Earlier this week, thanks to my friend, Taylor Gordon, I was able to sit in on some of the New York City So You Think You Can Dance auditions. They were held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in the opera house. This was my first time watching, so it was really enlightening.
First, it wasn’t at all as formal as I was expecting. I got there an hour early, fearing there’d be a huge line, and there really wasn’t. I don’t know how many people really knew about them; if it wasn’t for Taylor, I wouldn’t have known. So I got there early for nothing! But while I was waiting in the outside line, I spotted Alex Wong running down the street across from the opera house. Actually someone else spotted him and then everyone looked over and started waving wildly. He smiled and waved back. I didn’t see much of him but it looked like he still had a very slight limp. Later, former contestants Katee and Will were inside. They didn’t do anything onstage though; were just watching.
Anyway, when we got into the auditorium, we were confined basically to the far right-hand side of the orchestra. The middle of the orchestra was taken up with all the audio and camera people, and of course the judges. And the left-hand side was where the contestants and their families sat. A camera man was standing all the way to the left-side of the auditorium, right in front of the path the contestants took up to the stage. As their number approached, a contestant would walk up to the camera man, and stretch and pose in front of him while he shot them close up. As a contestant would leave the stage after auditioning, another camera man would follow him or her down the aisle. Funny, but I always thought, when I watched on TV, that of all that was happening in separate rooms, but it all happened right there in the same room.
Also, when the judges first came out, they had makeup and hair people kind of touching them up right there, before they sat down. Tuesday’s judges were: Mary Murphy, Jason Gilkison, and of course Nigel Lythgoe.
I’d thought they were going to make us check in our cell phones, etc., and that there would be all these production assistants roaming the aisles shushing everyone. But no. We could totally talk and laugh and make whatever noise we wanted; none of it would be heard on the tape without a microphone being nearby anyway. That was actually kind of annoying to me because of course everyone around me was taking on the role of critic him/herself, saying what they thought of the dancer to everyone around them. I couldn’t always hear what the actual judges were saying. Sometimes people even talked during the performance – talking about the dancer onstage, so they were involved in what was going on – but I just found it really disruptive. I guess I’m just so used to ballet performances, where everyone is silent.
The first contestant came onstage from the left wing, her number pinned to the front of her waist. Nigel told her to approach the microphone directly in front of them and she shyly did so. She was petite and blond, and very nervous. She said she was dancing contemporary. Nigel asked her her age (I think it was 19) and dance training (she’d trained in almost everything). It all seemed sweet and informal; no nastiness from anyone, at least in the beginning. Nigel was really nice and considerate, as were the other two. Then, he told her to proceed to center stage and when she was there, called out, “cue music.” She danced very well. Good technique, and nice choreography. You could tell she was very nervous, though, and didn’t give it the emotional punch it needed, as the judges said (along with the very vocal people behind me). She was sent through to choreography.
There were over a hundred contestants, and I was only there for the afternoon of the first day. I didn’t even stay for them all. I got there at 1:30 and stayed until about 7:30, then hunger got the best of me and I took off to eat. Of all the contestants I saw in that time, except for one who was basically talked in to going up onstage (I’ll explain in a minute), the majority were pretty good at their style. Everyone seemed to have training and everyone looked really decent up there, which made me wonder where all the really crap people who just make asses of themselves who you see at the beginning of the show each season come from. In fact, people were so good that almost everyone got sent through to choreography. By the time I left, there were four who’d been sent straight through to Vegas, and a couple who’d been outright eliminated; all the rest went to choreography.
The one guy with no dance background whatsoever was a real sport. When he was called and got up there, the judges seemed to know who he was even though he’d never tried out before. He said his sister was trying out and he was just there and wanted to encourage her and thought he’d be sport and try out too. The judges laughed, but it was more with than at him. His music started and he grooved a bit and jumped around. He was pretty fun, and the judges thanked him for providing comic relief and being such a sport. And they were genuine.
The vast vast VAST majority of the contestants were males dancing hip hop, making me think hip hop is by far the most competitive dance style for this show. In other words, if you’re a hip hop dancer and you’re thinking of trying out, you’d better be damn good, better than just about every other hip hop dancer out there, considering they can only send so many through in each style. One of the first few guys to get up there did a really fantastic hip hop / popping routine. He really mesmerized everyone and got huge applause and a standing ovation from the audience. The judges were practically on the floor. He was the first to go straight to Vegas and the crowd went wild. But after that, it just seemed like every hip hop dancer paled in comparison, even the ones who were pretty good. Some received a good review from the judges, and audience applause, but I don’t remember anyone else in hip hop going straight through to Vegas – no one shined like that first guy; he’d really set the bar quite high.
One of the women who was sent straight through was a contemporary dancer. She reminded me of Camille A. Brown. I could totally see her in Alvin Ailey. She was the best of the day, in my opinion. Nigel told her he thought she was definite top ten material. Her stepfather was there as well, and was very vocal. Funny because she was light-skinned black and from where I was sitting, he looked like a heavily tattooed white guy. He hooted and hollered while she was at the mike, being interviewed by the judges, before dancing. The camera man approached him, stood in the aisle, and put the camera right in his face. Atop the camera was a huge, rectangular light that shone right in my direction. I had to hold my hand to the side of my face to watch her dance because the light on her stepfather was so bright.
