America’s favorite dance show — okay, well, my favorite dance show — So You Think You Can Dance, is back for its 12th season with a new format and new judges. After the departure of Mary Murphy, this season features American Idol alum Paula Abdul and singer Jason Derulo as new judges. Both are joining Nigel Lythgoe and Cat Deeley on their journey into another exciting season of choreography. First up, though, are the auditions. Amateurs from Dallas and Memphis dance their heart out in the premiere for a ticket to Las Vegas and a chance to be crowned the winner of So You Think You Can Dance.

As far as the format goes, in order to level the playing field, dancers must choose one of two teams: Street or Stage. The Street team consists of popping, locking, animation, breaking and krump, while the Stage team has dancers from the jazz, contemporary, ballroom, ballet and lyrical genres. After auditions, Travis Wall will mentor Team Stage, and fan-favorite Twitch will mentor Team Street. When the Top 20 are revealed, each team will have 10 dancers. The rest of the season is the same, where each week one dancer will be voted off based on America’s votes, until one is crowned a winner. It should be noted that gone this season is the choreography round, so no ‘second chances’ for auditioners.

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Walking … Dancing in Memphis

First up are auditions in Memphis. The judges see a lot of Street dancers the first half of day one, including a style called Jookin,’ which is a lot of footwork with a bounce. Some standout Street dancers include Andre Rucker, who is part of the same Dragon House crew that Cyrus hails from; Ladia Yates, a dance teacher who impresses Nigel with her ankle rolls and flirts with Jason; and the flamboyant Courtney Barnes. Many may remember Courtney from the season 11 auditions in New Orleans with his infamous, throaty “How you doing?” Despite Jason’s disapproval, Courtney actually makes it to Las Vegas, along with Ladia, Andre and 17 other Street team members.

On the Stage team in Memphis, the judges are impressed with Jordan (JoJo) Hilgenberg, whose mother and step-father skipped their honeymoon to bring her to the auditions; and Peyton Albrecht, who reminds Nigel of a young Travis Wall. They both make it along with 21 others.

During day two of auditions in Memphis, some dancers think they won’t get a chance to try out when an underground fire causes all of downtown to lose power. Sometime in the afternoon, producers find a generator and the judges basically hold a lightning round of auditions in groups based on dancing style.

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Don’t Mess with Dallas

The second round of auditions finds the judges and dancers in Dallas, Texas. The dancers are pretty good. The standouts for the Stage team include Guillermo Morales, a parking valet who has only been dancing for three years; Jaclyn Hamric, a pretty girl who puts on a happy jazz routine to impress the judges; Lily Leyva, who gets a unanimous yes from the judges without critique; and Edson Juarez, a season 11 auditioner who this time around is described by both Paula and Jason as the best they’ve seen all day.

Vishonda Sims, a 21-year-old who is inspired by her late grandmother, and Steven Ban, a nerd with dance moves, join the Street team with Twitch.

At the end of auditions in the two cities, 43 dancers will be joining Travis on the Stage team, and 37 will join Twitch on Team Street.

Entertaining Dancers Who Don’t Make the Cut

There are a few dancers that entertain the judges but just don’t have that wow factor to get to Vegas. This includes Jaden Ziara, the sharply-dressed ballroom/hip-hop dancer — or, as Paula calls him, the ball hopping dancer — and Kiosh Monroe. Kiosh is a very upbeat dancer, so much so that Jason suggests he become a workout tape instructor. This prompts Nigel to get a bunch of ladies in the audience up on stage, along with Jason, so Kiosh can lead a quick dance lesson to “Uptown Funk.” Paula claims she has Richard Simmons on the phone to help Kiosh out.

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Michelle Obama Becomes an All-Star

During filming for season 12, the All-Stars take a trip the White House to help the First Lady kick off the fifth year of her Let’s Move campaign, which teaches kids to lead healthy, active lives. She joins the All-Stars, including Travis and Twitch, up on stage to motivate the crowd for the Give Me Five Dance campaign.

All in all it, was just an okay kick-off to this season of So You Think You Can Dance. While I like Jason Derulo, Paula is just not Mary Murphy. I miss her “woo-woo” train sounds and her banter with Nigel when the young guys with no shirts come on stage. While Nigel tries to goad Paula a little bit with that, it seems kind of forced. I hope they get into their groove as the season progresses and they find their niche.

As far as the dancers are concerned, all of them seem to impress me now. I feel like each season, they just get better and better. And with this new format, it will really enhance the show because the dancers are in their elements. As Cat says, it will level the playing field for everyone. But in the end, America does decide, so will it really matter whether there are two teams?

So You Think You Can Dance airs Mondays at 8pm on FOX.

(Image courtesy of FOX)


Contributing Writer, BuddyTV