Well City Kids, the SYTYCD audition tour is coming to a close with one final stop in Memphis—although most of the dancers came from everywhere else. Resident judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy along with first time guest judge Wayne Brady were hard-pressed to find anyone to represent Memphis, despite all the Elvis references they made.
Kicking off was Dorian "BluPrint" Hector, an animator from Dragon House, the dance crew that brought us season 9’s finalist, Cyrus (who has come up at least once in every season 10 episode). BluPrint’s smooth but stilted movements made him look like stop-time Claymation, but his steps were limited by the smallness of the style. Can he do jumps, lifts, or anything else? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out: The judges sent him straight to Vegas. Mary even put him on the effing Hot Tamale Train (yep, Mary dropped the F-bomb, surprising even herself).
Tapper Curtis Holland’s pleasant, speedy performance showed there’s more to tap than just moving as fast as you can. Audial space is needed to parse the rhythms, and the judges felt he overloaded his routine with everything in his arsenal. But Wayne climbed on stage and hugged him, and after shining in the choreography round, Curtis earned his Vegas ticket.
The heartbreaking story (and slightly melodramatic reenactment) of the night belonged to Tucker Knox, the potential Juilliard student who suffered a broken spine in a car accident. He has made a brilliant recovery and showcased dazzling moves. You could see the strength in his core, and his back was so strangely flexible you could almost see where he broke it. His flying leaps flew him all the way to Vegas.
Tucker wasn’t the only contemporary dancer to impress the judges. Eighteen-year-old Courtney Thurston’s dancing was more mature than her little-girl personality implied, and her dad with his matching lucky pig, his krumping, and his confession that he married Courtney’s dance teacher was just as entertaining. Nico Greetham, whose hot mom turned on horn dog Nigel and nearly out-shouted Mary, mixed quick sharpness with languid movements, and an adorable face. Santa Monica trapeze instructor Elyse Frelinger skipped the L.A. auditions and instead came to Memphis, impressing the judges with gorgeous lines and landings like buttah. Novien Yarber defied appearances by knocking out a contemporary routine despite his hip-hop exterior. His masculine dancing captivated the judges leaving Nigel without something sarcastic or misleading to say. And Jasmine Harper held her own, despite the “shocking” secret that she used to date Cyrus (there he is again). Her musicality and long legs brought Destiny’s Child’s “Amazing Grace” to gorgeous life; as Wayne smartly pointed out, she conveyed her own feelings while still connecting with the audience.
As with Minnie Driver, they didn’t fill us in on Wayne’s background or expertise in dancing but he quickly proved it with succinct, insightful comments. And his dead-on Lil C impression was brilliant. To wit: “The ebullient exibitionary tactics of your moves brought forth a romanticistic prism of joy.” Whoa. Did he make that up on the spot? That’s almost more impressive than the dancing.
Some pretty painful train-wrecks crashed through Memphis too but they sped by in a montage. That’s the way to do it: We get to see that not everyone is amazing but we don’t have to suffer too long.
Two ballroom women set the stage alight, both with partners who didn’t compete. Jenna Johnson, sexy, mature, and dancing with a too-young 17-year-old, couldn’t help but shimmy while wearing fringe (as host Cat Deeley pointed out), especially while dancing a delicious cha-cha. We thought she was cradle-robbing, though they’re not romantically involved, until they revealed that Jenna herself was only 18. No way. But she earned her Vegas ticket and her brilliant partner will follow next year. Isabel Freiberger impressed with her lightning fast salsa and crazy tricks, including the cartwheel on her partner’s leg into a sideways catch (shown about eight-gazillion times throughout the episode). Outside salsa, her dancing wasn’t strong enough, and she didn’t survive the choreography round.
Surprisingly, Memphis offered a special treat: A traditional Mongolian bowl dance from Shanshan Qiao-Rothlisberger. (Now that’s a name!) She calmly and serenely balanced the small bowls on her head (without any whore’s—er, horse’s milk, thank you very much), while demonstrating her obvious ballet technique. She then changed from that stunning traditional outfit into an adorable flapper dress for the choreography round and surprisingly earned a ticket to Vegas.
Our absolute favorite was quirky, funny Caleb Brauner. This guy is Top 20 material and could possibly take the whole show. He had character, personality, and flexibility both in his style and his movements. He combined humor and impressive technique, and was utterly adorable—and not just because he dressed like the Doctor, looked like Chris Colfer, and tapped our nerd-affinity. He was the whole package and went straight to Vegas. That’s our nerd.
With a final Elvis impersonator who was almost more impressive than his dancing daughter (which isn’t saying much), the auditions come to a close. Next week catches the tears, fears, chills, and spills of the Vegas callbacks, where they narrow down the 200 competitors to the top 20 dancers. In addition to the inevitable blood on the stage, there’ll be fresh blood on the judge’s panel including former contestants Twitch and Chelsie Hightower (who was on SYTYCD before moving to Dancing With the Stars), and New Girl’s Hannah Simone, who has been popping up everywhere. Be sure to tune in for the most thrilling part of any SYTYCD season. Vegas baby, yeah!