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"SYTYCD" Season 15 Recap: L.A. Auditions Part 2

How do you top Jay Jackson? We weren't sure it was possible—until it happened.

Last night, "So You Think You Can Dance" gave us part two of its L.A. audition journey. Along the way, we smiled, laughed, and definitely cried. We also learned that there won't be choreography rounds this year. (Sad! Who doesn't love it when Tabitha, Napoleon, Sonya, and Travis come in and whip everyone into shape?) So the stakes were even higher, because the dancers had only one chance to impress Nigel, Mary, Vanessa and tWitch. If the judges were feeling them, they went straight through to The Academy, exact location still undisclosed.

Here are last night's highlights.

Tessa Dalke

The 18-year-old from California strutted onstage with the kind of confidence you usually see in the front row of a crowded convention ballroom. Tessa's currently studying psychobiology at UCLA. What is psychobiology? She's not sure, but she's trying to find out! And in doing so, she put dancing on hiatus for a while to focus on her studies. But like all born-to-be-dancers, she missed it, so she's back! And we're glad! On the technical front, Tessa's solid: She's got super strong, super bendy, super archy feet, all displayed through a series of tricks and turns and one back-handspring that had her (intentionally and gracefully) landing on her stomach. And that over-stretched headstand? We died.

The verdict: Academy!

Jay Jay Dixonbey

Jay Jay says he grew up watching his older sister dance, so he was "born into it." And he's actually no stranger to the "SYTYCD" stage: He made it to the choreography round in The Academy last year before getting cut. NBD, though, because he booked the Shaping Sound tour immediately after. So Jay Jay's FINE. He's also a stud who turns like a top and could probably jeté over an entire fleet of trucks.

The verdict: Academy!

Nathan Hughes and Courtland Davis

These best friends bonded over their hair six years ago, and now—without a single fight between them—they're here, auditioning together. They perform at local schools, and their mission is to inspire young people. Love that! We were expecting a Les Twins-esque routine, but this was more like Fik-Shun, multiplied. (Huge personalities, multiplied! Choreography that alternated between smooth and upbeat, multiplied!) It was fun and entertaining, though not the most memorable hip-hop routine the show has seen.

The verdict: It was a no from Vanessa but a yes from the rest, so Nathan and Courtland are on to The Academy!

Hannahlei Cabanilla

Was Hannahlei our favorite of the whole night? YES—and possibly our favorite of all of the L.A. auditionees. She's a lifelong dancer who says she used to be super shy, but dance gave her confidence, and now she's bubbly and giggly and, let's be honest, totally smokin'. (Bonus for Vanessa: She's Filipino, just like Miss Hudgens, and also like Gabriela from High School Musical!) Hannahlei has that seasoned-comp-kid style and swagger mixed with a maturity that proves she's ready for the show. She flung herself into every beat of her performance, in a way that reminded us of Katee Shean on Season 4. Based on the reaction from the judges and the entire audience, it's safe to say Hannahlei is going far.

The verdict: A standing O and tickets to The Academy.

CJ Butler

Cue music—and tears. CJ tells the judges he's going to do hip hop, but it's "his own hip hop." And he has a story. Three years ago, his mom was killed by his stepfather—and CJ and his little brother witnessed it happening and tried to fight for her life. It's been pretty rough on him, he says, since his mom was his best friend. He was left feeling like he had nothing to live for, and even stopped dancing. But his mom taught him never to give up, so he's HERE. Everyone was crying before CJ even started to dance. His performance was emotional, fierce, and fast, but not quite good enough to send him further in the show.

The verdict: He's not going to The Academy, but he's got lots of love going his way right now.

Dustin Payne

Remember Dustin, the awesome animator from last season? He made it to The Academy, but was cut during the ballroom round. We loved him last season, and we still love him. He's a year older, a year wiser, and, with that slick fedora, a touch fancier! His talent has matured; his big, toothy smile is just as irresistible. His moves were fresh and of the do-not-try-this-at-home variety.

The verdict: Academy. Duh.

Nicole Clonch

Nicole is a ballroom dancer who performed West Coast Swing with...BENJI SCHWIMMER. Excuse our yelling, but IT'S BENJI!! EEE! So yeah, Nicole trained with Buddy Schwimmer (Benji's dad), and became Benji's dance partner. (Benji, of course, won "SYTYCD" Season 2, and is now Adam Rippon's choreographer of choice.) So Nicole is basically a "SYT" champ by proxy. Obviously, she was fantastic. The routine was sexy, sassy, sharp, and so much fun. Nicole got tossed around a lot, so it'll be fun to see how she fares on her own. And it looks like we'll get to find out, because...

The verdict: ...after a standing ovation, she's on to The Academy.

Next week we're off to the Big Apple. See you in NYC!

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