One obvious comparison between American Idol and So You Think Yo Can Dance is the personalities on the judging panel. Between both shows, they are all performers in their own right, with the exception of Simon Cowell who has only been an employee or executive in the music business. As artists they all have unique ways of expressing themselves.
American Idol works successfully because of the disparate personalities of the cool guy Randy Jackson, the emotional and sweet Paula Abdul, and the acerbic Simon. In time, I think we might see similar things with So You Think You Can Dance. The main difference is that they have more than three judges, and whichever judges aren’t judging are instead providing choreography in their speciality area. Nigel Lythgoe, functioning much the same as Simon, has been a choreographer, but doesn’t provide the show with that. He leaves that to the other revolving door of judges/choreographers on the panel.
Joining Nigel at tonight’s auditions in Los Angeles, California are hip hop choreographer Brian Friedman and ballroom choreographer Mary Murphy. Mary has a sternness that matches Simon’s, but also a sweetness about her that matches Paula’s. Brian at first seems like a misplaced hippie, but in reality he is probably one of the most grounded people there. The Ryan Seacrest of the show, Cat Deeley doesn’t have much interaction yet with the judges, but maybe they don’t need a calming influence like Ryan’s, since they have the groundedness of Brian.
The first dancer up tonight is Jules Sanchez. My kids recognized him right away from the American Idol Behind The Scenes CD from season one. He had tried out for American Idol, and didn’t make it. Randy had said he was too fat, at a time when Randy certainly wasn’t one to talk. Jules called Randy a loser, and that just isn’t something you call “The Dawg.” Now he’s back, to audition this time as a dancer. He’s wearing a shirt that says, “As Seen On TV.” He dances to My Humps, and looks like he’s been copying music videos.
Brian tells Jules that he did his thing, and that he admires him for that. He liked his jazz walks because they reminded him of Britney Spears, but he doesn’t think he’s right for the competition. I have to ask if a guy should be aspiring to dance like Britney. Mary is upfront and honest, and says Jules just didn’t do anything for her. Nigel has to ask what it is that Jules wants. He figures Jules was thinking that he wouldn’t remember him from American Idol. When Nigel says that Jules just isn’t good enough to sing or dance, Jules accuses him lying, then tries to fix it saying he loves Nigel to death, but he has fun with his singing and dancing. Nigel calls him rude, and says in reference to his “As Seen On TV” shirt, “You won’t be.” Jules finds his way to a camera offstage and sings a little and gets extremely upset for only being allowed to sing for a few minutes. Isn’t this a dance competition? Or is this just Jules’ latest way of being “seen on TV?”
Erica Szymanowski, 23, of Erie, Pennsylvania had her two best riends help her choose her colorful outfit. She wanted to wear something that was crazy and had a lot of personality. She isn’t bad, but it’s definitely not impressive. Nigel talks about dance competitions where four and five year olds are overly made up by the mothers, and shoved into outfits like Erica is wearing. You know, the one she had her girlfriends help her pick out because she wanted to show personality. Mary calls the audition very amateurish, and Brian felt he was in a time warp back to the early 1980s. Erica has the best attitude with it all, saying she had a great time, and thanks everyone for the opportunity. She loves to dance, and that’s all that matters. She is still going to support the show. I like her, ugly outfit and all.
Barefoot Donyelle Jones, 26, from Studio city, California says you only live once, and doesn’t want to live with regrets. She wants to make each year better and go for what she is passionate about. I kind of think she and Erica should go out for drinks together with their cheery dispositions and similar outlooks on life. She works at a dance studio and at a restaurant, plus she goes on auditions and attends classes. She does all this seven days a week. She has such a different style as she dances. She is very unique. Brian whispers to the others that he wants her to send her to Las Vegas right now. After, Nigel can barely contain his excitement as he says he thought Donyelle was very good. Mary says it was all just breathtaking, and the way she moves is amazing. Brian says, “Girl, you’re the bleep! Needless to say, she heads straight to Vegas. Do not pass go; do not collect $200.
