By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh
“Isn’t it about time for a little dance?”
Dancers across America certainly thought so when “So You Think You Can Dance” premiered its ninth season on Thursday, May 24 on Fox.
Cat Deely will host the show that is on the search to find American’s Favorite Dancer. Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and Tyce Diorio returned as judges as the auditions kicked off in New York City, with Christopher “Lil’ C” Toler joining Lythgoe and Murphy in Dallas, TX.
“Wherever you are from today, you are representing New York!” Lythgoe, also an executive producer of the show, told the cheering dancers in the auditorium.
Dancers had their time on the stage and then were either invited to Vegas, asked to stay for the choreography round to see if they had more to give, or just sent home.
First to take the stage was contemporary dancer Amelia Lowe, 18, from New Jersey. Lowe started dancing at age three, and loves the 1920s, an era that inspires her to bring action to her dance. Her audition was theatrical, and showed beautiful lines and definite stage presence, earning her a standing ovation from Lythgoe, Murphy and Diorio. When asked if she had ever been to Paris and seen the Eiffel Tower, Lowe said no. Lythgoe acknowledged that there is a smaller one in Vegas, and sent her on her way with a plane ticket.
Up next was red haired (we’re talking clown red) hip-hopper, locker, popper, ballerina Toshihiko Nakazawa, from Japan. He gave one of the most entertaining auditions of the evening.
“There’s been very few people who entertained me like that,” said Lythgoe, placing Nakazawa in season one’s Twitch’s category.
“Your body’s like a musical instrument, like a puppet…you have gift!” Diorio said in Nakazawa’s broken English.
Nakazawa was sent to the choreography round along with 35 dancers and Courtney Galiano from season four.
“I cannot lift so I cannot stay,” said Nakazawa as he left the theatre. No Vegas.
New York dance legend? America was about to find out when Austin Freeman, 21, from New Jersey hit the stage with his new dance style: the wiggle, saying the judged were about to “find out if you have the Freeman Fever.”
Lythgoe looked scared the entire time before he finally waved the music off and Murhpy said, “Oh no, oh mercy. When someone shouted “Vegas” for Freeman, Lythgoe’s reply was, “whoever shouted Vegas kick them out now!” Legend? Maybe. America’s Favorite Dancer? No.
“It doesn’t sit comfortably” Lythgoe added.
Shafeek Westbrook from Pennsylvania brought the talent flipping back – literally.
“I trained like a lab rat,” he said, practicing flipping over three chairs in the beginning and working his way up. He also worked hard on his showmanship, which he says is so important for street dancers, or else you’re just, “somebody on the corner dancing for no reason” he said. He certainly caught the eyes of the judges.
“With what you’re doing, you extend this entire program. It’s a pleasure to watch you do what you’re doing” Lythgoe said, with Diorio adding, “You move like silk, completely effortless, and that is so loud. I really appreciate your artistry.” Westbrook explained the story of his dance: his friend passed away during 9/11, and in his dance he was his friend’s soul.
“Well that soul can fly up here,” Lygthoe said, “because that soul is flying to Vegas.”
And just like that, day one was done.
Day two started on an emotional note, with Leo Reyes, a 21-year-old from Brooklyn, whose mother recently attempted suicide.
“It’s going to give her a reminder for a reason of why she should be here.” he said. “Mom, this is for you…te amo.”
His solo was a beautiful picture, filled with talent, technique, artistry, beautiful lines and a powerful story. Reyes received a standing ovation from the dancers in the audience.
“Thank goodness that on this show…we are not manipulated on by the audience,” Lythgoe said. “So, you’re going to Vegas!”
But not everyone was as impressive as Reyes and the dancers from day one.
Said Diorio of one audition, “I did not enjoy that at all. Sorry.”
But he was about to enjoy what came next.
Ballet dancer Chehon Wespi-Tschopp from Sweden really wanted his ticket.
“I hope the judges see my will to dance is really strong,” he said. Powerful, artistic, big, he flew through his dance effortlessly.
