Recap: 'So You Think You Can Dance' premiere hits Atlanta, San Francisco

Mary Murphy, Tyce D'Orio and Niles Lythgoe judge the new talent

A dancer practices to audition for Fox's  "So You Think You Can Dance"

A dancer practices to audition for Fox's  "So You Think You Can Dance"

Credit: Fox

So, the “SYTYCD” hot tamale train is revving up again, and with it we see the return of Mary Murphy, who returns to the judges’ table after beating thyroid cancer. I have to admit, even though the screaming would get on my nerves by the end of a season, I’ve missed Mary and, more importantly, her insight into ballroom dance. Another good change I’m happy to see – instead of cutting to a final competition of just ten dancers, which left some considerable talents by the wayside, we return to a final twenty – with All-Stars partnering with our dancers once they’re cut to the final ten. It sounds like a good idea to me – when the All-Stars entered the game too early, it felt distracting. I’d be too excited to see, say, Twitch to really notice his partner, who was still something of an unknown quantity. So, this should be best of both worlds – fingers crossed.

[Full recap of Thursday’s premiere after the break]
 
Anyway, let’s get the party started – on to Atlanta, which is, as Cat helpfully points out, the land of George peaches. Wow, that doesn’t add a creepy sexual element to auditions or anything. In addition to Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe, Lil’ C is at the judges’ table.
 
On the first day we meet Deon Lewsa Jr. and Damon Bellmon of Atlanta, who are best friend, cut-ups and wannabe playas. They hit on Cat, they hit on girls in the street, they intend to get some numbers at auditions. These guys work!
 
Unfortunately, I don’t think they work as much on their actual dancing, but I do give them points for their choreography, which is clever and shows a sense of humor, which is sometimes lacking on this show. The judges agree that they love these guys and immediately send them both to Vegas. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. They send Deon, then make Damon sweat it out until handing him a ticket, too. This is a tradition on “SYTYCD,” but I still kind of hate it because you can see these dancers’ faces crumple like snotty tissues thinking they’ve gotten the axe. But hey, I guess that as long as they get a thumbs up, they don’t really mind a little torture.
 
We also meet Marko Germar of Canoga Park (SoCal, whoot!), who was shot in the arm when he tried to fight off the guy who was robbing him. I’m not sure if he’s extremely brave or stupidly so, as he still has the bullet in his arm, but he can still dance so all’s well. Marko is a contemporary dancer who can really move and emote, and of course he’s going to Vegas.
 
There’s plenty to see on day two, including slo-mo shots of the aforementioned Georgia peaches (girls, not fruit). Mary Murphy is wearing a form fitting curtain as a dress, which isn’t possibly the most flattering thing ever, but it does look warm.
 
The show pokes fun at Mary, not for her dress, but for mangling/creating a word for a critique. But she has nothing on Prince of Prose, Lil C. And I’m not just calling him that; the show ran that as a subtitle under his name, no joke. Oh yay, here’s a list of his so-called prose.  Oxymoronical. Internally spiritual. Hard to digest. Submissive to your own dominance. Yeah, he’s a dancer, not a songwriter, let’s move on.
 
We have the misfortune of watching John “White Chocolate” Palermo toss himself around the stage. Did he really think he qualified as a professional dancer? Really? This guy is probably a hit at parties, but only after everyone’s had too much to drink. Niles says it was juvenile and he gets the boot. You know, when someone just wants to be on TV, let’s not show those auditions, please?
 
Kyre Batiste of Atlanta has a huge smile and innate musicality, if you ask me. Plus, he brought his grandma, which is super cute. Miss Mandy Walker, as her grandson calls her, is invited to take the judges table and give a critique. Amazingly, she has one: she wanted more eye contact. Kyre gives Grandma a look and suggests she should be in his damn corner, though he says it much more politely. Lil’ C disagrees with Grandma. So, Miss Mandy spanks Lil’ C with a belt. After all this merriment, you’d think Kyre would be a shoe-in. But no. Mary thought it was just okay. Lil’ C gives it a thumbs up. Then, Mary says no to choreography. Nigel was also disappointed and says no. But Miss Mandy has a vote and gives him a yes to go through to choreography. If you’re going to pimp out Miss Mandy for promo-worthy antics, you damn well better send her grandson through to choreography! But after choreography, he still gets the boot. But, as he points out, he’s just eighteen. He has time to work on it.  Good attitude, Kyre!
 
Off to San Francisco! Cat is wearing a leopard print jumpsuit. You know, if you’re wearing something a retiree in Florida has in her closet, reconsider. Nigel is back at judges’ table, but this time he’s joined by Tyce D’Orio (Toasty Oreo, and no, I don’t care if other people say Tasty, he’s Toasty to me) and Toni Redpath.
 
Amber Williams of Brigham City, Utah wants to dance her tusher off. Really, she said tusher. Anyway, Amber seems like one of those girls who was kind of annoying at your high school but who was a really, really ardent member of pep squad and came slightly unhinged at school sporting events. Toasty thinks she’s quirky and amazing. Toni loved her dance. Niles says she has a late ‘60s zaniness to her. She’s going to Vegas. She grabs her ticket, freaks out, then runs onto the sidewalk outside. Barefooted. Get the girl some shoes! Who knows what’s on the sidewalk there!
 
Timothy Joseph of Sacramento is doing some crazy stuntman stuff. All of it looks difficult and physically painful, so they should put him through. Nigel thinks it’s stunning b-boying. Toni wants to see him do a waltz. All Toasty can say is ouch. No kidding. Toni thinks it was just tricks, so she says no, but Toasty and Niles want him to go on to choreography. I suspect he’ll be too sore to do anything after that routine, but I wish him luck.
 
