This week So You Think You Can Dance continued its audition rounds in Chicago and Los Angeles and produced one of the strongest batches of early contenders in recent memory. But where are the fellas? And just how stoned is Justin Bieber?

Audition rounds on reality competitions are a lot like color guard performances before high school football games. Mostly inconsequential and frequently annoying, but it's undeniably inspiring to see certain people finally get the spotlight if only for a brief moment. And also afterward you're like, 'okay nice job, now where are the hunks?' (Haha j/k.) (Srsly tho.) But even though we've been over how unrelated audition episodes are to who actually makes the semifinals and finals, this week's two-hour block of introductions was just about as entertaining as they come. Putting aside another hilariously stoned Justin Bieber segment, the actual dancers on display here had great personalities, skills, and with a few exceptions, non-annoying backstories! Also Christina Applegate showed up to hang out and have a cry, so that was nice. (Is Christina Applegate okay?)

This week finished up the Chicago leg of the auditions before relocating to Los Angeles and the whole episode was just very good in general!  I mean, come on, there was an Impromptu All-Star Dance Battle! (But every rose has its thorn: That battle meant we had to hear "Moves Like Jagger" for what felt like 45 minutes.) Plus, Mary Murphy jumped in a lake and froze her "[BLEEP]" off:

WHAT did she say exactly? They bleeped it and covered her mouth with the show logo, so I'm not clear on what exactly Mary Murphy froze off. It probably had something to do with genitalia, right? My guess is she said "nutballs." Or maybe "baloney sandwiches"? "I froze my baloney sandwiches off" just does not sound right though. I'll continue thinking about this and get back to you.

Anyway, again, this was a good audition episode for a few reasons: It didn't waste too much of our time with contrived human interest moments (a child was allowed to dance on stage, but briefly) and it mostly relegated the goofballs and the f*ckups to a montage while reserving the spotlight for memorably talented candidates.

Here are some highlights!

Introducing himself as The Puppet, Paul had been inspired by previous seasons of SYTYCD to invent his own form of animation, but instead of looking like a malfunctioning animatronic he looked like a marionette come to life. I realize that sounds like a nightmare and if you ever saw someone 'puppeting' at you up close you'd hit them with a hammer, but in this case the routine was very impressive! So much so that Mary Murphy and the guest judge, a colossal ballet hunk named Fabrice, sent him directly to the semifinals. Nigel Lythgoe objected, reasonably pointing out that The Puppet needed to prove his partnering skills first, but it was too late. Everybody got swept up in the spirit and this kid was given a fake plane ticket. 

Eighteen-year-old Franchesca Bass suffers from Alopecia and also owning too many lacy sports bras, but maybe "suffer" is the wrong word here considering that she is perfect? Rather than make a big sob story about how much adversity she'd overcome, she more or less owned her unusual condition and even seemed grateful for her uniqueness. Even better, she played up her looks by embodying a shy alien in her audition piece, and it was straight-up BEGUILING:

Probably my favorite routine and contestant of the night if we're being honest. Which we are, right? Let's just be honest. Did you get chills when the judges openly mused about wanting to see Franchesca work with Mia Michaels? Man, I should know better not to get my hopes up about people we meet in the auditions, but I think I'm officially investing my hopes in Franchesca to make the finals, sorry.

Okay, more about Fabrice. The show made a big deal about how this hunky 6'5" ballerino was pretty famous in the ballet world, but all it needed to show us was this above clip of him in ballet trousers to really demonstrate his stardom. Show don't tell! Personally I do not love the idea of sitcom stars sitting on the judging panel and I much prefer it when actual trained professionals sit there and give specific critiques, because I think it actually helps me learn more about dance. So I really cared what Fabrice had to say about the contestants whereas I care zero percent about what Wayne Brady or Jenna Elfman or Christina Applegate (sorry) think. But yeah, let's get real, Fabrice was a big ol' ballet hunk and one auditioning ballerina even knew of him and became charmingly flustered during her audition:

Fair enough! Jenna Scaccia seemed pretty talented in her own right, so this was just a very good segment.

This was disgusting:

Meet hip-hop contortionist James Thomas, 18. There's always some kind of freak-show act during auditions, but at least this guy was memorably talented. And he definitely fulfilled his role of making the judges scream and gag while also being good enough to merit praise. Not quite good enough it make it past the choreography round but still. 

Then things moved to Los Angeles where a particularly fragile-seeming Christina Applegate came directly from a therapy session (?) to guest judge. The first notable contestant here was 18-year-old Jessica Richens. She was the kind of girl who claimed she was an unsexy dork only to then do stuff like this onstage:

Sometimes there's a fine line between a burlesque striptease and contemporary dance, and Jessica really walked it with grace. By the end the judges were murmuring that she could win the whole show. Which, sure. TV IS a visual medium and SYTYCD is not above promoting its lookers above all else. But she was slightly boring to me. Or maybe I'm just tired of hearing "It's a Man's World" used in sexy scenarios. Like, we get it.