“Well, I suppose if you like that sort of thing it was ok,” Lythgoe said.
“That was ridiculous, sick and amazing,” said Diorio. “I think he needs to do to Vegas.”
“Oh, alright then,” Lythgoe eventually sighed.
Then it was goodbye New York, (although 38 dancers from the Big Apple were about to greet Vegas) and hello Texas! Dallas, to be specific.
On day one, first up was Bree Hafen, 29, a mother of two and a loving wife. She brought her kids, Luke, 5, and Stella 2, and husband with her to the audition. Lythgoe had the kids come to the judges table to watch.
“She’s good, huh,” Lythgoe said to Luke as Hafen performed.
And she never got to finish. Luke brought her a ticket to Vegas during her solo.
“You are a very, very good dancer,” said Lythgoe, and asked her why she had never auditioned before. Hafen said her confidence hadn’t been at the right level before, but being a wife and mother built it up.
“My turn,” little Stella said, and Lythgoe let her take the stage.
“This is the best show ever” Lil’ C said.
Next up where an interesting duo: Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams and Stepheon “The Zombie” Stewart.
First on stage was Stewart, whose audition ended in cheers of “Vegas!”
“You have been extraordinary…I loved every second of it” Murphy said. Stewart was on his way to Vegas.
Then it was Williams’s turn. He received a standing ovation from the room.
“You are an artist. I think you could be a genius. You really have created something quite unusual” Lythgoe said.
“I want to kick you in your face right now….excuse me but that s*** was BUCK!” Lil’ C said. “Man, hats off to you. I enjoyed every millisecond of that performance, I loved it.”
“I feel really honored to have seen that,” Lythgoe agreed. Williams got a ticket.
Handsome Australian Daniel Baker, 23, auditioned next, to cat-calls from the females in the room. Baker moved from Down Under to San Fransisco, inspired by a book about America his father gave to him as a boy. Baker became a ballet dancer in order to obtain a sponsored Visa to come to the States. He worked with the San Francisco Ballet, and thinks that the show will be a “great opportunity to learn what I haven’t learned in the ballet world” he said.
“Ok, um, Daniel, I’m not gonna let any of that cheering affect me in any way. Yeah. It was alright,” Lythgoe said after his audition.
“Guess it was like semi-buck. If you want to come to Vegas I supposed you can,” Lil’ C added. The girls were not disappointed.
Next came a touching performance from Sam Shreffler, a young man who is on the autism spectrum and studies at the Burkhart Transition Academy.
“It makes me feel like that I am free to express myself and just to let myself go to,” he told the judges.
“Whatever you do, do not stop dancing,” Lythgoe said, although Shreffler would not be joining them in Vegas.
“You are one of the buckest individuals I have seen all day,” said Lil’ C. Shreffler received a standing ovation from the entire room.
“It was a great day,” Shreffler said as he left.
And then it was day two.
A very negative young man was the first to audition, Von “Legend” Kipper, 22. He said he did not agree with the way the show was run. Unfortunately, he did not have enough talent to make the judges look past his bad attitude.
“You’ve got a bad attitude young man, and you’ve just got to listen,” said Lythgoe. “You are the worst person and attitude we’ve had on this show.” No ticket for a bad attitude.
“If anyone else feels like that, leave with him please,” Lythgoe added.
The last audition of this episode was the most touching.
“Jarell Rochelle. It rhymes,” Rochelle said to introduce himself. He had brought his family along to the audition. His mother was what brought him to the audition. She has an eye disease slowly degenerating her sight, and will eventually go blind. Lythgoe had her come to the judges table so she could see her son perform.
“Every millisecond of the performance just touched me,” said Lil C’ when Rochelle was finished. “…what I love more than talent is when talent meets skills, it leaves me spellbound, I am a fan.”
“That was complete entertainment from beginning to end” Muphy said.
His mother gave him a ticket to Vegas.
Next week, the So You Think You Can Dance auditions hit LA – are you ready?