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'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Memphis auditions

By Amy Watts

For The Baltimore Sun

9:04 AM EDT, June 5, 2013

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Here we are in the final auditions before next week’s Las Vegas round. They’re in Memphis and it’s adorable to hear Cat Deeley say “The Mighty Mississippi.”

Judges for tonight are Mary Murphy, Wayne Brady and Nigel Lythgoe.

First audition is “Blueprint,” and his style is Animation. He’s in the same crew as last season’s contestant Cyrus, who made it to the finale.  Oh, I remember the Dragon Crew all dancing in that Atlanta apartment. Now they’ve moved up and have a whole house.

For the record, Blueprint’s actual name is Dorian Hector and he’s 19. He's good for the style, and there’s something about his movements at times that makes me think he could also handle contemporary and even ballet pretty well. It’s a gracefulness that’s coming through in some of his transitions. That and, at one point, he manages to get his arms into ballet’s fifth position while mimicking en pointe in sneakers. When he finishes, the judges go nuts, the crowd goes nuts. Nigel calls him “absolutely brilliant.” Despite concerns some might have about his partnering skills, Nigel basically says “Screw it,” and sends him through to Las Vegas.

Curtis Holland is a tap dancer and in his pre-audition interview he boasts about his speed. Kid, it’s about more than being fast. Let’s see what he’s got. Well, he IS auditioning to a SPED UP version of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” which is semi-insane. He makes better use of his arms and the space around the whole stage than a lot of the tap dancers have in auditions past. Wayne says he’s “like [his] little brother.” Wayne says as great as he was, he might need to make more of an effort to connect with the audience. Mary talks about him “getting to the next level.” But then Nigel says his personality overwhelmed the routine. This feels like a lot of conflicting messages. Whatever it all means, Curtis is sent to the choreography round.

Contemporary dancer Tucker Knox auditioned for Julliard and made it into the program. Driving back to school he was in a car accident. His dad is having a hard time not crying while describing finding Tucker at the accident scene. His spine was broken and his sternum cracked.  His audition shows clearly how he made it into Julliard. He has tremendous classical technique. And if he makes it through to the Top 20, I bet a lot of viewers are going to go love that curly hair. Wayne calls him “a perfect dancer.” He’s through to Las Vegas.

We get a montage of what looks like three very interesting dancers; two women and one man. But since they don’t have any traumatic backstory, we don’t get to know their names, despite the fact that they’re sent through to Las Vegas.

Courtney Thurston has a “dance dad.” But it seems like it’s in a good way, not a pushy stage-mom way.  She’s dressed like a fitness instructor and is dancing somewhere in between contemporary and stripper. Sorry, dad. Nigel says she’s “very good technically.” Mary calls her a “force to be reckoned with.” Oooh, turns out Dad married her dance teacher! Courtney claims her dad can dance, and after he exchanges some banter with the judges, he’s called on stage. As he comes up the aisle, he makes like he’s going to go into a cartwheel and the look on Courtney’s face is one of “OMIGOD DAD DON’T HURT YOURSELF.” She’s through to Las Vegas, of course.

Montage of bad dancers. I can’t be bothered to describe them. They’re bad. That’s all you need to know.

And now comes the first Mongolian bowl dancer I think we’ve ever seen on the show. She has the improbable name of Shanshan Qiao-Rothlisberger. That’s her husband’s last name hyphenated onto the end there. The things we do for love. Even with the exoticness of the dance, you can see she has a tremendous amount of balance and flexibility and can render some beautiful lines. I bet she’d do well in contemporary styles. The judges have nothing but high praise for her and send her to choreography. I call BS. If Blueprint made it through straight to Vegas, so should have Shanshan.

Nico Greeham is a contemporary dancer, but with some interesting edge to him. He’s not afraid of the occasional ungraceful-looking move to make a point. He also has a VERY enthusiastic mother. Nico is super cute in that way that teenage girls AND their mothers will vote for in droves.  After a lot of screaming from Mary, we find out Nico is through to Las Vegas.

And now here comes a trapeze artist, Elyse Frelinger. She starts out folded up like a pretzel of sorts on the stage. This is a better routine than I was expecting from someone who usually works in a much different format. High praise from all three judges and she’s through to Las Vegas.

