Right off the bat, we get our first change to the show -- the judge's panel.
Added this year are Jason Derulo and Paula Abdul. Ugh. Paula Abdul is one of the main reasons I avoided "American Idol" for so long. Maybe she's a better choreographer than she is a singer and she'll actually have constructive criticism. One can only hope. She was a permanent judge on "So You Think You Can Dance Australia" last season, but I haven't seen any of it.
The second big change is something called "Stage vs. Street." Every dancer has to declare at auditions if they're going out for "Team Stage" or "Team Street." The eventual Top 20 will be 10 members of Team Stage and 10 members of Team Street. From then on, each team will have a captain/mentor.
It looks like Team Stage is getting Travis Wall, while Team Street is getting Stephen "Twitch" Boss. Every week, one dancer from each team will be sent home based on audience votes.
The first audition city is Memphis. And the first auditioner, Peyton Albrecht from Robert, La., is going out for Team Stage. There's definitely raw talent in his dancing, but his choreography leaves something to be desired. The dance looks like it started life as a gymnastics routine, and there's a horrible move where he grabs his pants like they're about to fall down.
Paula says he has it all. Jason likes his song choice. Nigel Lythgoe says Peyton reminds him of a young Travis Wall. High praise, indeed. We'll see if it's warranted. Of course, he's given a ticket to callbacks in Las Vegas.
Our next hopeful, Andre Rucker from Atlanta, is a Team Street candidate who's part of Dragon House, the same crew that produced past winner Cyrus Spencer. He gets Jason excited enough that he jumps up out of his seat shouting during the performance. Andre's not the best animation dancer we've seen, but he's good and he's got a really cute face. Jason loves his new style of waves and cutting. Paula compliments his musicality.
A montage of judges' banter is followed by a quick clip of host Cat Deeley with her arm in a sling. Oh, no! Protect the talent! She's interviewing Jordan "JoJo" Hilgenberg, from Claremont, Fl., a redhead who's wearing a knit or crochet bikini top and is there with her newly married mom and stepdad, who've skipped their honeymoon to come to this audition. (The more I look at her top, the more I think it's crochet.)
She shows off tremendous balance and flexibility in her audition. Mom, a dance teacher, is in the audience and is clearly nervous. Hang in there, Mom!
Nigel asks if JoJo does a lot of gymnastics and she answers that she actually does some contortion work. Nigel wants her to make use of more of the stage. Paula says she has "extraordinary elegance" and compliments her core, her flexibility and her strength. Jason calls her lines stunning.
Back from the break, we get a quick montage of hip hop auditioners, including a young woman I hope we see more of later.
I like when the show highlights local dance styles; this time, it's Memphis's jookin'. Cat Deeley is quite pleased with herself when a dancer tells her she's pronouncing it correctly. There's a quick run-through of a lot of Memphis styles, including gangster walk, buckin' and choppin', which are all combined in jookin'. Apparently, the bounce is what gives it a particular Memphis flair, with one dancer comparing it to Elvis Presley's moves.
Ladia Yates from Richmond, Calif., is here to audition for Team Street. Even if her bio tag says California, she's there now to show for Memphis. Nigel compliments a particular ankle roll she did. Paula likes her showmanship. Jason offers some compliments, and Ladia immediately asks him out. Love that moxie.
Ladia has a whole dance team there to watch her audition. It's a group of kids, and they're adorable in little varsity jackets. Nigel asks what music they like, and they say Jason Derulo. Nigel cues music for "Talk Dirty to Me." Then Jason gets up on stage to sing with the kids dancing around him, and it's pretty cute -- as long as you don't listen too closely to the lyrics and consider their appropriateness in proximity to 7-year-olds.
Of course, Ladia gets a callback ticket to Las Vegas.
Next is a montage of Team Stage hopefuls, including another redhead, this time in a lace halter top. It's followed by a montage of less-than-good Team Street candidates. At the end of the day, they have 15 Team Stage members and nine Team Street members.
A memorable auditioner from last season, Courtney Barnes, of Jackson, Miss., is back again, still as crazy as ever. I don't know if he's any kind of dancer, but he should definitely seek a career in cabaret.
Jason says the routine had a little too much hair whipping for him. Paula wants to take him everywhere with her because of his personality. Nigel likes his flexibility and style and likes that he's unique, but he's torn as to whether Courtney is a fit for the show.
Day 2 in Memphis starts out like normal, but before any auditions can happen, the power cuts out in the entirety of downtown Memphis. Inside the dark theater, they have all the auditioners go to the lobby. Nigel explains that there was an underground fire in a power station that cut all the electricity and they may or may not be able to hold auditions that day.
Word comes down that the auditions are cancelled and there are a lot of tearful contestants who spent a great deal of money to get to Memphis for the audition and won't be able to travel to another city on the audition tour.
But the production crew finds a generator and just enough juice to light the stage, so auditions go on after all! To save time, they're being auditioned in groups according to style; the standouts will get to do a solo later. It's actually kind of cool -- I wouldn't mind if they did more auditions like that on purpose.