After she danced, when the judges announced she was being sent to Vegas, the stepfather got up and really hooted and hollered. Funny, albeit a bit loud. The camera man followed him as he ran up and hugged her, then practically carried her up the aisle to the exit. When they pushed through the doors into the lobby, they screamed (mostly him), “woooooooo hooooooo, we’re going to Vegas baby!” The next contestant came out, and all throughout that contestant’s interview with the judges, we just kept hearing the woman who’d made it through and her stepfather outside saying over and over again, “wooooooo hoooooo, we’re going to Vegas baby!”I realized the camera man was having them re-shoot their excited exit several times to get the best take. The judges didn’t do anything to stop it, though everyone inside could hear. I guess they figured it would be good footage for the show. And they knew it wouldn’t be picked up from the mikes inside. Still, must have been disconcerting for that next contestant.
After watching a few more people, I took a break and went to the lobby in search of food. When I got into the lobby, the stepfather and Vegas contestant were now being filmed exploding through the doors leading outside the building, screaming their “wooooo hoooo”s. There was no food inside (the BAM Cafe was closed for the day), so I walked outside and around the block, and when I returned about five to ten minutes later, they were still repeating the exploding from the doors scene! “Wooooo hoooooo,” the man yelled for what must have been at least the 20th time! That poor man’s voice must have been SO hoarse by the end of it all!
There were about three or four ballroom dancers. Iveta Lukosiute tried out again, with her partner Gherman Mustuc (he wasn’t competing). She went straight to Vegas. Before they tried out, Nigel announced to the audience (both us and at-home) that she and Gherman had just won the world ten-dance championship, which I think just happened in England. Beyond just praising them for winning that, Nigel just had to take it a step further and announce (wrongly of course) that not even Dancing With the Stars had ever had a professional ballroom champion on the show; that show only had amateur champs. Why why why why why why why does he say things like this, that show so clearly he has no idea what he’s talking about? Mary discreetly corrected him, and he said into the mike, “Oh, okay, Louis van Amstel has been a professional.” Yeah, Nigel, and Karina Smirnoff was second in the world in Latin before she stopped competing. And Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Elena Grinenko were Latin semifinalists, and Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko were American champs – all pro, all pro! Plus, the pro Latin and Ballroom championships are so very prestigious. As much as I love Iveta and Gherman, I can’t imagine anyone contesting that the comps Karina and Louis have won or nearly won have been much more prestigious. I hate to say that, and I could be wrong – please ballroom peeps, correct me if I am! I’m fairly sure Karina and Maks and Louis and known around the world far more than Iveta and Gherman. Right, ballroomers? I just really wish Nigel would stop making it clear how jealous he is of the popularity of DWTS and would stop saying such foolish things. Anyway, I do hope Iveta makes it into the top 20 this year. It’s really hard to be a ballroom champion and also train in ballet and jazz and hip hop enough to be adequate in those styles for this show. Which is, I’m always saying this but I’ll say it again, one big problem I have with SYTYCD. You just don’t tend to see the best dancers in each style because those dancers are so busy bringing their own style to new heights that they can’t take the time out to train in other, totally unrelated styles.
Anyway, as the day wore on, the judges started getting more slap-happy. There were so many contestants who were good technically but just seemed to be lacking something that Nigel’s comments soon seemed to turn the show into a who has the biggest – or most proper – personality competition. Dancers were criticized for smiling too much, not smiling enough, smiling when they shouldn’t have been smiling, not being sexy enough, not changing their facial expressions enough, having too many diverse facial expressions, accidentally lip syncing the lyrics and therefore not being into the dancing enough, etc. etc. Soon, I felt like I wasn’t hearing much commentary about the actual dancing.
That’s when I couldn’t take it anymore and had to find a bar. Found a pretty good one inside the newly finished Atlantic Avenue subway station / LIRR train station, which is now connected to a mall. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant I ended up at, but it’s on the third floor and specializes in wings. Total down home Brooklyn, no pretentiousness in the least, and just what I needed. I finished the day eating jerk chicken and drinking Jack and Cokes while watching basketball on TV and bar-goers playing some kind of Coney Island-esque boxing machine.
Oh, and one other thing – about Mary. So, there was a male Tahitian dancer who tried out. He was really pretty good. I thought so, people around me thought so. He danced with good speed, had pretty good footwork and leg and upper body action. He did the dance well. He was one of the few who didn’t go on to choreography. When he was done, Nigel said he seemed to do good Tahitian social dancing, but that wasn’t what was required for the show. When they got to Mary, she did that laughing hysterically and unable to stop thing she sometimes does during the audition round. But it seemed so fake here. There was nothing funny about his dancing, and I’m not the only one who seemed confused by her hysterical laughter. Everyone around me frowned, looking very confused, shaking their heads at each other. I guess it was something else they needed for the production: footage of Mary losing it during auditions. Felt sorry for the poor, confused dancer though.