It's the final week of auditions and Atlanta produced the best and most talented competitors yet. Also Justin Bieber stared into the camera for a few minutes, as he does.
That whole anyone-can-be-a-superstar thing sure seemed like a good idea back in the day. ('The day' being early 2000s.) Televised talent competitions in which viewers voted for a winner just seemed so conducive to that classic narrative of a nobody from nowhere suddenly becoming a superstar. But it was telling that during this week's audition round of So You Think You Can Dance more than a few auditioners told Nigel they'd been training since they were 3. At some point we no longer needed Susan Boyle-esque surprises, we only want to see well-trained people at higher and higher levels of achievement. Sorry to break it to you, but even though you MAY think that you can indeed dance, you will never be able to dance like these people can. And nobody's mad.
Congratulations, Atlanta: Your dancers are amazing! This was the best audition round of the season, not only for the insane caliber of talent, but also the episode was surprisingly light on over-produced sob stories. Most of the b-roll was quick and seemed to have been filmed in the theater lobby (as opposed to, like, local trainyards and abandoned boarding schools), and a bare minimum of family members were invited to take the stage. Let's talk about some of the more notable auditioners!
The honor of the first dance of the night (a slot usually reserved for an outstanding dancer) fell to Mariah Reives, 18. Her star quality was so perfectly attuned to what SYTYCD usually goes for that if she doesn't make the Top 20, it'll be an outrage and people should take to the streets. (Also I loved when Nigel made fun of her for doing that weird dance-run that so many dancers do.)
Speaking of star quality: Eric "Silky" Moore, 24, has a metric ton of personality, plus the kind of creative skills that should see him go really far. He's a former tapper turned hip hop dancer and he claimed that the moves in his solo were inspired by his, uh, mentally disturbed grandmother. Also his routine involved kicking his shoes off, so basically Eric "Silky" Moore is my favorite dancer of the season so far.
In what's become an annual tradition, we saw at least two members of Atlanta's Dragon House Crew audition. That's the same 3-bedroom apartment collective that yielded Cyrus and BluPrint in seasons past, so expectations were pretty high when group founder Christopher Griffin, 25, took the stage. For someone who bills himself as "Mr. Strange a.k.a. Freak Show" and claims to hail from Cybertron, he certainly did look A LOT like a librarian. But his skills were impressive and he was pretty quickly given a ticket.
Unfortunately Dragon House's hot streak ended there when Branden "Sideshow" Feimster, 22, took the stage in a stove pipe hat and checkered pants and claimed to be a TRUE pop-and-locker. After his perfectly adequate audition, Nigel took issue with the fact that he hadn't actually popped-and-locked. It's seriously very entertaining seeing a sixty-something old British man inform an Atlanta hip hop dancer what popping-and-locking is, but Sideshow was NOT amused. He ended up berating Nigel for having hurt his feelings, then stormed off the stage. The truly amazing part was when the rest of the Dragon House Crew leapt up from their seats and ran over to Nigel to apologize on Sideshow's behalf, and it was all intercut with Sideshow ranting in the lobby and calling Nigel a "sissy." Yikes. I'm guessing Sideshow won't be in living in that 3-bedroom apartment much longer.
The second day of auditions brought guest judge and star of Step Up: Before They Got Really Good, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, and yes, she was better than Christina Applegate. (Sorry.) Jenna Dewan-Tatum seemed like a pretty good judge as far as celebrity judges go.
Ricky Ubeda, 18, had been watching the show since he was little (Cat wouldn't allow him to give a specific number of years lest we all feel TOO old). He's cute and fast and lithe and basically a total ringer. We'll probably see him again and again all summer and that is honestly FINE.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Everything that Price said, but also, I stand with Jenna Dewan-Tatum (right). — Joe Reid]
Marissa Milele, 18, almost made the finals last year (wait, was she underage last year?) and returned this year to do her thing again. In this case her thing was running around on the stage growling like an animal (or did I imagine that part?) and she was sent to call-backs as fast as Nigel could raise the fake plane ticket.
Man, I know I'm on record as saying that sad backstories give certain dancers an unfair advantage with the audience and judges, but it was hard not to be moved by 26-year-old Elaine Kimble's story. Her mom had had a severely debilitating stroke when Kimble was a teenager, and the sad twist was that it was caused by a congenital heart defect that Kimble herself shares. Sad and scary and sorrrta relevant to one of the more grueling physical competitions on television. Anyway, her routine was lovely, though the judges were suspiciously lukewarm about it, as though they knew she'd need to go to choreography in order to increase the tension at the end of the episode. (She was eventually given a ticket, because duh.)
THIS GIRL. Angelina Granitz, 18. Her speaking persona was one of stiff awkwardness with a sly sense of humor, but her dancing persona was confident, emotional, lovely. (Also her brother was really cute.) But whether this split personality routine was an act or not, it didn't matter. She's gorgeous and really talented and could easily be a fan favorite (and judge favorite) on par with Melanie Moore. I'm calling it!
Then Justin Bieber introduced some dance crews with the energy of a particularly snobby coma victim. The first team, Jungle Boogie Crew, was instantly my favorite if only because there was a grown woman and child mixed in with the usual gaggle of dudes. Also they danced good, real good. As for Control Freakz, points deducted for the name alone. Anyway, they were fine, and the Twitter voters had Jungle Boogie Crew up by a few points by episode's end. Good job, Twitter voters. I don't know who you are or why you follow the commands of TV producers, but fine.
The episode's final serious contestant was Cristina Moya-Palacios, 18, an insanely good dancer who started taking lessons when she could no longer handle hanging out at the hospital every day hoping her little brother would beat his 3%-chance-of-survivial prognosis. He survived (and smiled from the audience) and she performed amazingly. So, fine. Heart strings tugged. But again, the backstory didn't matter since this girl was just straight-up great.
That about did it for this round! Guess what next week brings? CALLBACKS. Cat's voiceover promised that we'd meet the Top 20 by episode's end, which is a mixed feeling situation at best. Couldn't we have more than one week of callbacks? Callbacks are the best! On the other hand, the sooner we get to the choreographer collaborations the better. So, again, fine. You win, So You Think You Can Dance, as always.