Between American Idol, The X Factor, The Voice and America’s Got Talent, TV is full of singing competitions and heartwarming sob stories from contestants. But So You Think You Can Dance is in a class all its own.
It’s also special because of the people SYTYCD manages to find. I consider myself a hard-hearted, cynical, emotionless robot. Yet throughout the two-hour premiere I was brought to tears several times, from a 9/11 tribute to a story about an attempted suicide to a soul-cleansing exorcism to the cutest 2-year-old ever.
What makes So You Think You Can Dance better than most shows is we don’t waste a whole lot of time on the crappy auditions. Of the 13 people we see, 9 are good enough to make it to the Vegas callbacks. Even some of the crazy people (dancers nicknamed The Zombie and The Exorcist) are actually talented, unlike American Idol where the crazy people are just plain bad. Heck, even some of the rejects are entertaining, for the most part. But not the a-hole in the gerbil costume (I’ll let you figure out why that last phrase is so hilariously and inappropriately ironic for yourself).
New York Auditions: Who’s Going to Vegas?
Amelia Lowe: The first dancer of the season is a darling little lady who’s inspired by flappers and the silent movie era. It’s all very The Artist, and she’s quite good at playing up the drama. She reminds me of what would happen if you crossed June and Khloe on Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. And obviously she’s going to Vegas.
Shafeek Westbrook: He likes to flip, but he’s not just a one-trick break-dancing pony. His audition is fluid and beautiful and so thoroughly exciting that I could watch it over and over again. He has the power to do impossible moves but the simple grace to make it all look amazing. It’s one of the best auditions ever, and we don’t even need his story, which is that the dance was about his friend who died on 9/11, representing his soul crawling out of the wreckage. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there’s a very good chance Shafeek will be in the finale.
Leo Reyes: Years of reality competition sob stories have made my heart cold and black, but Leo Reyes changed all of that. This beautiful 21-year-old tells us about the time he came home and found his mom, who had tried to commit suicide. He’s dancing for her because he saw this as a wake-up call for him to do something meaningful with his talent and dance on the big stage for his mom to see. I never, ever tear up during these contestant stories, but this one hit me right in the heart. Luckily he’s every bit as talented as his story is tragic.
Chehon Wespi-Tschopp: Do you believe in love at first? Because this hot Swiss ballet dancer with the weirdest name I’ve ever seen just made me fall in love with him thanks to a routine full of balletic power and intense contemporary movements. The thing I love most is that his name is pronounced Key-On Wespy-Chop. I think I once ordered a wespy-chop at a BQQ restaurant.
Dallas Auditions: Who’s Going to Vegas?
Bree Hafen: This 29-year-old mom is a very good dancer, but the spotlight is stolen by her two adorable kids who are brought up to the judges’ table. Five-year-old Luke has a faux-hawk and the judges let him go on stage to hand his mommy her ticket to Vegas. The real star, however, is 2-year-old Stella. She’s dressed like a princess and the judges let her dance. The amazing part is that, at 2, this little girl actually does a real routine with spins and floor work. Obviously it’s not technically perfect because, well, she’s only 2, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless and impossibly adorable. Damn you, SYTYCD, because you’re making me feel real human emotions. Stella Hafen FTW!
Stepheon “The Zombie” Stewart: This dude is creepy as all hell, using a deep “death” voice and then childishly telling Nigel Lythgoe “I’m coming for you!” The routine is full of scary, horror-show theatrics, but it’s also really good.
Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams: His original Exorcist Style of dance involves stealing your soul, cleansing it, and then giving it back to you. You might assume he’s one of the crazies, but he’s not. He straddles that thin line between genius and madman and comes down squarely on the side of genius. The dance is haunting and beautiful and he does the whole thing in this weird, jerky style that makes it look like he’s a stop-motion animation character. Nigel isn’t sure if his style will work in this competition, but he “doesn’t give a sh-t.” And Lil’ C is so impressed that he wants to kick Hampton in his face.
Daniel Baker: If Chehon didn’t fully satisfy your need for hot foreign ballet dancers, here’s a shirtless Aussie who studied ballet so he could come to America and see the tall buildings. The ladies in the audience freak the freak out over the Thunder from Down Under, and it’s clear he’ll be the one in the Top 20 who the judges pimp out as the token beefcake.
Jarell Rochelle: The final audition of the episode is Jarell, whose mother is going blind. It’s sweet that he wants to do it while his mother can still see what he does, but he’s pretty much just like every other talented contemporary dancer we’ve seen on this show.
Who’s NOT Going to Vegas?
Toshihiko Nakazawa: This Japanese import has a flaming pile of bright red hair shooting out of the top of his skull. It’s wacky and fun, like what would happen if a Nintendo video game character came to life and started doing hip-hop. I can’t tell if he’s genuinely great or if he’s just a flash in the pan, and neither can the judges because they ask to come back for choreography. Sadly he fails miserably at it and quits during the choreography round.
Austin Freeman: And now for something completely ridiculous, a geeky, skinny white boy doing something he calls “Mr. Wiggles” (picture a 21-year-old Buster Bluth from Arrested Development). It’s every bit as stupid as you’d expect a boy doing the Wiggle to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” would be.
Sam Shreffler: This Texan has autism, which makes me think of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He’s wearing a cross between a hoodie and a cape, and he’s not really that great and he gets rejected, but the judges love him. He has no training, which shows, but he’s actually not terrible. He’s fun and inspirational, which is not what I expected at all when I saw him coming.
Von Kipper: Here’s where things get controversial, Von has a hamster outfit (which Cat hilariously keeps referring to as a gerbil), but he doesn’t want to wear it and he doesn’t even want to be on this show. In fact, he kind of hates So You Think You Can Dance because he thinks it’s for sell-outs. So why is he here then? I have no clue, but I think Mary Murphy hits the nail on the head when she suspects he just wants to be on TV and is willing to ACT like he doesn’t care about being on TV to do it. It’s kind of brilliant if that’s the truth, in a subversive kind of way. Regardless, he’s just an average b-boy, but his attitude sucks and Nigel calls him the worst person to ever be on the show. He totally should’ve worn the gerbil costume.
Next week on So You Think You Can Dance: It’s the Los Angeles auditions with guest judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family!
(Image courtesy of FOX)