Out of the frying pan and into the fire, I'm switching from one dance show to another, with barely a week between the "Dancing with the Stars" finale and the "So You Think You Can Dance "premiere.
Audition episodes are often my least favorite, primarily due to the number of joke auditions. Let's hope those are kept to a minimum this year.
Cat Deeley's introduction says, "Every summer for the past decade…" Have we really been watching this show for so long? Huh. We're officially at the point where contestants can realistically claim to have been watching the show their "whole life." Yipes.
We're warned at the top of the show that there will be a Justin Bieber appearance later on. That's good of them - it should be on the parental black square thingie, like L = Language, V = Violence, B = Bieber.
New Orleans is our first audition city. Shots of Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras beads, etc. Our guest judge is Wayne Brady. He's looking super skinny these days. Why hasn't "DWTS" recruited him yet? He'd be a great get, either as contestant or guest judge.
First audition is the crazy-flexible Shelby Rase, 18, from Covington, La. Her music is an acoustic version of "Wake Me Up" sung by a female singer. Mary Murphy says Shelby has "beautiful feet and ankles" but could do better with her fingers. Wayne Brady is super impressed. Nigel Lythgoe asks about her family and Shelby says her dad is the best dancer, doing a "bottle dance." This is not going to end well for anybody. Dad looks like a slightly foxier version of Jack McBrayer. His name is Mike and he's cute and game, so good for him. Nigel is faux-scandalized and mom is laughing her head off, so she clearly married the right guy. Shelby's through to Las Veg ... whoops, we mean Los Angeles for this season.
Tanisha Belnap, 19, from Payson, Utah, is from a family of 12 and worked lots of menial jobs to be able to afford dance lessons and studio time. She's a ballroom dancer with six years of experience. Mary remarks quietly to the other dancers about Tanisha's "sassy little walk" as she moves to her start position. This is ballroom, but very cleverly executed for a solo. The music isn't traditional ballroom and she throws in a lot of contemporary moves with regular ballroom. Nigel says he would have preferred to see her dance with a partner. I disagree with him - ballroom dancers can't succeed on this show if they don't know how to work a solo. Mary insists on giving her a ticket to L.A.
Brothers from New Orleans, Shelby Skipper, 25, and Shane Skipper, 21, execute an extremely complex handshake before starting into their routine. I like their dancing right off the bat. It's loose and fun and funky while still being recognizably hip-hop. Shelby seems slightly better than his brother, with more exaggerated movements and higher kicks. It wouldn't surprise me if they split these two, sending Shelby to Los Angeles and Shane to choreography. Mary thinks the crazy legs choreography could work well with swing style dances. I'm only slightly wrong, Shelby (aka "Skip") is through to choreography as Shane gets an immediate no.
Megan Marcano, 22, from Houston, Texas, grew up in a trailer park with six brothers and sisters, an addict mother and a series of abusive "stepfathers." Cat is aghast at this tale of woe and Megan ends up comforting her, saying that she's OK. Megan is so beautiful, with arresting eyes and a headful of curls that somehow radiate the joy in her attitude. Despite her bleak childhood and adolescence, she graduated high school, went to college on a scholarship and after getting her degree now, has a job and loves being an adult. Her routine is beautiful and whimsical. Nigel calls her fabulous, fun, light, breezy, coquettish and beautiful times three. Mary calls her a star. Wayne says she's the complete package. She's clearly through to Los Angeles.
After another dad gets up and dances, Mike calls for a dad dance-off. So, we now see two middle-aged white guys in dad jeans giving it their all to "Blurred Lines." I hate to admit it, but my dad would probably do exactly this if given the chance.
Trevor Bryce, an 18-year-old from Orlando, did "five or six years of ballet," but says he's been studying dance seriously since he was 8. So what did he do for those other years? His routine is just a bit too weird for me, but it does do a great job of showcasing his wide range of dance styles. He's got a little bit of everything in there, from ballet, to contemporary, to hip-hop, to Broadway. Nigel calls it one of the greatest solo performances he's seen on "SYTYCD." Wayne points out that you can't lay humor on top of something unless you've laid down the foundation. He adds, "You could tell you'd laugh and this would be funny, but then you'd pull something out, like, 'Yeah, I trained for this, b----es.'" He's absolutely right. He gets a callback ticket.
In the first day choreography session, Skip bows out before judging and several other dancers who were never identified do make it through to Los Angeles.
Courtney Barnes, 22, from Jackson, Miss., acts and has a face like a drag queen not in drag. So this should be interesting. He's flexible, energetic and has that connection with the audience that most good drag performers have. Wayne says he has physical gifts that are "just amazing," pointing out his kicks and flicks. Wayne's not sure if he can handle choreography but tells him, "You own a stage, brother." Mary says there were moments of untapped talent. Nigel asks him what inspires him and he gives a super sassy answer, then does an impression of Wendy Williams. I'm now convinced there is zero chance this kid has never done drag. If "SYTYCD" doesn't want him, RuPaul should snatch him up in a hot minute. Nigel tells him that he should be in a different venue to show off the character he presents. Nigel says no, but Mary and Wayne put him through to choreography.
Novien Yarber, 22, from Hunstville, Ala., is a repeat auditioner, having tried out last year. He starts crying when talking about how the rejection last year set him back on his heels. Nigel tells the little camper to buck up. I don't know why he's wearing a stupid knit hat for the audition. I find it distracting, even if his moves are graceful yet strong. The judges spare him the suspense of comments and send him straight through to L.A.
We see a montage with two contemporary female dancers and a hip-hop guy, which could mean they might be contenders later.