We get another montage of the dancers who got to do solos. The lighting really is pretty primitive and you can see crew and stage equipment, so I guess that's why we're not seeing any full auditions. At the end of the day, they've added eight Team Stage hopefuls and 10 Team Street hopefuls.
On to Dallas...
Guillermo Morales is from Miami and is a valet -- which, for some reason, is deemed worthy of an extended segment by the producers. Maybe it's an excuse to show hot cars and hot girls in bikinis.
When asked by Nigel what style of dance he's doing, he answers "contemporary," with obvious hesitation, and is a bit flaky in his explanation of the stumble. He's only been dancing for three years. Before that he was into sports. He was doing community service hours at a dance studio and got interested.
Guillermo is one of those dancers who looks like he's got talent but would benefit greatly from working with a choreographer. He gets a callback to Las Vegas.
Team Stage hopefuls get their own montage for Dallas Day 1.
Jaclyn Hamric, from Haymarket, Va., describes her style as "slow, sexy jazz." I'm translating that as "stripper moves" until and unless I see evidence to the contrary. She's also 18 and blonde. Nigel should love her.
OK, I take back the stripper comment, and I love her choice of music. It's a dreamy jazz song that reminds me of "Sleep Walk," an old instrumental from the 1950s. Nigel says it was very nice, with a happy, pretty feel to it. Paula calls her lovely to watch. Jason is a fan, too. She's through to Las Vegas.
Cat puts on her best "movie trailer" voice to introduce street dancers we've yet to see in Dallas. I love Cat for doing this sort of thing.
Steven Ban, from New Orleans, doesn't look like a typical street dancer. He works in IT, loves comic books and is a skinny, white guy in glasses. Oh, please don't let this suck. Oh no, it sucks. Or at least, it's not as good as it needs to be. He's got some animation and isolation moves and some contortionist stuff, but he's not good enough for the show, in my opinion.
Jason likes his musicality. Paula thinks he's more of an illusionist than an animator. Nigel wants him to go up against other hip hop auditioners. They send him through to callbacks, where I predict he crashes and burns.
Vishonda Sims, from Dallas, is auditioning with a freestyle routine. She's got a lot of popping and locking, but it's combined with an interesting fluidity. Nigel likes it but says it was a little bit static. Jason was wowed by it. Paula calls her a little star and poetic with her movement. They're sending her to Las Vegas.
Now it's time for another joke audition, this time with a guy wearing his mother's necklace and bits and scraps of random clothing, including something like an American flag. Kiosh Monroe, from Pleasant Grove, Texas, is another guy that I bet is great fun to watch dance at parties but is in no way a competitive dancer ready for this show.
Jason says he's "that good cousin that can dance." Exactly.
Jason suggests that Kiosh should make exercise tapes. So Nigel asks women in the audience to come up on stage to dance with Kiosh. Then, since this whole exercise routine was Jason's idea, Nigel makes Jason get up on stage, too.
Honestly, Kiosh does a great job explaining the steps to the group and probably would make a great, like, "Dancin' to the Oldies" instructor. And then Paula is on the phone with Richard Simmons! Because I was right! And Simmons offers to take Kiosh on as a protege. I hope that was serious.
At the end of Dallas Day 1, there are 13 more dancers for Team Stage and 16 for Team Street. And, as Cat points out, one made Team Simmons.
Lily Leyva, from Las Vegas, wants to be on the show to connect with the talented choreographers. She basically sees it as a networking opportunity for her dance career. She's not wrong. She gets a standing ovation from the judges and an immediate ticket to Las Vegas.
In the montage that follows, we get our first glimpse of a ballroom dancer and a brief moment of clogging!
There's a very straight-laced kid, in a vest and tie with glasses, who says he's doing a mixture of ballroom and hip-hop. Paula dubs it "ball-hopping," and she and Jason giggle like 12-year-olds for a bit. And then it seems Paula's on a laughing jag she just can't stop, and she's dragging the other judges down with her.
Finally, Jaden Ziara, from Orlando, starts dancing and it seems like Broadway more than anything. He also looks very reminiscent of Jim Parsons, and it's weird to see Sheldon Cooper doing hip hop moves.
Paula says Jaden has a twinkle about him. Nigel thinks he should be Stephen Colbert's dancing double. He calls him Crazy Legs. But he doesn't get through to callbacks.
And now, the segment they've been teasing the whole show -- the "So You Think You Can Dance" All-Stars get to dance at the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll celebration. I can't identify all the All-Stars, but I see Twitch, Travis, Robert and Comfort. They do a quick routine with Michelle Obama.
Back to Dallas, where a very handsome shirtless young man is ready to audition. He's auditioned before, in season 11. Edson Juarez from Mission, Texas, is another dancer with fantastic talent and so-so choreography.
Jason says it's one of the best auditions they've seen that day. Paula says it is the best they've seen that day. Nigel wants to see more connection with the audience from Edson, but he's through to Las Vegas anyway.
Next week we get Detroit auditions, with the promise of cute kids and tap dancers.