'So You Think You Can Dance' (Detroit, 2015)
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE's newest season features an intensified competition between dancers from Stage and Street, and is out now on the audition trail to five cities - New York, Dallas, Detroit, Memphis and Los Angeles.
America's favorite summer series, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, has kept viewers amazed and inspired as talented dancers skilled in everything from Hip Hop, Krumping and Popping to Salsa, Quickstep and Jive compete to be named America's Favorite Dancer.
"This show is truly one of the most compelling series on television and I can’t wait to bring it back for Season 12,” Fox’s President of Alternative Entertainment Mike Darnell said in a statement. Created by Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe, SYTYCD is produced by 19 Entertainment and the series is executive produced by Fuller, Lythgoe and Allen Shapiro.
Throughout the auditions, the dancers who advance will be placed into two teams – the STAGE dancers, featuring those trained in styles such as contemporary, ballet, jazz or tap; and the STREET dancers, hopefuls skilled in hip-hop, animation or breaking. As the auditions continue, the judges, along with each team’s All-Star Mentor, will eliminate dancers until only the Top 20 – 10 Street Dancers and 10 Stage Dancers – remain.
When the competition goes “live,” the Top 20 will be challenged weekly to perform a variety of styles, working with world-renowned choreographers. One dancer from each genre will be eliminated each week leading up to the Season Finale.
Who will win…a dancer from the stage or the street? Find out when SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE returns in summer 2015.
SYTYCD Detroit Auditions - Day One:
It's 7.30am on a freezing cold Sunday morning in downtown Detroit when I arrive at The Gem Theatre for the first round of auditions for SYTYCD Season 12. But for some first in line, well, they've been here since 1.00am, and yet are so excited, so pumped they are just not feeling the cold!
The very first in line was 19 year-old "El Chaotic," a freestyler from Detroit, who also knows how to break, to do Modern, Ballet, Tap, African, Contemporary, and Lyrical! Asked what he was going to do to win the event this season, he responds that he will be "giving it his all, stay focused, and train the hardest that I've every trained before. I'm gonna give my all and hope that my all is good enough."
Second in line was Aaron Viland, 27 years-old from Verona, IL, who was bringing Dubstep, Hip-Hop, Lyrical, and Jungle. Asked the same question, Aaron responded that it was his "sense of humor" that was going to get him through the rounds. "I always feel the music and I interpret to whatever sound I'm dancing to." Rashen Williams, 19 years-old from Dayton, OH was bringing Contemporary to the judges today. "I've been pretty much watching the show from the first season and I've always been inspired by what I've seen. It's crazy to think that I'm in the line right now, like possibly going to realize my dream today. I've very excited. It's pretty cool," he smiles, broadly.
Jordan Lunsford (aka Space Man), 19 years-old from Iowa City, was bringing Hip-Hop Animation, but he dabbled in everything. So why did he think he could win this season? "My passion. I've done this for most of my life and I have great versatility. I can do almost anything in dance," he adds, confidently and assuredly. Ihsan "New Wings," a 23 year-old from Buffalo, NY proficient in Hip-Hop, caught the Greyhound yesterday to stand fourth in line for the auditions today. "I have passion for this and I have been dancing since I was young," he explains. "I really feel like I'm already an inspiration in my own city and now I just think it's time to show the world now," he confidently adds.
Escaping the bitter Detroit cold early morning, I next chat with Jeff Thacker, Co-Executive Producer of SYTYCD, and first ask him how he thinks the show has changed over the years? "Certainly, for me, the thing that's changed every season that we've done are the dancers. The fact is that from season one to now they've become more like athletes. They are now training for this show, which means they keep raising their own standards and that personal bar higher and higher. So the expectations for us now have to be higher, because we don't want to go backwards."
Tell us more about the change of format for this year? "Yeah, there's now like a double competition. We call it Street Vs. Stage. Basically, what it is, and by Street we don't just mean Hip-Hop it's all the styles of dance that are on the street, where they have not really had formal training, but they dance because they do socially. Whereas Stage we put under the umbrella of those that have had training. That have trained in the art of Jazz, Contemporary, Broadway, Tap for many years. So what happens now is when they get to Vegas all the Street dancers - and they decide themselves whether they are Street or Stage - will battle it out amongst themselves to find 10 places in the Top 20. The same for the Stage. So then you've got 10 and 10 when they hit the show and then they get paired up. So it's like a twist on an old format."
You obviously have high hopes for this new format "I think this new format will open up avenues and doors to more dancers now that haven't had that training. So that's one of the things that gets us excited about season twelve, yeah."
Do you follow the winners from year to year wondering what they are up to? "I don't have to wonder what they're up to," he gently laughs,"they're like homing pigeons! You open the door or window and they all come in! It's like a huge family. I feel like I've got more kids than Angelina Jolie! Last night we flew in and Twitch turns up and he was from season four. I actually got ordained to marry him and his wife Allison! They asked me to marry them, so I can't lose touch with any of them. We're a very strong unit."
