary choreographer who was nominated for an Emmy award for her work on a Celine Dion show. Nigel can be just as funny and crusty as Simon Cowell, although he doesn’t make use of analogies nearly so often, Mia is one heck of a free spirit, and Dan is great at recognizing raw unusual talent. The three of them are looking for talent, star quality and a little bit of sex appeal.
This is all lucky news for Dave Soller, 32, from Smithtown, NY who is at the auditions today with his mother. He says he has a sexy style of dancing, doing rock, hip hop and pop, and believes he will be a sex symbol like Britney Spears. He’s wearing a black and white leopard print shirt and yellow see-through blouse with red pants. Yep, sexy all the way. He wants his stage name to be “Sex.” As he auditions, he looks like nothing other than someone who watches dancers on TV and tries to emulate them. He doesn’t seem to quite get it, and Mia laughs out loud. Mia believes “Sex” reminds her of Tiny Tim meets PeeWee Herman, and Dan tells him he looks like he was out on a mission and was after something. Nigel calls “Sex” unique, then says he’s not sure if he should be allowed out by himself. As he is let down easy, he wants to speak to his mother first before the cameras, and she is quite upset that he was called PeeWee Herman. She says he has won many dance awards and trained for years. Well, that’s good, as it means he will have no trouble finding dancing work elsewhere.
Gino Guevara, 31 from Middletown, NY looks like a chunky Ray Romano. Doing a jump, he falls and pops his knee out, and Nigel calls in a medic for him. After he is fixed up, he walks to the front of the stage to talk with the judges. Nigel wants to know how old Gino is, as the age requirements for this show are 18-30. Gino says he is thirty plus one, so he is fully aware of what the rules are, and when caught he then says he won’t be 31 until June 8th. Asked what year he was born, Gino isn’t real quick with the numbers this time, and is told no thank you. He says after his audition that the sad thing for him is that he will never dance again. Apparently he really hasn’t spent a lot of time around the world of dancing, if he thinks one knee pop means you’ll never dance again.
Erica Wallace-Jackson, 21, of Baltimore, Maryland, comes out and does a routine to Brickhouse. I saw better moves last weekend at my 9 year old daughter’s recital. Nigel tells her he doesn’t think it’s the right competition for her. He isn’t as kind to some others, telling one guy he doesn’t want to be cheeky, but he looks like a dancing hobbit. One girl with a “perma grin” on her face is told that her smile sits on her face like a grimace, and reminds him of the Bride of Chuckie. Mia adds that she has no confidence, and says it’s like lookng at a bad car accident. Another guy that is clearly upset tells the cameras after his audition that he is going to smoke them like this. I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about, but if he means they are going to regret not welcoming him to Las Vegas, I think he’s the only one with the regrets.
Russian Stanislav Savich, 21, and Ukranian Juliya Tamarkina are dancing partners, and feel they complete each other as dancers and people. They talk about how expensive the dancing career is, and Juliya notes it’s even more so for girls. If you can find ways to teach dance to someone, you do. She got him a hamster for his birthday because she thinks he looks like one. They do a modern jazz dance together tonight, and she is really very good, with him not being too shabby either. Nigel tells them they are both hot, and where she smoldered, he was a very strong partner. Dan tells Stanislav he is a lucky man, because Juliya is really something. Mia wants to see more from both of them. They are headed straight to Las Vegas. The last pair to do this was Nick and Melody last season, and Stanislav and Juliya reminded me quite a bit of them.
The next dancer, Jason Luks, 18, of Mendham, NY reminds me of Dick Van Dyke a little as he does a tap dance routine. Nigel thinks he was fabulous, and says anyone else that comes on the show that taps will have to come up to Jason’s standard. He likes the performance of his face as well as his feet. Mia calls him fantastic, and loved everything, including his choice of music and costume, saying his feet are just ridiculous and amazing. Dan says Jason is the best tapper they have seen, including last year. Needless to say, this guy moves on.
As Heather Stambo, 18, of South Windsor, Connecticut is auditioning, she reminds me of the dancers that are always in the back row at my daughter’s recitals. They’re always either too heavy or not very good. Heather just doesn’t seem to have it naturally in her. Nigel is shocked to realize she is a dance major at Harvard Conservatory. Once he hears she teaches dance as well, he asks if kids actually pay to learn from her. Heather says she’s even been requested. Nigel suggests they get their money back, calling her the William Hung of So You think You Can Dance. Dan says she shouldn’t be teaching it, and that so much of this goes on in the country, with kids thinking they are learning, but learning it wrong from something like this. As she is rejected, Heather says she is opening her own studio in the fall. It does make you think of a domino effect, with a bad teacher having been taught wrong, teaching others the same, and perpetuating the bad dancing to others that will teach it wrong as well.