Loved this lady:

Valerie Rockey, 20, was one of those all-smiles contestants who are instantly likable (think former winner Melanie Moore). It's also rare to encounter tappers who seem versatile enough to do well later on, but this girl seems to be pretty skilled. I also love it when tappers audition because it's the main area in which Nigel gets to speak with authority, as he did here when he succinctly reviewed her tapping skills. I don't know, sometimes it's just nice to see Nigel take a break from making sex jokes to teenage girls and actually be an expert in something, you know? (Side note: You guys all know he choreographed The Apple, right? That's a lifetime pass in my book.)

I was also very into this Czech girl, and not just because she looked like a bottle-redheaded Irene from Real World Seattle. Jana "Jaja" Vankova, 22, was a VERY good animator/krumper who was a legacy auditioner (she'd been mentored by previous contestant Phillip):

That's just a fun and talented lady, right there.

I don't mean to sound like a bitter singleton, but was this super gross to anybody else:

Mauricio Vera and Deise Mendonca auditioned together and made it all about how in love they are IRL, even kissing during their routine. I was personally very grossed out, but BOTH Mary Murphy and Christina Applegate were brought to tears, which I'm afraid may have told us A LOT about what's going on in their respective personal lives. I don't know. I have a working theory that 85% of a routine's effectiveness comes down to song choice, so yeah, these two danced to lilting violins and dappling piano so of course it felt romantic. Meanwhile it's just a couple of weirdos in Tim Burton spandex doing PDA during an audition. Not into it. Homey simply does not play that.

So then it was time for another segment of the awkwardly forced Justin Bieber dance crew showcase. It's not clear if Bieber is bored or very stoned (maybe both?) but his apathetic cue card readings and also the fact that he probably filmed all these intros in the span of half an hour and didn't even bother to change clothes suggest that he straight-up did not care. Which might be appropriate considering WE don't care either. So anyway, the two dance crews. The first was something called BREAKSK8, which took the actually clever idea of breakdancing-on-rollerskates and made it both boring and laughable. Faring slightly better was ACADEMY OF VILLAINS:

Described by Bieber as a "wicked mix of warpaint and tricks" these were basically just people who dressed up like scary marionettes (sorry, The Puppet, looks like other people are getting in on your turf) and ran around a lot. They were fine. By episode's end they seemed ahead in the votes and that seemed about right. Doesn't matter.

This lady Hailee Payne lamented that people often mistake her for Miley Cyrus, and then she went on to intentionally behave like Miley Cyrus. We get it, Hailee Payne. Fortunately she was a good dancer. Unfortunately her larger-than-life persona may have crossed the line from TV friendly into unwatchable. But who knows? Maybe she'll be great. I am not an Oracle, I do not live on Delphi, all of my soothsaying cauldrons were stolen.

Look, I am not here to say anything negative about eating disorders. They exist, they are real, they are very harmful. But SYTYCD made this girl, Dani Platz, 18,  the emotional crux of this entire episode by framing her battles with an eating disorder as some kind of emotional odyssey that we'd all be moved by. Then she danced and seemed like a solid but not great dancer, yet Christina Applegate was sobbing all over the place saying things like "You're broken. It's okay to be broken, but you're healing. You're healing through dance." See, this is why I don't love when the contestants play up their past strife during an audition. Yes, it gets us invested in them emotionally, I guess, but it also feels like cheating. This girl is a medium-okay dancer who suddenly had judges tearfully praising her bravery. Meanwhile the earlier contestant Franchesca arguably has a more difficult day-to-day existence and she didn't seem very bothered by it. To me THAT is way more powerful and inspiring. Anyway, yeah, this one moved forward, but, tellingly, was sent to choreography (over Christina Applegate's objections that she should skip them).

And we ended with this lady, who was very excellent in most ways:

Marie "Poppins" Bonnevay hailed all the way from Montpellier, France, and not only did she have mad animation skills, she came out and danced to SADE! And not just any Sade, but "Smooth Operator." I loved that the lyric "coast to coast, LA to Chicago" more or less summed up this episode. Also, last year's winner Fik-Shun showed up to dance with her. (Fik-Shun had been loitering in the theater most of the day and had been part of that dance battle alongside Cyrus and Legacy.) But yeah, just try not to enjoy yourself:

See what I'm saying? Wonderful stuff. Yes I am a sucker for lady hip-hop dancers and animators and krumpers and things like that, but Marie Poppins just seems like a winner in general. She's another one I'd like to see more from, how about you?

And then, like a particularly disgusting cherry on top of this episode's ice cream sundae, this happened:

Oh,  just an auditioner vomiting during the choreography round. Weirdly he did not make the cut!

Call me biased, but it seemed like all of the standout superstars in this episode were women. That's pretty normal for this show, but I can't deny I'm a little disappointed we didn't see stronger male competitors. One of the format changes for this season is that men and women will be competing against each other for a single top spot (as opposed to the past few seasons in which a winner from each gender was chosen), so it would be nice to see better guys in the mix. But again, what am I even saying, audition rounds have no bearing on the finalists. I'm sure we'll suddenly have ten prodigy hunks tumbling around the stage out of nowhere in a few weeks, so it's probably not worth worrying about.

Now could somebody please go see if Christina Applegate is doing ok? Very concerned about her.