After a week off due to my (amazing, fun, tiring) trip to Austin for The ATX Television Festival, the live blog is back for tonight’s round of auditions. The first week of auditions were very solid overall, and from what I heard about last week’s first LA installment it delivered the same crop of talented and promising dancers. This week, the show finishes up in LA (welcome back Christina Applegate!) and then goes to Philadelphia to see what talent awaits our judges. As with the first week, I will be skipping over the intentionally awful auditions as well as anyone who has no chance from the start. Hopefully as with the first week, the show minimizes the amount of these auditions that are included in the final cut. Here we go!
Alla Kocherga and Serge Olnik: This routine, performed by one of the last cuts before the Season 10 Top 20 was finalized and his smoking hot “it’s complicated” partner, screams of something that we’ve seen before until halfway through the routine when Alla shows off just for how many days her legs actually go with a split that made my jaw drop. The routine is technically accurate, sexy, and entertaining but most of these qualities are found in any duo that has been extensively trained in ballroom, the chemistry between them is what brings it to then next level. The latin music they chose (“Mmm Yeah” by Austin Mahone ft. Pitbull which in any other setting would make me cringe) was standard fare yet appropriate, but where the anticipation truly lies is seeing what these two can do in other styles or individually.
Casey Askew: Another routine set to “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. Something tells me this trend will carry over to the live shows because this song is just so spot on for a lot of choreographers the show employs (Mia Michaels or Travis Wall please!). Casey is one of the youngest competitors we’ve seen sent through so far, which brings both good and bad qualities to his dancing. On one hand, he has all the youthful exuberance and bounce one would expect from someone his age. On the other hand, that cheerfulness prevented him from successfully bringing forth the emotion that his movements should have. This routine didn’t call for that high an energy and it came across as too upbeat when the choreography and music read as sorrowful. The beaming white smile he was wearing from first note to last didn’t help either. These problems are entirely fixable, and in past seasons we have seen missteps stemming from self-choreography rubbed out by the more experienced experts and partners during practice sessions. If Casey makes it to the Top 20 (not a lock but absolutely in play) he will be able to last a few rounds off that energy alone until he learns to channel his talent into a more targeted emotional place.
J-4: I can’t bear to skip him. One of these seasons small children attempting to try out and being really good and “shocking” everyone will get old, but it isn’t this one. He is adorable. And of course they had to bring Fikshun and Cyrus up to join him. Mamas stop letting your sons grow up to be Chris Brown fans though.
Jourdan Epstein: Darn you SYTYCD producers for making us think her brother was dead at the beginning of that package. Not cool, guys. Not that “former addict who spent time in jail and a string of half way houses” is an uplifting tale, but they definitely edited her story to make it seem like something a lot worse. The show has a history of amazing dancers with “J” names (Janine, Jasmine) and from her talent on display in this brief piece Jourdan is well on her way to being another one. Many ballerinas who audition forgo the pointe shoes and either lean hard into the interpretative dance elements of ballet or do a traditional routine barefoot in order to incorporate some more acrobatic moves, so when someone does decide to do a traditional pointe piece it is not only a welcome surprise but a competitive advantage over other ballerinas who decide to flatten their talents into an amalgam of multiple genres. Dancing to “Smother” by Daughter, Jourdan is like a skyscraper in the breeze; impeccably solid but for the moments she is supposed to wobble ever so slightly. Her thighs are insane, as is her talent, and I am now fantasy partnering Jourdan with Rudy Abreu from Week 1 in the live shows. Make it happen, “random” names out of a hat.
Johnny Wacks: This boy is wacking to a vocals-only version of “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston and is it just me or is it kind of everything this crazy dance style should be? His sheer skirt paired with that faux-leather jacket is more knock off Solange Knowles than a dance outfit but I’m not going to nitpick because the ensemble goes pretty well with what he’s doing on stage. His wacking is more smooth than the first time he appeared on the show, and it feels more like a dance routine overall than the other forms of the style we have seen on the show. Nothing I saw on stage made me think he will go much farther than choreography but I’m willing to be surprised.
Marlene Ostergaard and Armen Way: More Avicii on the audition circuit, but unlike the first week of auditions this was the original recording not a cover. As a dance track “True” has never won me over completely but it is upbeat enough to have charted in multiple countries so who am I to judge. I was not at all hoping for more Armen after his behavior last season during the middle rounds but from the small package on him and his new partner it was easy to see the way his work with a partner has improved since a year ago. The clip reel was all about how his presence as a partner made Marlene love dance again, but I think she did just as much for his skills by being a more able partner who has the knowledge and experience to correct someone if they are making mistakes that affect the other side of the scale. Another pair of gorgeous ballroom dancers, another technically sharp routine. Blah blah blah come get your ticket.