Ian Benardo, 25, of Bronx, NY believes Angelina Jolie is jealous of his lips. Cat tells him they probably aren’t of his runny nose. He considers himself a mix of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Janet Jackson, and he dances around the room and pole dances with a column. Walking into his audition he asks where he can put his mink, and as says he’ll have to put it on the floor, Nigel mentions the mink looks dirtier than the floor. He is oddly effeminate while he dances, and Nigel warns him not to take any more clothing off. He claims to have been dancing his whole life, and when Mia asks if he trains, it prompts an exchange of Nigel saying he wouldn’t classify that as dancing, Ian saying he wouldn’t classify that as a suit, and Nigel saying it isn’t; it’s a jacket. He claims he dances in his room, at his friends’ homes, and at clubs. When Mia says she doesn’t classify that as dancing, he asks her, “And who are you?” Nigel tells him if he is going to be rude to people, he may leave. He leaves with “three words”, and says the third word is the exclamation point.
David Warshaw, 24, of Oceanside, NY, takes the show home with him to meet his family. His brother DJs, while his parents dance in the living room. As an Orthodox Jew, he says he sometimes goes to the synagogue to pray, and busts a move breakdancing while people start giggling. This afternoon, as he dances, he reminds me a lot of Will Ferrell, and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or bad thing. He does a move where he falls forward, misses, and hits his face hard, knocking the yamulke right off. He says after he’s okay, and just hit his head. Dan tells him he’s bleeding a little bit, and he blows it off. Dan also mentions that he was a little off the music, but chalks it up to nerves. He thought he did okay for never having any formal training. Mia liked his intensity and effort, but tells him if he keeps looking at the floor, it will soon become his friend. Regardless, everyone votes no to him moving on, and the medic checks him out as he leaves the room.
Jason Perez, 18, of Fresh Meadows, NY, is a little person, but says he dances freestyle, and has been dancing since he was young. He does pretty well, but I keep seeing him having a hard time in couples, as the really large Allan had a hard time with some of the smaller girls like Melody last year. Nigel thinks the same thing, and also notes there not being enough training or technique. Mia disagrees about dancing as partners; she thinks it would be interesting to watch, but agrees on his technical efforts. As Nigel and Mia argue the point of his size and dancing in couples, Jason just walks off the stage. Jason says he’s danced with a girl before, so it’s not impossible, and he’s upset that there’s nothing he can do about his size. Nigel just can’t get past that his head would not be in a good position with a girl in pairs. Wow, that would be bad. I’m sure Jason wouldn’t mind, and even if it didn’t make his partner uncomfortable, it would certainly make the audience uncomfortable.
Musa Cooper, 23, of Burlington, NJ is back this year. He was a street dancer who did well last year, but failed in the choreography part. He worked hard at it this past year, and took some classes. Watching him, he is just very entertaining to watch. He does a back flip, and lands laying on his stomach. Nigel appreciates his new ability to pick up the choregraphy, and notes him being outstanding last year and this year. Mia likes the amount of energy, and Dan says he is now a Musa fan. He liked seeing brand new tricks on Musa. He gets an airline ticket on the spot, and hopes to go further this year. I sure hope he does well in Vegas, as he was just so entertaining.
By the second day, the snow has left, and it’s now sunny. Street performer Christopher Bryan, 19, of Bronx, NY is amazing with his flips and turns, kicking his legs in the air, and doing back bends. Dan says it was like the most ridiculous twenty-five seconds he’s ever seen. He believes it was one of the better performances, and likes that there was no set up between each trick. Mia decides to call him No Prep, and says what he does is humanly impossible. Nigel sends him to the choreography round later in the day, as he believes he won’t go further because of his lack of real training.
Emily Rodriguez, 21, of Staten Island, NY, is heavyset, and pulls her pants down to show her butt. It seems all she does is just run around the stage. Nigel says there’s a lot of her, and he saw most of it in that routine. She promises to lose weight, and he says that’s not what he’s talking about. Mia says a lot of things don’t work for her technicaly and stylistically. Nigel ends Emily’s day here.