In April of 2014, Nigel stated in several comments on Twitter that the then 11th season could be the final season; but it obviously wasn't! Has he said it to you guys this year about this new season, perhaps?! "No, but we always hope it's not going to be the last season, but we've always hoped that from season one. We've only been told once, when we've been on air that we were coming back for the following year. So it's always a waiting game. It keeps us on our toes - in our point shoes," he smiles.
No Mary Murphy this year, Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo in her place, how does that change things? "Well, Paula has been, and still is a performer, a dancer, a trained choreographer, producer, director so she has done so many layers and levels in our industry which gives her that expertize that we look for in our judges. She's also got the heart of a dancer, she's known what it's like to audition, she's known what it's like to be told no. So, she's very, very much with them the whole time. We've never really been able to have her as a full time judge up until now, although she's guest judged with us a couple of occasions in the studio. I actually went down to Australia where she was a permanent judge on their version of the show. She is just so supportive."
"And Jason Derulo has already performed on our show, and he's judged on our show; both in auditions and in the studio. Not many people are aware, I don't think, that when he was about six or seven he went to stage school and was learning Jazz, Contemporary and Tap. And then kinda skipped out of that to learn Hip-Hop on the streets. So he's now got the qualifications that we had no idea he had and he's a tap dancer too! He's 25, he's got an ear for music, because he writes it, performs it and sings it. He knows what's around and I think, again, because of the new format and the way that it's gone, they are both just perfect. They are both ideal for us."
Is there always something this early into the auditions that you wish you would see more of, perhaps? "Well, I honestly don't know what to expect so I just don't know. That said, there are lots of things that I have seen, there's a lot of repeaters, which is nice, because you can see if they've grown or not. Because sometimes they get overtaken by the next generation of dancers, you know. But a few people do the usual thing, but a little bit differently, so that makes them stand out. But we're looking for that something special that you just know makes them special. At those times you can just see it."
Finally, have you ever been able to guess who will be the eventual winner over the years? "I'm terrible. I'm so bad," he laughs. "Sometimes you can think it's going to be the one who's so good, so popular and then suddenly this little dark horse comes from the back and goes through and you think, Where did that one come from?! It's in the hands of the American viewers and those that watch the show. So, I guess, you can never expect anything to be quite what it is on this show!"
Still within the warm confines of The Gem Theatre, I next chat with the lovely (and England's national treasure), SYTYCD host Cat Deeley. I first asked her, after all these years, what had been one of the most stand out changes about the show? "For me it's the fact that the dancers have actually gotten better every single season. I think they've realized that you have to be an athlete, you have to be able to do all different styles, you have to be strong, and that you have to add in tricks too. They're like these super athletes, because they've realized to make it onto the show, and to make it to the very end, we just push them so hard so they're like superheroes now. They're the superheroes of dance," she broadly smiles.
Does it ever cross you mind that you've been the host for 11 of the 12 seasons, and that missing out on the very first season means you don't have a full house"?! [After laughing hysterically for 20 seconds, she quickly composes herself]. "You know what, it's more like I actually cannot believe that we're doing season twelve. I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined that we'd still be doing it, you know. When I first came over from England it was an adventure, really, and it was like OK, I'm gonna come here, try it, see it it works, see if I like it, see if it likes me, and we'll take it from there. So to still be doing it 12 seasons later is pretty amazing."
Do you ever get stage fright or butterflies before a live show, perhaps? "No, I don't get stage fright, but there's definitely a fight or flight moment that happens, because we're live. It's because you know if anything happens you have to deal with it live on TV and there's a million people watching. So, you have a thing where your adrenaline kicks in and that's not butterflies, it's more like if you're smart you can use it to your advantage. So the adrenaline kicks in so that you are then super sharp and I'm lucky enough that I've done a lot of live TV so basically anything that could go wrong, has gone wrong to me, at some stage or another. Now I know I can pretty much handle anything, because if you can handle whatever it is with some self-deprecation and a sense of humor, I think the audience actually loves it. It just shows you're a human being."
Have you ever been able to guess who will be the eventual winner over the years? "It's one of those weird ones where there are front runners, definitely, that you see where you're like, Yep, you've got the whole package. But then there's always an underdog that comes through and it's a dark horse, and you never know who that person is going to be. Quite often it gets neck and neck with the two and then it's down to the public. Sometimes you can spot it and sometimes you really can't and it comes out of nowhere."
What's this about your Book of Truth?! "Basically, what it is, is it's my diary. It's my manager, and it's called the Book of Truth and I can't do anything until I know what I'm doing for the rest of the week. So we quite often have a BOT meeting where we schedule everything into it. So, unless it's in the Book of Truth it doesn't happen!"
You were first (and last) here in 2013, so why have you come back to us now? "We like to give it a year just because you get a whole new collection of people, because of the age limit. So it's quite good for us to take a year off, come back and cast the net again. We always get great Street dancers here in Detroit, but also, for us, the attitude of the dancers is really great. When we turn up everyone is super enthusiastic, super happy that we're here. So it's a great place to come to."