Misty Copeland is a goddess. Haters to the left.
Bridget Whitman: With Bridget comes a triple whammy of audition packages: being inspired to put her all into dancing after watching an early season of the show, father passing away suddenly in an accident, incredibly freaking talented. Dancing to a light and airy cover of “Que Sera Sera” (this version sung beautifully by Jennifer Teran), she brings her all to the stage and adds more tears to the already brimming eyes of the judges and the audience. The thing I’m worried about with Bridget is if she has the ability to bring fierceness and edge to her dancing when the choreography calls for it in the future, but that is a bridge we will cross when the time comes and not before. For now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the sweetness and purity she brings to her dance.
Amir Sanders: ALL OF THE BEYONCE PLEASE AND THANK YOU. Amir is far and away my favorite dancer of the night, if not the season so far. Everything about her personality and style rings as original and her performance backs up all of her “Funky Pointe” talk. In an exact mirroring of the trend I touched on before, instead of doing a traditional pointe routine sans shoes Amir opts for a mixture of classic pointe and hip hop uniqueness. Misty giving her some specific advice on her technique and improvements she could make made me love both of them even more, and with all the classically trained ballerinas in the mix this year also makes me wish Misty is considered as a guest choreographer some time during the season, schedule permitting. Amir’s spirit, skill and attitude makes me think she will be able to handle any style the judges throw at her throughout the season and be more than willing to take risks in her dancing. She ends up making it through in choreography (why she was even there is beyond me) and I may be letting my love of her quirks influence my predictions but between the way the audience will engage and her raw skill is it premature to put her into the Top 10 right now?
Landon Anderson: There was absolutely no way Landon’s audition wasn’t going to be overshadowed by Jenna’s presence. As good as a dancer he is, bringing a former Top 20 dancer as your partner to a tryout isn’t going to do you any favors, especially when she is one of the judges favorite dances from the past few seasons. Landon held his own next to her talent, bringing a masculine energy that I would not expect form his build and a snappiness that really brought the rest of the routine to life. The African-inspired song “Magalenha” by Sergio Mendes was also not something I expected out of this pairing and contributed to the upbeat energy of the proceedings. Not a shock that Landon made it through to the next round, and not remotely a shock that Nigel asked Jenna back to be an All Star but a sweet moment nonetheless.
Stop. Trying. To Make. Justin. Bieber. On This Show. Happen. Please.
Shafeek Westbrook: I always have trouble with dancers who have an attitude problem on this show, in that not seeing how huge of an opportunity SYTYCD is is just about the dumbest thing you can do. Shafeek is one of these dancers, but tonight he also shows that he falls into the even more rare category of a dancer that tries out a second time and performs worse than the first time around. With what he brings to the stage between his primary routine (danced to “Let’s Go” by DJ Say Sut, a safe choice by any standard) and choreography I place him being sent home around the same point as he was last year, so hopefully he can go out with class this season instead of a tantrum.
First Misty Copeland and now Billy Porter? On a dance basis alone, these two have to combine for the most talented pair ever to grace the judging table in one city, yes? This is now a bracket I want to set up in all the spare time I don’t have.
Billy Porter serving face. For everyone’s benefit.
Stanley Glover: The juxtaposition of his self-proclaimed “creature-like” dancing with Olafur Arnalds’ “Brotsjor” makes Stanley one of the more creative dancers of the night. If that was a self-choreographed routine I am even more impressed. His jumps and spins showed off the beautiful lines he possesses, and his transitions into the gnarlier sections were natural and seamless. At this point in the night I’ve had one too many sob stories in the pre-dance packages and I’m plum out of tears to shed no matter how heartbreaking but I’ll admit a 4-year-old waking up next to a dead mom is almost more than I can handle. I don’t mind the show pulling at our heartstrings, but plunging a knife right in there is too far.
James “Banks” Davis: James was shot in the knee twice and almost lost his leg in the aftermath but came back dancing better than ever, which to me makes him the Paul Pierce of SYTYCD. If someone had told me someone “slow krumping” to “WTH” by Jhene Aiko & Ab-Soul would elicit any sort of positive reaction by the judging panel I would have said they had taken too much of Sonya’s drugs, but alas he holds his own. It pains me to see this city end with a performer who isn’t even strong enough to make it through to the next round, but anything is better than a montage of mediocre hip-hop routines.
So Week 3 draws to a close with only one more audition stop to go. The first phase of Season 11 wraps up next week with the Atlanta auditions, which never disappoint. Were there any dancers this week I gave too much credit? Not enough? Who are your biggest hopes to get into the Top 20 and the dancers you think will fall flat once the group stage arrives?
See you next week for the ATL rundown!