Rob Williams has a dance troupe called The Bomb Squad, and this will be his first time as a solo dancer. He wants to show a big guy can get down. He is 25 and from West Hartford, Connecticut. As he does a jive, Nigel notes how happy he is, but Rob interprets it as being laughed at. Nigel also tells him he needs to have a partner so that she can do all the work while he just sits there, as he really didn’t do much. Rob talks his way into another chance, and steps it up. He has such a cute personality, that I’m really hoping they’ll send him on to the choreography round. Nigel says he takes the competition really seriously, and loves Rob’s personality, but says he just needs someone else. Mia asks to see an arabasque and plie, and when Rob has no idea what those are, he is quickly dismissed. Oh, all right.
Michael Kim, 19, of Amherst, Pennsylvania wants to show the world what popping can be. It’s not just a robot, as you have to get into the beat, then add things like the boogaloo. Watching him, he is just so unique. Nigel notes he really hits hard when he does it like someone is putting an electric shock in him. He wants to keep Michael around to see if he can do some of Mia’s lyrical work. Dan says he’s seen a lot of guys pop, but this is ridiculous. He wants him to stick around too.
To prepare for the show, Joseph “Jamie” Greco, 26, of New York, NY watched a lot of Oprah and Sally Jesse. He is dressed like a girl including hair and makeup, as he dances to Flashdance. The judges laugh, as he takes his wig off, then takes the toilet paper out of his bra. I think he definitely has a career as a female impersonator in the works. He does something else the cameras don’t show, but the judges say “ooooh” and beg him to stop. He does, but first scoops up what he refers to as his “boobies” and puts the T.P. back in. Nigel asks how Jamie describes himself, and he says as a gender chameleon. Sometimes he lives as a woman, sometimes as a man. Nigel doesn’t know how he’d work with partners, one day with a guy, and one day with a girl. He is let go, but told it’s because of his lack of dance training. I bet he’ll land a female impersonator gig either way.
In the choreography part later in the day, Christopher finds it greatly difficult to keep up, yet Michael doesn’t . Christopher goes home; Michael moves on to Las Vegas. I have to say I like it better this way, rather than forcing people they know can do the choreography to do it as well. It gives them a chance to see these other people a lot more closely.
The auditions move on to Charleston, which Cat notes is a good match for this dance show, since the city is actually named after a dance. Everyone waiting to audition does a group Charleston, which reminds me of the dance scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. One contestant is asked what the judges will find here in Charleston that is so different than elsewhere in the country, and she says it is the krunkness and “facials out the butt.” Cat isn’t too sure she wants to know what that is. Instead of Mia and Dan, Nigel will now be helped out by Doriana Sanchez, who has choreographed routines for Peter Gabriel and Cher and is an expert with disco and pop, and Ron Montez, a Latin champion of dance.
Derek Talisman, 23, of Charleston, talks oddly about being in an eternal dance with circles over and over again, with an event too kind to separate them. I have no idea what he is talking about. As he dances, he does a hip hop, but all he seems to do is shoulder shaking. There is dead silence afer his performance, and he then finally hears no, think not and don’t think so. He keeps on talking oddly, though, about interconnection principles when you love to dance. Okay.
So that she can fix up her house in Rockingham, North Carolina, Jessica Wheeler runs a hair salon during the day and teaches dance at night. She has been clogging for ten years, and likes that it represents the south and the mountains. She does clogging for her audition, and performs it to Gimme Two Steps. Nigel’s mouth hangs open the entire time, ’til he asks what Jessica does for a living. As she says she is a hair stylist and dance teacher, he asks what she is best at. Hearing dancing, Nigel says he is never going to let her cut his hair. He said it was like asking Trigger how old you are, with her deliberate steps. Doriana says she has done clogging, and it’s really fun, like line dancing, however, it’s not right for this competition. Ron says when he watches Jessica dance, he’s not sure what to make of it, but he sees it as a mixture of clogging and tap. She is let go, and says she just wanted to come and have fun, so she clogged. She is so ultra-polite, that after, she says she doesn’t feel like talking to the cameras, but, “thank y’all though.”
Travis Wall, 18, of Virginia Beach, Virginia dances in colors of auras. He says when he dances aggressively he shows auras like reds, but non-aggressively, he shows colors like blues and grays. Today he wants to dance in blue auras. He does what looks like a modern dance, and I keep thinking Mia really should have been here to see this. Nigel tells Travis he is very good and that he likes his dancing and technique. Doriana also enjoyed it, and liked his joy of dancing, calling it very pure. Ron says what set him apart form others is that when Travis would do a turn, it would come out different every time, instead of being technically the same. Overwhelmingly, the judges all decide to give him a ticket to Las Vegas on the spot.