Benji Schwimmer is a 22-year-old dance instructor from Redlands, California. His dad is a world-renowned swing dancer, and he finds himself very competitive with his dad. His dad, Buddy, is known as the king of swing, and calls Benji the prince of swing. Benji brings in one of his students to help help swing, but she doesn’t audition as well. I’m guessing this is because she’s only about 14. They both make it look very easy. Nigel tells Benji he has met his dad, and whatever he does, he shouldn’t put on the same weight his dad did. He also thinks he should be careful of the facial manipulations. Mary thinks Benji is an unbelievably great dancer. His connections and tricks are great. She knows of his father, and isn’t surprised Benji did a good job as well. Brian says one thing that bothers him is the lip synching along to the song. The three judges decide they want to see how Benji does in Brian’s hip hop class coming up later that night. At some point here I see a dance off between the king and prince.
Tap dancing instructor Cortney Shaffer, 18, of Orange County, California, believes you need to give your audience something to watch with style and facials, and the way you move around. She has this really creepy way of staring while she dances. Wherever she goes on the stage, her eyes follow you like a Chuckie doll. Nigel notices it, too, saying she is amateurish, but not in her tapping. It’s in her face, as he calls it almost stalkerish. He thought she was gong to come after him at some point. He advises her that if this bit makes the television show, that she should show her students that this is not how you do it. Needless to say, she isn’t moving on. I think Nigel is too creeped out.
No one is quite sure what to make of Dinapoli Nguyen, 23, of Westminster, California. He’s Asian, yet seems to be going with a Rastafarian look. He does a weird street dance, and one that is quite boring, discounting his unique look. Nigel asks how he thinks he did, and he says, “Eh.” Nigel has to agree, not seeing anything that was original or fascinating. Dinapoli asks if he can do it again, and is told no, as an audition is an audition. You have to show what you have first off, or forget it. He is followed by a guy that turned down law school to dance, and is told some of his moves are criminal. Mary tells one dancer the way she dressed hanging out and jiggling all over is inappropriate. Brian doesn’t like the way one dancer leaves her foot hanging like a dead fish.
Street dancer Ryan Conferido made it pretty far last year, even into the finals. He’s now here to support his crew as they perform. I love watching these guys just as much as I loved watching Ryan. They do so many amazing things and are completely entertaining. Hokuto “Hawk” Knoishi, 21, of Santa Monica auditions first, and Mary has so much fun she won’t stop cackling. It gets to the point of being quite annoying. Hawk had tried out last year and messed up in the couples’ choreography. Everyone thinks he’s terrific and can’t wait to see him try dancing in couples again. Chris Cuenza, 23, of Rowland Hills, California, Steve Terada, 22, of Thousand Oaks, Califrornia, and Victor Kim, 19, of Irvine, California all try out as well. Mary giggles throughout the whole thing with all four invited to stick around to dance in the choreography classes.
You would think it would be Mary’s ballroom choreography that stopped the street performers. Instead, it’s Brian’s hip hop class, as Steve and Victor seem confused trying to follow along. They are dismissed at this point, and after Mary’s salsa choreography class, everyone that is remaining makes it to Las Vegas, including the prince of swing, calling himself Luke Skywalker, and telling his father he’s going down. I can see this guy getting a little annoying.
Day two in Los Angeles starts out with the dancing equivalent of Anthony Federov. Ivan Koumaev, 28, of Aliso Viejo, California had surgery when he was 8 as his aorta was really small and had holes in it. It’s a miracle he’s still around to dance hip hop. His body looks like rubber as he moves around the stage. Nigel tells him he is very good, and asks what dancing styles he is familiar with and for how long he has been dancing. Ivan says he’s been dancing for seven years, and he does hip hop, jazz, and tap, and he even did swing and ballroom with his mom a couple years ago. He admits that yes, it was a little embarrassing. Mary says it’s good to know he has done other styles, and she thinks he’s great. Brian says he was not bored with Ivan’s steps, but says he was bored with his face, comparing it to a little kid who grows into his big ears. He thinks Ivan’s dancing is so large that he just hasn’t grown into it yet. Ivan’s ears will be joining him on a flight to Las Vegas.
