A slow-motion, battement-filled opening montage set to music from The Greatest Showman can only mean one thing: To quote the hostess with the mostest, the ever-fabulous Cat Deeley, "Welcome! to So You Think You Can Dance!"
The OG dance competition show is back and, as always, promising to be better than ever. For the show's sweet 16, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and longtime judge Mary Murphy have some new company at the judges' table: tough-as-nails choreographer-to-the-pop-stars Laurieann Gibson and former "SYT" contestant and "America's Best Dance Crew" winner and judge Dominic "D-Trix" Sandoval. We've also got a new set, 120 cameras capturing the action on the stage, and a live audience in L.A. from day one.
Here are the hopefuls who wowed us during the first episode.
Dezi Saenz, 18, Long Beach, CA, Hip Hop
The self-described "bubbly" girl is actually, once she hits the stage, a total beast. Kicking off the season with Dezi's audition was a brilliant move (well done, Jeff Thacker!), because her freestyle performance—complete with every form of popping, locking and gliding you can imagine—earned a well-deserved standing ovation from the entire theater. Nigel called it "tremendous," Laurieann said it was "the definition of the natural-born gift," and Mary said Dezi "took it to a whole other level." Meanwhile, resident hip-hopper Dominic was brought to actual tears by the performance. In order to advance to The Academy, dancers need to hear "yes" at least three times from the judges—and Dezi heard it four times.
Ezra, 18, and Stephanie Sosa, 19, Provo, UT, Ballroom
There's something about ballroom dancers from Utah—and Dance Spirit cover stars Ezra and Stephanie are no exception. Stephanie's no stranger to the "SYT" stage. She was cut from the Top 20 last season, and after she returned home, her mom had a stroke. What she thought would be her final words to her children: "Keep on dancing." (YES I'M CRYING.) Mom survived, though, and was in the audience for their audition. Not only did both Sosas keep dancing, they brought the house (and fancy new stage) down. With Tina Turner's "Rollin' on the River" blasting, Stephanie's red fringe practically leapt into action, while Ezra literally leapt—over Stephanie's head. Their jiving footwork was fast and fancy, on point and technical, and just super fun. The standing ovation was inevitable. Mary thought it was fabulous, Nigel liked the way Ezra's legs "flicked out," Laurieann dubbed it "spectacular," and Dominic is so glad Stephanie came back for a redemption audition. The brother and sister duo made it on board the Hot Tamale Train—next stop, The Academy.
Matthew Deloch, 20, Gonzales, LA, Contemporary
Another returning auditioner! Matthew made a go at Season 14, and had to skip out on Season 15 auditions on account of a torn meniscus. So how'd he heal? Um, pretty spectacularly. Those lines! Those legs! Those leaps! The routine was heavy on the trickery, but let's be honest: A little memorable flash goes a long way at "SYTYCD" auditions. Even so, it was the slow, still moments at the end of Matthew's performance that earned him a standing O and a few tears—not to mention a "What meniscus, baby?!" from Dominic. Nigel praised Matthew's "unimaginable control" and "superb technique," and Mary said he "set the stage on fire." Laurieann, who trained at the Alvin Ailey school in NYC, said Mr. Ailey himself would have dreamed to have seen Matthew dance. So, just some casual praise right there. Matthew, unanimously, is on to Academyland.
Sarah "Smac" McCreanor, 26, Brisbane, Australia, Jazz
New nickname for Smac: Fun from Down Under! (It's catchy, right?) Smac does improv and sketch comedy, so it's no wonder her "Boogie Wonderland" performance was silly, cheeky, and a bit reminiscent of that epic dance scene in Napoleon Dynamite. But it wasn't just silly and cheeky: It was also really good. The comedic elements earned plenty of LOLs from the audience and the judges, and Smac's unstoppable energy and super-sharp choreography were on point. Dominic called her brilliant and a genius, Mary loved her timing, Nigel called her a star, and Laurieann said Smac was a "natural-born entertainer." Print another ticket to The Academy—Smac's in!
Amanda Butler, 29, Dallas, TX, Hip Hop
Amanda is a mom of three. So, no big deal. Plenty of time to just drop what she's doing and go to dance rehearsal for a while, right? LOLZ. But, Amanda explains, she found a dance group of fellow moms, and in the show's first-ever group audition, they came to break it down. (Technically the audition is just for Amanda, but who doesn't love an entourage?) "Once you become a mother, it doesn't mean that everything else has to stop," Amanda told the judges before Nigel's "cue music" dropped the familiar beat of RuPaul's "Call Me Mother." Amanda most definitely proved that you can be a mom of three and still rock pleather pants and a crop top and do some serious vogueing. And then Nigel made Dominic go onstage and dance with the crew, which, if nothing else, was a great reminder that this guy is so talented, and it would be a treat to get to see him perform at some point in Season 16. (Make it happen, Lythgoe.) Laurieann called Amanda inspiring and Dominic loved the performance, but ultimately, it's a no for Amanda. (Cute baby, though!)
Gino Cosculluela, 18, Miami, FL, Contemporary
Gino, Gino, Gino, why is that name familiar? OH RIGHT, because he's that Gino, the one with whom Maddie Ziegler shared her first kiss on "Dance Moms" a million years ago! (And yes, they played that clip, complete with Maddie running out of the studio in horror, and saying she wished Gino were Zac Efron instead of "ew" Gino.) Maddie might be kicking herself now, though, because Gino is a bona fide stud! First, it's worth noting that his brother and sister are both professional dancers, so there's no pressure at ALL on him for this audition to go well. But the pressure doesn't seem to be a problem, because once the music starts, Gino is all beautiful business. Was that a double tour en l'air? A triple? A quad?! It seemed like he was in flight for a while. The performance had that elusive mix of impressive, high-flying acrobatic tricks, and quiet, effortless artistry. Nigel predicted that Gino will land a spot in the Top 10. Laurieann seconded that. Dominic was blown away, Mary said the performance had "everything," and all four judges gave Gino a big ol' YES to The Academy. Will Maddie Z. be there waiting for him? Only time will tell.
And there we have it! Season 16, Week 1, in the books. See you right back here next week for more drama, more D-Trix, and maybe a few fierce "boomkacks."