I hope Glenda Deshield, 21, of Trinity, NC has better dancing skills than the “energy slam poetry” she is showcasing before her audition. She’s a big girl, but moves like a smaller girl. They have to bleep out her cleavage shots frequently. Nigel says that when you come to dance, you have to come in and wear things that will make you look good. He says not only did she not look good, she was worried more about her body popping out everywhere than her dancing. Doriana isn’t sure if Glenda is right for the competition, but says she did enjoy it. Ron notes that he read she performs at church, and wonders what she could possibly perform there. Nigel is guessing it’s not the same routine.
James Davis 19, of Philadelphia, PA comes out to perform, and then just stops in the middle. He says he froze and missed some cues. He tells the judges he works as a hair assistant and works in a club dancing. He’s not a professional, but a go go dancer. Well, Goldie Hawn got her start that way too, I think. Nigel doesn’t understand the effort James spent to get here, flying from Philadelphia to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Charleston, only just to quit. He gives James another chance, but he freezes again, stops, and just leaves the stage. Apparently he’s not ready for the big time if nerves take ahold of him this way. He never would have survived hell week in Las Vegas with the choreographers.
Along with James, Natalie Fotopoulos 22, of Tampa, FL also went through a lot to get here. A freind flew her here in a twin engine plane with a DVD player and satellite radio. She has been dancing since she was four years old, as her mother and grandmother are dancers. Sounds like Paris Bennet or Katharine McPhee. Again, it’s only been 24 hours. I just can’t put them aside so quickly just yet. When she is asked if her name is Greek, she says if it sounds like a fungus, it’s Greek. Great sense of humor; hope it matches her dancing. And it does. She dances barefoot to a lyrical, modern dance, and again, I wish Mia could be here to see her. Nigel would have forgiven her for not dancing brilliantly just because of the performance in her face, but notes she still managed to dance well. Doriana liked her maturity and that she was technically very strong, calling it a wonderful thing to see. Ron liked her low style and says he was impressed. All agree very quickly that she’ll board another plane, this time to Vegas.
Claire Callaway, 18, of Bronsboro, Alabama has just graduated from high school, and is taking a year off to dance and hopefully move out to Los Angeles, yet her boyfriend intends to stay in Alabama. She dances barefoot as well, and Nigel advises her to be careful that the dance is more than just arms and kicks. She has everything going for her, though, so he sees no reason why she can’t be a brilliant dancer. Doriana says Claire seems born to dance, even though she is quite young. Ron appreciated her as well, but notes he doesn’t think she’s quite there yet. Nigel decides to send her to the choregraphy round to watch her.
Here’s the one with the wonderful story that we’ll root for all season long. James Payne, 22, from NoOvi, Michigan is a recovering alcoholic, and has been clean now for 60 days. He used to dance with Nick, who won the show last year, and they were on the same par. Seeing Nick win he realized how much he’d ruined his life with alcohol, as he stopped dancing for two years and only wanted to drink. Watching him, you can really see the Nick comparison. Ron says the best thing he can see about James’ performance is the big volume and the way he fills up the stage. Doriana believes he has beautiful facility, but warns him to watch his arms. Nigel notes the rough time James is having, and James says it’s rough to be 22 and have the disease of alcoholism. He says he turned to this at 18 as his parents always wanted him to treat his body like a temple, and at 18 he decided to treat it like an amusement park. He believes God is giving him a second chance to dance, as he could have taken his flexibility away but didn’t. Nigel asks who’s going to argue with God, and asks him to stay for the choreography.
In the choreography round, Doriana teaches those remaining a jazz routine, and Ron teaches them the fox trot. After just fifteen minutes, it’s time for a decision. Claire makes it to Las Vegas, as does James. He says he is so happy and cannot believe it. His time on the show is going to say so much about cleaning up your life when you get a second chance.
The dancing tonight was fantastically entertaining, but there’s something missing in the audition process here that doesn’t make the transition from American Idol to So You Think You Can Dance. I can’t put my finger on it. Last year I was a little bored at this point, but by the time they got to hell week, it really picked up for me, as I started to care a lot about the performers and could really admire their hard work ethic to get where they are. It’s not the same magic as American Idol, but it still helps fill the gap.
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