Do you have your own signature move that you could bust out if they asked you to?! "No, I do not have any kind of move whatsoever, but i do like a bit of a dance," she smiles. "Preferably at a wedding. I love good dance at a wedding and I'm very lucky as my husband is quite a good dancer. So, me being the girl, you can kinda get thrown around a bit and you look quite good, even if you're not. So it's quite good because he'll lead and throw in a few spins and a couple of twirls and I look OK," she gently laughs.
SYTYCD Detroit Auditions - Day Two:
On Day 2 of the Detroit Auditions we had moved to the larger, more palatial environment called The Fillmore. Still located in the heart of downtown, at least today we were inside chatting with the judges and getting a feel for how the audition process actually played out.
The first of the judges I spoke with was Creator, Co-Producer and lead Judge, Nigel Lythgoe and having watched him tell it like it sadly is to many of the auditions just this very morning, I wondered if he ever felt bad having to say the bittersweet things that he sometimes has to say to those not going on to Vegas? "Yeah, of course, but we always try and find something positive to say ... but sometimes you just can't find the right words so you start making things up! And I hate myself for making things up, because it's much easier to say, Keep dancing, it's great for you, but don't ever enter a professional competition as it will never work out for you!"
With that in mind, how have the auditions been for you today here in Detroit? "I'll be honest with you, we've already seen better dancers, better characters than we saw in two days in Dallas."
Why do you think that is? "I don't honestly know, except for the fact that Detroit is a much more urban city. But they're coming for everywhere, because I think we've only seen one person who is actually from Detroit this morning. There's been a couple from the Bronx, a few Brooklyn's, even one girl from North Carolina."
You stated (on Twitter) in April of 2014 that the then 11th season could be the final season, but it obviously wasn't! So is it a constant fear that the show just won't get picked up each year? "Yeah, we don't have brilliant ratings. We have a core of followers that love the program and will always watch and they might even go and murder anybody that takes us off the air - which is probably what the Fox executives are worried about," he laughs. "But it was time to change it up, so doing this Street Vs. Stage I think it intrigued Fox and made it easier for them to say yes. It's a well-loved show, but during the summer and being a dance show, it doesn't really bring guys into watch it. And if you're up against something like America's Got Talent, which is a much broader genre with dancing in it, you're always going to lose out."
If this show had been on TV back when you were 19 years-old, would YOU have auditioned for it? "Had it have been now, maybe I would have been up to scratch and trained like these kids have. But this is a different world, Russell, totally different world. I used to get a rush, when I was a kid, to go and see Nureyev and sometimes I would be on the same sort of variety bill as both Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn - because they would come out following the ventriloquist," he laughs. "Because in those days a variety bill was really a variety bill. So I'd stand in the wings and watch him as he did four or five pirouette's. I mean, if I'd done just three pirouettes I'd have run around all day telling everyone I'd done just the three pirouettes. Now they do twelve, thirteen, fourteen pirouettes, so it's totally different. The training is different, the agility is better the technique's are better, so obviously the teachings are better. I just don't think, even now, that we realize the total benefits of dance altogether yet, both in spiritual and physical well being. It just makes you f**kin' smile when you dance!"
Next up I chat one-on-one with Jason Derulo, and first mentioned that in every recent photo of him he was seemingly always shirtless! "Yeah man, it's just always hot. Always hot," he smiles.
So, does this mean if the studios get hot during the show you might start striping off?! "Probably not man," he shyly smiles.
I watched you judging during the auditions and you're definitely not crushing anybody's dreams with any harsh observations. Are you being quietly timid about such things on purpose, perhaps? "For sure. I had big dreams before my dreams actually happened, so I'm really careful about all of the things that I say, yeah. It's really easy to shatter somebody's dreams man, so I'm really dong my best to not do that. But at the same time be able to give them a little constructive criticism as opposed to deconstructive."
Have you seen anything so far in Detroit that's taken you by surprise? "I did, yeah. Every city is different. Some cities don't have strong Street dancers. Some cities don't have strong Stage dancers. But I thought Detroit was pretty even."
What have you been asked to bring to the judges table for this season? "i come into this looking at things in a very different perspective to both Paula and Nigel. I'm looking for complete originality. We've seen so many different Contemporary dancers, so many different Hip-Hop dancers that are good, but to be great you've gotta have that special little light that shines in you. So it's not something that you can really explain, but you know what it is once you see it right away."
Next up was the always beautiful, the always delightful to chat with Paula Abdul, but with my interview time running out, all I managed was one quick question. And so, and as her dress became unclasped at the back and began to slowly slip down, and as she held it up in front in a very dignified manner, I wondered - being that this was her first time as a season regular on the show - if she was nervous at all? "You know what, that definitely comes with the territory. Nervousness comes with it, but I would say if you're not nervous you're just excited to do what you're about to do. And, of course, that goes for the people on stage auditioning for us. Everybody wants to give it their best and present themselves well, but you have to remember we're on their side. We want them to do well as well."
Article and Interviews by: Russell A. Trunk
Lead Photo Courtesy of: Jacob Giampa
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