On to the choreography round. Of the people we’ve already met, we find out, after some fake-out from Nigel, that Shanshan is through to Las Vegas, as is Curtis.

The second day of auditions in Memphis is also the final day of auditions. All three judges from the previous day are back. Cat delivers the wisdom, “You can’t help but shimmy when you’re wearing the fringe.” Words to live by, friends.

Jenna Johnson holds four national titles in ballroom dance. She’s auditioning with the partner with whom she won all those titles, but he’s only 17 and can’t audition yet. Jenna has, as the saying goes, legs that go all the way up.  She’s through to Las Vegas.

Novien Yarber is doing contemporary, but trying to bring a more masculine feel to it, particularly with arm movements. I’m impressed with what I see so far. Wayne says that he looks like he could “kick someone’s a** while he’s dancing.” He’s through to Las Vegas.

Isabel Freiberger is a salsa dancer and her non-auditioning partner is a guy I SWEAR we’ve seen either partner with an auditioner or audition himself in past seasons. They’re dancing salsa and it’s a trick-filled routine. The tricks look good, though, and the transitions are clean. For reasons I don’t understand, she’s sent through to choreography instead of being sent straight through to Las Vegas.

Oh boy. This looks like a joke audition. Argyle sweater vest and a bowtie.  And, oh, it’s hip hop and he’s “dabbled” in jazz.  I think this is going to be the kind of awful audition I hate most – where the person auditioning doesn’t realize he or she is terrible and is the butt of the joke rather than in on it.  Caleb Brauner is 20 years old, from Missouri, and dancing to “Theme from a Summer Place.” He’s far too young to know this song, much less use it for an audition piece. I’m still unsure if this is good or bad, a joke or serious, and whether or not Caleb is on it if it is a joke.

After the routine, Caleb’s dad shouts, “That’s my nerd!” Mary calls it quirky, but with a good technique. Ok, Wayne liked it too. Maybe I just don’t understand how to process this. And then Caleb’s dad is up and doing some sort of old guy redneck hip hop and I’m embarrassed for all involved. But in Caleb’s goofing around with his dad, I get more of a sense of his technique than I did from his actual audition piece and the kid can actually move. He’s through to Las Vegas.

And now we get a montage of “Southern gentlemen” flirting with Cat, holding open doors, offering to cook PEE-KAN pie, flirting with Mary. The one who flirts with Mary does a contemporary routine to Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” and gets a ticket to Las Vegas. As do several other good-looking male dancers.

Larry Booze is here with such signature moves as “the swinging door.” He starts, facing away from the audience, admiring the mural on the back of the Orpheum theater. And then, I just can’t describe. It’s some sort of pop 'n lock/animation hybrid that’s so smooth. Now to me, this is the kind of dancer you send through to choreography because what he’s doing is so particular to him it may or may not translate to other styles. The judges agree with me and send him to choreography.

Jasmine Harper is Cyrus’s ex-girlfriend and we see a little footage of them dancing together. She’s really shy and giggly talking about him. She’s also wearing a neon color-blocked shirt I would’ve spent all my allowance on in middle school. Nigel won’t stop asking about her relationship with Cyrus, and has her crying before her audition. Mean old Nigel.

She’s dancing to an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace” and has tremendous stage presence. Oh, we find out that version of the song was by Destiny’s Child. The judges love her dancing and she’s through to Las Vegas.

Quick montage of all the people auditioning who AREN’T from Memphis. Paige Pellicano, from Detroit, is auditioning in Memphis because her dad’s an Elvis impersonator. Sure, that makes sense. Nigel asks if dad will sing for them, and Paige is properly mortified.  Nigel thinks her technique is there, but her personality is not letting her connect with an audience. Mary and Wayne agree, so she’s through to choreography. I dunno; I don’t think charisma is something you pick up between your prepared piece and the choreography round.

Choreography proves too much for Larry Booze and he withdraws to give his partner a chance to dance with someone else.  Isabel blows the choreography round in the footage we see and is asked to leave. Paige is told she was very close, but didn’t make the cut.

See you next week in Las Vegas.