Aisha Marks has one hell of an eyeshadow job. She says she’s known as the black Barbie, but man, that is one worn out Barbie. Oh, and she used to be a stripper. Niles doesn’t think they’ve ever had a stripper on the show! Everyone is just SO tickled! Not! She mentions that she forgot her routine so she’s starting from scratch. Maybe if someone got her a pole she’d remember. And then, she proceeds to shake her booty non-stop, then pose, then continue shaking her booty. For what it’s worth, she’s a very good booty popper. Niles doesn’t know what to say. Toni and Toasty love her spirit. They love her! But no, go home. Aisha’s fine with it. She even sticks around to cheer on the next contestant. Aisha is a stripper with a heart of gold, aww.
 
Aisha is cheering for Marcos Prieto of Oakland. He blows. Toasty calls his performance a grande cup of not so good. Then it just gets really weird with Paul Keelan, who appears to be having seizures. Toasty calls it a big hot cup of vomit. And then they break for lunch. Yow, I’m not sure I’d have an appetite after the hot cup of vomit comment.
 
Danielle Ihle’s dad is a jerk. He lost his job, didn’t tell anyone, and Danielle’s whole life was repossessed. I hope she nails this, because she’s had a rough run of luck. Of course, I understand why she looks so grim during her dance, but I wish she’d smile just a little. Toni says she’s a great spinner but the emotional content was flat. Toasty agrees. Niles wishes it wasn’t as angst ridden. Niles says yes to choreography, Toasty says no, Toni says yes to choreography, then tells her to fix her face. Emotionally, mind you.

Next up, Ashley Rich of Emeryville, CA. She’s gotta dance, because she refuses to do office work. And that’s fine, because the girl’s got extension, oh ma lord. She’s going to Vegas and Niles starts singing “You Light Up My Life.” She was that good. I’m going to look for her in the top twenty.
 
Lots of other people are going to Vegas. Too bad we had to see this while listening to more of “You Light Up My Life.”
 
Uh-oh. There is something seriously troubling this guy. D’on-que Addison of Richmond, CA can’t stop crying, and that’s before his audition. Cat actually looks a little afraid of him. And when he does audition, he isn’t dancing so much as writhing. When the music stops, he starts sobbing. Loud. Like, rending his clothing, freak-out loud. I do like his hair, though. He doesn’t care that they don’t want him because he accomplished what he came to do. Um, okay. I think
 
During choreography rehearsal, Timothy Joseph hurts his knee and has to drop out. Can’t say I’m surprised, because I can’t believe the guy doesn’t have broken bones and a head injury from his audition. That was impressive, yes, but maybe next time he can do that routine on a soft surface.
 
Good news – Danielle smiles all the way through choreography and gets a ticket for Vegas. Yay! She hugs Niles and then smiles a lot as she bounces through the auditorium. Good for her!
 
On to day two of San Francisco!
 
Jeffrey “Machine” McCann from Sacramento has been on his own since 15. He’s had to scrape and hustle just to survive, so it’s actually a surprise he’s had time to dance at all. But good news, he is gooood. Toasty is SUPER excited. Toni wants to find the puppet master pulling his strings. Nigel sticks his ticket to Vegas on his forehead. Shortest “SYTYCD” critique ever!
 
Ryan Ramirez of Morgan Hill, California made the top 24 last season. I don’t see why she even has to audition again and can’t go straight to Vegas, but whatever. It doesn’t matter anyway. Niles thought her performance was wonderful. Toni thought it was miraculous. Toasty can tell she’s worked. Her legs are straighter and have more power. She’s going to Vegas. But first they have to yank her around for a minute. Just give her the damn ticket, Niles!
 
It’s day three and Cat is still wearing that jumpsuit. Okay, I’m sure she isn’t still wearing the catsuit, but maybe they could have let her change clothes before shooting all the day-to-day intro footage.
 
Turf dancing, if you haven’t heard for it, is a uniquely Bay Area dance and an acronym for Taking Up Room on the Floor. Our new friend I Dummy walks us through the four elements of turf dancing. Swagger is one element. Feetwork (yes, feetwork, not footwork) is moving your feet like you’re gliding on ice. Pantomiming is third, and fourth is storytelling.
 
I Dummy, also known as Levi Allen of Oakland, turf dances. I swear this kid is made of rubber. Niles thinks he’s going to have nightmares but he likes his musicality. Toni thinks it was incredible to watch, but she thinks he forgot to emote. Toasty thinks it’s filthy and spectacular. He’s a yes for choreography.
 
And yet, I Dummy is a no after choreography. No Turfers, but seven other dancers make it to Vegas.
 
So far, so good judging from the first two cities of “SYTYCD” auditions. There are thankfully only a few sad sacks (a tiresome given for any reality TV show) and the level of talent seems impressively high. Plus, I’m happy to see familiar faces back at judges’ table, including Toni Redpath, Toasty and Lil’ C despite structural changes to the show (a return to the top 20) coming down the pipeline. It’s been a long year since we’ve seen “SYTYCD,” but this opener is a reminder of what has always been great about it – lots of enthusiastic young talent and judging that, while not always coherent, isn’t the scripted, punny patter that shows up on other shows (they know who they are!).
 
Do you see anyone you think will make the top 20? Do you think the judges made the right decisions? Do you think anyone was unfairly cut?

 

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Liane-bonin-starr-sm
Liane Bonin Starr is an author, screenwriter and former writer for EW.com. Her byline has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety and a lot of other places. Her last book was called "a scandalously catty, guilty pleasure" by Jane magazine. Expect the same from Starr Raving.
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