The competition is heating up on "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 7! Last night we saw the final rounds of auditions in Dallas and Nashville, then it was off to the start of Vegas Week. Very exciting. As always, there were highlights (Ida Saki, we adore you.) and lowlights (Do we even need to talk about Nashville?). Here's a rundown of last night's action...
The episode kicked off in Dallas with Nigel Lythgoe, Tyce Diorio and newcomer/ballroom expert Toni Redpath (more on her later) holding down the judges panel. And right away we were treated to what was arguably the best audition of the entire season thus far: Dance Spirit's own 2009 Cover Model Search winner, Ida Saki! I can't say enough good things about Ida. Not only is she an incredibly talented young dancer, she is also one of the sweetest, most genuine people I know. She is a gem, and the judges certainly saw that when she performed her Schindler's List solo at the Dallas tryout. All three judges were blown away (Nigel said she was "stunning" and "an exquisite dancer" while Tyce just wrote "WOW" on a sign and held it up for her to see) and they sent her straight through to Vegas. Ida, we are so proud of you! (Want to see more from Ida? Click here to watch the solo that earned her a spot in the 2009 Cover Model Search.)
Next up we saw Robert Roldan and Rebecca Hart, who both went straight to Vegas as well. Then we met Haylee Durbin, who told a touching story about her father who passed away from brain and colon cancer. Before he died, she promised him she would audition for the show—and there she was last night! Though her dancing (and her stank face) wasn't strong enough to get her past the audition round, she did have a great reason for being onstage, and we appreciate that.
After the tragic audition that was "Scooter Rocket" (This is "So You Think You Can Dance," not Xanadu. Come on, dude.), we were treated to another standout: 2009 Cover Model Search finalist Nicole Knudson! She performed her same solo that she did during the CMS competition, choreographed by Travis Wall, and the judges went nuts for it. Tyce told Nicole that "Talent like this only comes around every 100 years" and said she was "magical." Nigel appreciated her uniqueness, and she, too, was straight to Vegas. And of course, both the judges and the lovely Cat Deeley commented on her massive pile of curls on top of her head! Way to represent, CMS girls!
Marcela Raneri was up next (her dad was in the Mob, yikes!) with her all-American-girl-next-door looks and super-toned body. She was good. Not super memorable, not super special. Talented, definitely. But as Nigel said, there was no heart or soul in her work. Can she do pretty fouette turns? Absolutely. But was there anything to really draw us into her solo? Nope. Still, they sent her through to the choreography round and, ultimately, to Las Vegas.
Toni Redpath's favorite, Jordan Johnson, followed. He had great energy, awesome flips and had the judges laughing, which is so important in this competition. As Nigel always says, you need to show them something they haven't already seen. And Jordan did that. Toni told him that his "energy is sexy" and he was off to Vegas.
Then it was off to Nashville. Why, oh why, did "SYTYCD" even go there? Nigel, Adam Shankman and Joey Dowling (a DS favorite!) were on the panel, and I have to say, I really felt bad for them last night. They had to sit through a lot of crap, just hoping for an ounce of talent. One glimmer of hope was Season 3's Brian Gaynor, who returned better than ever. I love his determination and that he doesn't let his battle with scoliosis hold him back or prevent him from dancing. His performance brought Joey to tears, and Nigel said that although Brian isn't a good fit for "SYTYCD," he will give his crew an outlet to perform: on the show! We're already looking forward to seeing what they come up with. In the end, only seven dancers from Nashville were sent through to Vegas (and we didn't get to see any of them—yikes!).
With the first round of auditions completed, it was time for Vegas Week to begin! This is where stuff really gets exciting. First, each of the 122 dancers is given the chance to perform a solo for the panel of judges (Nigel, Adam, Lil' C, Mary Murphy, Tyce and Toni). And remember, the competition is stiff: the judges will only be picking five guys and five girls to make it onto the show.
Vegas Week was off to a great start right away: Alex Wong and Billy Bell are back! We're huge fans of both dancers and are confident they'll both make it into the Top 10. In fact, we've been confident about their talent for a long time. We've featured Billy in the magazine a handful of times (Click here to read the most recent piece about his new dance company), and spotlighted Alex last year as a dancer to watch. They each performed incredibly technical solos: Alex, with his ridiculously in-shape body, is so powerful onstage, and Billy, who at just 19-years-old is my new dance crush, has legs that stretch for days. They. Are. Incredible.
I loved getting to see more of Anthony Burrell in Vegas. I was so sad he got injured (pulled hamstrings are the worst, ouch!) and hope he recovers quickly. Watching hurt dancers makes me so nervous! But he is so strong and intense. I really enjoy watching him.
After two rounds of cuts, the remaining dancers learned a hip-hop routine to Usher's "OMG" with Tabitha D'umo (Did you like her flannel shirt? It's featured in the January 2010 issue of DS!). Nicole Knudson looked awesome when they showed her doing the choreography. Other standouts: Melinda Sullivan, Lauren Froderman and Alexie Agdeppa. They will all go far because they've got the personality to match their talent.
Of note: I love Toni Redpath and am so glad she's on the show as a judge. She's smart and makes great comments without ever being over-the-top. But when she stepped onto the stage as a choreographer—wow! The dancers were so afraid of her! She was tough and was practically barking at the dancers. She made them work hard. I dig it.
The remainder of the show focused on two dancers: Our girl Nicole Knudson and Adé Chiké Torbert. The judges were captivated by Nicole's hair. She always wears it piled on top of her head, but they wanted to see it down. So the judges asked that she let her hair down (literally and figuratively), find a new partner and return later to perform the ballroom routine again. It's awesome that they gave her another chance, but it really put the pressure on and she got super nervous. Luckily, ballroom pro Sergei stepped in to help. Despite her nervous, Nicole gave it another shot and she's staying put until next week. Yay!
The judges were disappointed that Adé Chiké chose to perform a tap solo. I give him credit—he wanted to show that he's well-rounded—but they hated it. In fact, Nigel was downright angry about it! They asked him to dance for his life and he's sticking around until next week as well.
The competition is down to just 58 dancers. Tune in next Wednesday on FOX to see more from Las Vegas!