In a long drawn out speech, 30-year-old John Arviso from Long Beach, California says he feels like every day he gets one more chance to dance, as he never knows if he could get injured tomorrow. He wants to tell his story through his dance of pain and emptiness, blah, blah, blah. He launches into a lyrical type of dance but does not have good balance to stand on one leg. Mary tells John the presentation of just himself in this outfit is such a turnoff, and she shut down before he even took a step. He’s wearing a black letoard and leggings and black ballet shoes. Brian says he expected John to be a major ballet dancer because of how he came dressed, plus his technique was hideous. Nigel had indicated before Mary was a little rough on John, so she tells Nigel here that if he thinks she was hard, Brian just said “hideous.” Brian doesn’t know what ballet company would have him as his pirouettes are terrible. John says he didn’t even get to show his whole dance, though, as he was cut off. Brian continues, saying the look in his eyes scared him like he was possessed. I think he needs to get together, then, with Cortney. It’s a love connection. Nigel says both Mary and Brian were tough, as he would have said yes. Somehow, I don’t believe that. As John walks out, Brian starts laughing, and says something that gets beeped out. That really isn’t fair that we keep missing Brian’s thoughts because of his potty mouth.
Danny Cabrera, 20, from Los Angeles, does a hip hop routine for the judges. Brian notes he was in a “zone.” He can tell Danny was in it to win it, and he was doing doin’ the thing, but was bad. Nigel asks Danny what he wants to do, and is told obviously he wants to be a dancer , as he’s here. He needs to reach that professional level, but there is no way he will at the level he is going. It’s Danny’s turn for the potty mouth as he says, “Bleep. Bleep. Nigel. I hate you so bad. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep.” Nigel is either bored or starving, as he sits eating a bag of chips.
Xufei “Sophia” Wang, 26, from Monterey Park, California, talks about how much she loves dancing and how much it’s a heart beat of hers. She demonstrates all her favorite moves which are … odd. As she performs to Doncha, she doesn’t even have rhythm. Mary and Brian laugh, and Nigel challenges Sophia, saying it says on his notes that she saw the line outside the theatre, decided to stop because she was curious, found out it was a dance audition, and decided to do it. He tells her she wasted her own time and theirs. Mary says she felt like she just entered the twilight zone. Nigel tells Sophia that she either just wanted to be on TV, or she made a bet with someone to make a fool out of herself, and she basically just did. Later Sophia gets really upset saying when you deal with sensitive people, you need to care about their feelings. She wonders “how high of education they have.” The odd inescapable thing to me is that her accent, while definitely being an Asian, sounds the same as Sully’s Russian wife’s on Third Watch.
Henry Graham was born into the Los Angeles foster care system. His mother adopted him at six weeks old. He was born addicted to PCP just like his mother had been. Because of this, he developed asthma, although his mother notes that now at 22, his has pretty much outgrown it. He is barefoot with one taped foot that I think he uses to still go on toe despite not wearing toe shoes. He does a lyrical/ballet type of dance. Nigel tells him it was one of the strongest techniques, and certainly the strongest of today. Mary absolutely agrees with Nigel, telling Henry he is a shining light and very refreshing. Brian agrees he is a strong dancer with great technique, and the best part for him is that Henry danced masculine. They all agree to send him straight through to Las Vegas. Henry thanks them, and says this is for “all us adopted kids.” Another one of those you just want to do well.
Nicole Yates has been dancing in modern, jazz, ballet, point, etc., since she was 8 years old, and is now 27. She thinks she brings to the stage what isn’t out there right now. She wears a gray leotard that is too tight and she has very obvious pit stains. She dances, to me, more like a stripper, than anything else. Mary sits watching, cackling, once again. I really can’t stand that anymore. It was irritating last season, and now it’s unbearable. Nigel says for what Nicole was doing, she’s a good performer. Mary says when Nicole was dancing, “if that’s what you want to call it,” it was like a beehive the way she was throwing her hands and hair around. Brian calls it a little campy and totally wrong for the competition. It was very chivalrous of all three, that none mentioned those horrible pit stains.
During the choreography lessons, some are cut after Brian’s hip hop, once again. By the end of the day thirty-five dancers out of Los Angeles are moving on to Las Vegas, which doesn’t sound like very much, considering. Tomorrow’s show will feature the Chicago auditions with someone throwing up, and another dancer popping out of her top, exposing herself. A must see show! Personally, I’ll be glad to be rid of Mary for a night. That cackling really got to be too much.
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