Caleb Brauner, 21, from Blue Springs, Mo., auditioned last year and his dad came up on stage and goofed around with him, even dropping into the Worm. Since then his dad passed away after a sudden and brief illness. I don't usually react to the sob stories, but this one is getting me; I think it's because Caleb's grief is still so raw and feels so genuine. Caleb tells the judges about his dad's death and thanks them for the experience he and his dad shared at last year's audition. He says, wiping away tears and catching his breath, "All right, let's be happy!" and explains that the dance is not directly about his dad's death, but is about a spirit of celebration. The judges say that he's improved a lot since last year, and they like his approach, despite having less technique than some other auditioners. He's through to the choreography round.
Jacoby Jimmerson, 18, from Mount Pleasant, Texas, hasn't had much formal dance training but has studied ballet and jazz, even if they weren't for him. I think he's got a cold or something because his voice is high and raspy like he can barely get it out. He's an aerobics instructor, teaching zumba. When Wayne says he loves zumba, Jacoby has him up for a quick lesson. I would totally take this guy's classes. He's carrying a few extra pounds himself and seems so sweet and encouraging. Nigel says he has his fingers crossed for Jacoby's audition. His first move is some tremendous hip action, facing away from the audience, and all I can say is "It must be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that." Get it, JJ. He does a full jump into a split, and it's impressive, but he loses steam right after that. I'm beginning to doubt that he's actually teaching full-length classes. It's a no, but a positive one.
Brooklyn Fullmer, 18, from Provo, Utah, and Marcquet Hill, 18, from South Jordan, Utah, are ballroom partners auditioning together and Brooklyn makes a point several times of asserting that Marcquet is just a friend. In front of the judges, we're reminded that we saw Marcquet in Season 9 when he was an audition partner to Witney Carson, despite being too young to be eligible himself for the competition. He's gone from a short afro to braids since then and the braids are HOT. Wayne is surprised he's only 18, saying "You're a grown-ass man!" I'd noticed that too, Wayne, except it would be CREEPY for me to say so, given that I'm a woman nearly two decades his senior. They're using "Blurred Lines" for their audition, which isn't great when it's already been the soundtrack to a Daddy Dance-Off earlier in the show. Nigel remarks to the other judges about how "hot" Brooklyn is. Ah, Pervy Nigel, welcome back, not really. Personally, I'm more interested in Marcquet because he's showing a style and personality that feels different from a lot of other ballroom males. She feels super generic to me, even down to her stringy ombre hair. They're both through to Los Angeles.
The only dancers we know from earlier are Courtney Barnes and Caleb Brauner. Courtney clearly struggles and he and Caleb are both sent home. Nigel specifically tells Caleb he needs to do a lot more partner work before auditioning again.
Back from the break we get the much promoted Bieber appearance. He's there, along with his choreographer Nick DeMoura, to introduce a side competition the show will be running this season for dance crews. Long story short, we vote via Twitter and the winner gets to be on the finale show.
First crew is Poreotics from Los Angeles, and they blend popping and robotics. They look slick, but this is a style I can only watch so much of before getting bored. Part of their routine is to that annoying "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)" song, so that's a strike against them. Syncopated Ladies are an all-female tap dance crew from the East coast. That's definitely a niche. Their tap shoes are black booties with gold toes and ankle bands. Dig your style, gals.
We're in Chicago for the second round of auditions and we see dancers in front of The Bean, in that glass overhang cubicle at the Willis Tower. Nightmare. Guest judge is Jenna Elfman, whose cred is established with an ancient black-and-white photo of her performing ballet.
A couple of best friends and goofy dudes from Miami, Nick Garcia, 18, and Rudy Abreau,18, are both there to audition but not together. Nick is auditioning as a ballroom dancer. His sister is his usual partner, but isn't there because she's recovering from ankle surgery. He's got the fast feet and swingy but tight hips that good Latin ballroom dancers have. Nigel says it was very, very, very good. Mary screams, so she likes it. Jenna gives it a double thumbs up. Nick's through to Los Angeles.
Rudy had surgery as a baby, resulting in a scar on his abdomen, which is also apparently the basis of his dancing. Ooooh-kay. He said he likes to exhibit a "warrior-like" style and while he has the attitude, his technique is mediocre, given what we've seen on past seasons of this show. His pirouettes are impressive, but some of the other movements don't go as far as we're used to getting from the really talented male dancers. Nigel loved the breadth of his movement and then names some specific move that impressed him. Jenna says something about it being incredible to see the "spirit transcending the body's limitations" and I remember she's a Scientologist. She calls him sexy and beautiful. So apparently, I'm of a different opinion than the judges when it comes to Rudy. Good news for Rudy.
Caleb Brauner is back to audition again, after failing the choreography round in New Orleans. A quick search tells me that New Orleans auditions were Jan. 31 and Chicago auditions were Feb. 27. I doubt he improved that much in a month. But wait, he's got a new solo audition and it's based on the last voicemail message his father left him. He has ditched the bowtie, which I think is an improvement. Oh, Lordy. The song has some of Caleb's dad's voicemail message mixed in at the beginning. Jenna loved it, both his technique and his style.
Quick montage of quirky joke auditions which leads into footage of a quartet of young, male exotic dancers. Mary gets Jenna and herself seats on the stage to get a performance from the guys. Mary is loving every minute of it but Jenna seems genuinely uncomfortable. There are clearly some moves we're not getting to see because the camera sometimes stays very deliberately focused only on Mary's face, going no lower.
Choreography rounds prove the demise of the strippers but Caleb makes it through to L.A. this time. Bieber is back again to remind us to vote for a dance crew. As of the end of the East Coast airing, the tappers are ahead. But that could change once L.A. sees the show.
Next week: More Chicago auditions and I spy Tyce D'Orio at the judges' table. We also get Los Angeles auditions and guest judge Christina Applegate. I've enjoyed her as a judge in the past, so I'm looking forward at least to that.