"SYTYCD" Season 12 Recap: Memphis and Dallas Auditions

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Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance" is upon us, you guys! Can you believe this is the twelfth time we've done this? It seems like only yesterday we were hearing Cat Deeley Lauren Sanchez introduce Nick and Melody and Blake...

Actually, no: That feels like 100 years ago, and it was literally 10. TEN YEARS.

During "SYTYCD"'s decade of dance-television dominance, a kind of "traditional" contestant has emerged: hugely talented (of course), but also attractive and appealing in a mainstream way. And yes, the Memphis and Dallas audition footage we saw last night included plenty of those types of beautiful dancers dancing beautifully. But the episode actually spent the majority of its runtime highlighting far-from-cookie-cutter artists. It celebrated dancers who stood out not because of their technique—or, rather, not JUST because of it—but because of some ineffable charisma. It was a big uniqueness celebration, and I was buh-da-buh-buh-buh lovin' it.

The change might have been tied to the new format, which pits Stage dancers against Street dancers—led, respectively, by captains Travis Wall and Stephen "tWitch" Boss—up until the finale. Maybe the judges had to broaden their thinking a little to come up with approximately equal numbers of dancers for each category, rather than just a gaggle of gorgeous contemporary movers and a few b-boys to spice things up? I don't know, but if so, let's stick with this formula! I like where it's taking us.

Here are my top five highlights from the Memphis and Dallas auditions:

How you doin', Courtney? (photo Jeffrey Neira/FOX)

1) Courtney Barnes came back! Do you remember Courtney? Because I sure do. The infinitely fierce, gender-bending, "How you doin'"-ing dancer auditioned unsuccessfully last season, but his on-air Wendy Williams impression was apparently enough to make him a local star. Like (brand-new judge!) Paula Abdul, I just want him and his fabulousness around me at all times. His flamboyance made (also brand-new judge!) Jason Derulo visibly uncomfortable, but look: In addition to all the flash, Courtney has something very real going on, dancewise. There's crazy presence there. And it was enough to earn him—just barely, thanks to Jason's "no thanks" vote—a ticket to Vegas.

2) Vishonda Sims gave an incredibly emotional performance. The 18-year-old hip-hop dancer has had a tragic life: Her grandmother was paralyzed in a car accident when Vishonda was 10, and Vishonda cared for her until her death last year. "I really put what I go through in my life into my dancing," she says. Her freestyle felt raw, exposed, like she was peeling off her skin to show us the self underneath. "I felt alive inside from watching you," Jason said (instantly redeeming himself after the Courtney incident). Vishonda went through to Vegas, and I can't wait to see more of her.

3) We met Steven Ban, aka the hip hop Bill Gates. Nerds! Doing hip hop! ALL THE LOLS! I mean, look: After 12 seasons of "SYTYCD" auditions, I feel like I've seen the geeky-guy-trying-to-break-it-down thing several times already. But there was something different about Steven, the Bill Gates (or Beaker? I'm also seeing Beaker) lookalike who happens to be an awesome bone-breaker:

I mean, what?

His was one of the best "SYT" bait-and-switch reveals in a while, and I'm happy he made it through to Vegas—although not before they did this to him:

Ouch.

4) Kiosh Monroe, and his awesome wardrobe, won everything. Well, except a ticket to Vegas. But, strangely enough, that didn't really matter. Kiosh's eclectic, joyful, high-energy style wasn't up to the show's technical level—but in a moment of genius, Jason IDed what it was perfect for: the world of workout videos. Cue an impromptu Kiosh-led workout session for the ladies of the audience (and Jason, of course). And then Paula made serious magic happen by placing a call to—who else?—Richard Simmons! I hope Simmons' enthusiasm about Kiosh was real, because I would totally buy a Richard Simmons–Kiosh Monroe workout video. I would WEAR that video OUT.

Hello, Jordan's legs. (photo Jeffrey Neira/FOX)

5) A few more conventional auditionees showed off truly fantastic technique. Not everybody has a heart-wrenching story or a quirky persona, but that doesn't mean they can't be darn impressive! I'm especially excited about two gifted ladies, Jordan Hilgenberg and Jaclyn Hamric, who reassured us that the technical level of the show this season will be as high as ever. Both instantly made it through to Vegas, of course, and I'm calling them early as Team Stage frontrunners.

A lot, and I mean a lot, of other stuff happened this episode, too. There was a blackout in Memphis and it was the DRAMA OF THE CENTURY; Cat injured her arm and it was sad but she managed, as always, to keep her fashion totally on point; the "SYTYCD" All-Stars performed at the White House Egg Roll and it was adorable; Cat interviewed Michelle Obama and it was...actually, sorry. I don't really know what that was like, because I passed out from sheer happiness.

After Memphis and Dallas, the tally of Vegas-bound dancers is 43 for Team Stage, 36 for Team Street. Next week, we'll head to Detroit and, hopefully, even out those numbers a little. Check back here next week for the recap!

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