So You Think You Can Dance Recap: Five Best Auditions from Atlanta and San Francisco

Like a ballerina completing an elegant and unexpected leap, So You Think You Can Dance floated back onto our TV sets Thursday night and demanded our attention — exhaustion from the end of May sweeps and the yawning aftermath of yet another long Idol season be damned.

The two-hour Season 8 premiere had its share of the freakish (including a former stripper whose eyeshadow application was a thing of clownish horror) and the freaky (like “the insect,” a guy who put his spine down, flipped it and reversed it…so to speak). Without further ado, I will now count down my five favorite auditions of the night:

5) Amber Williams: Utah teenager’s manic enthusiasm could become trying in large doses, but Nigel Lythgoe had a point about the way her vibe was reminiscent of a young Shirley MacLaine or Ann-Margret. Too bad Amber reacted to her ticket to Vegas like a screaming harpie spying Al Roker’s microphone outside the Today show studios.

4) Kimalee Piedad: Holy pipe-cleaners, Batman! Kimalee’s extraordinary ability to contort herself around the various appendages of her partner had me pressing rewind and trying to figure out how she was defying the laws of gravity. I’m not sure if this is a gimmick that will wear out its welcome in Vegas, but consider me transfixed for now.

3) Ashley Nicole Rich: I’ll admit I had my reservations about the gorgeous 22-year-old when she popped onto my screen talking about specializing in “Ashley style” (insert eye roll here) and boasting of her disdain for office jobs. But the second she leapt skyward — Tyce Diorio was right, the woman moves like a deer — I was sold. And as judge Toni Redpath noted, watching Ashley was akin to getting wrapped in a blanket in front of a fire on a rainy afternoon.

2) Jeffery McCann: The second of two prominently featured b-boys had such lovely fluidity in between tricks, it’s not hard to imagine his skills translating into lyrical, Broadway, or even ballroom smiles. His megawatt smile won’t hurt him if he makes it to the voting rounds, either.

1) Melanie Moore (pictured): A 19-year-old art student with a Ginnifer Goodwin vibe about her, Melanie’s audition — set to a melancholy piano composition — was both ethereal and haunting. As Lil C noted, “Zeus himself would invite you to come dance on Olympus.” I loved the way Melanie repeatedly tumbled to the floor from the oddest of starting positions, and the evocative way she interacted with the music. Plus, if the whole dancing thing doesn’t work out, her oil paintings were actually kind of terrific.

Who were your favorite contestants from the SYTYCD season premiere? Am I the only one who wasn’t gaga for Season 7 Top 24 contestant Ryan Ramirez’s brand of “controlled abandon”? (Not that she wasn’t talented…I’m just not sure she was worthy of the verbal somersaults she received from the judges.) And who else is hoping to see more from Vegas-bound Whitney Bezzant and Lilly Nguyen, who were shown a little too briefly to crack my Top Five countdown. Sound off on the season premiere down in the comments, and for all my summer reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Matt says:

    Agree with Melanie Moore being the highlight of the night, and with her uncanny resemblance to Ginnifer Goodwin.

    Kimalee Piedad was probably my second favorite, but without her partner to do those gravity-defying contortion tricks, I don’t know if she’ll be able to stand out in Vegas.

    • Anissa says:

      That’s what I wondered about Kimalee too. What will her solos look like? It’s the curse of the partner dancer to have to go solo.

    • Matt says:

      Oh, and I agree that Ryan Ramirez’s performance was a little disappointing, though I enjoyed how the crowd seemed to guilt-trip Nigel into putting her through to Vegas. She’s earned that much.

      Also, she was crazy hot as the lead singer/dancer of the all-girl group at Nationals in the Glee finale. Anyone else catch that?

    • charlie says:

      Was I the only one not expecting much while they were profiling her and wondering why she was first up on the show, and then staggered by the beauty of her dance performance? So many good dance auditions, but none topped hers. Can’t wait to see more!
      Anyone else put off by Nigel’s infantile antics?

    • charlie says:

      Melanie is mesmerizing. You can see more of her dancing on youtube: search Melanie Moore + dance.

      • Ronnie says:

        She is really great. Search for her “The Meadow” on Youtube from JUMP. One of the things I enjoy about SYTYCD is that its a mix of true-amateurs and semi-am. The world of dance is small and many of the dancers know each other and support each other. Melanie gives me goosebumps!

  2. Anissa says:

    I really liked Melanie and I look forward to watching more of her. I hope she makes it through.

  3. EveatEden says:

    Ahhh my all time favorite show is back. Can’t wait for more!!

  4. kt says:

    But I love Ryan! How can you not love a girl who was featured (ever-so-briefly)in the Glee finale?! Plus she’s a practical lock for the Top 20, considering she was THISCLOSE to making top 10 last year. Let’s just hope there’s no sort of physical/emotional breakdown in Vegas, because I would love her on the live shows!

    Otherwise, you picked some good faves, and I also wish we saw more of Whitney and Lilly!

    • Robin says:

      I think if we know one thing about the show we know there are no locks. I mean, poor, poor Natalie, for instance. *insert sob*

      Or the girl that had the baby way back when and came back and wasn’t good enough.

      Or, *sobs again* Ryan Kasprzak.

      There are no locks…

      • Saracen Riggins says:

        Yes, Natalie :( I thought the same thing when I read that “lock” comment. However, I would not be upset if Ryan didn’t make it. …at least for now. She seems to be doing well for herself, scoring a pretty darn good spot in that Glee finale.

  5. Karen says:

    Ashley was my favorite. I too was hesitant when she talked about Ashley style of dance, but I forgot that quickly once she started dancing. I also want to see more of Lilly. She looked very interesting. And we didn’t see get to see enough of Jakob teaching the contestants the choreography!

    • charlie says:

      and Katee.. great to see her as well, but wished for more, like in past seasons when they showed more of the choreography rehearsals.

      • Ronnie says:

        Katee is so great, her performance with Twitch that used the door is one of my favorite routines ever on the show. The Kiss, the door, the dancing, everything…
        it left me “begging for mercy!”

        • charlie says:

          yes… that’s one of my all-time favorite routines also! Her Bollywood and No Air numbers with Joshua were also fantastic! I keep looking back at them on youtube from time to time and never tire of them!

    • Lana says:

      That wasn’t Jacob who was doing choreography it was Willy a winner in a past season, can’t remember which one. I also which we could see more of Katy and I’m hoping she will be one of the all stars dancing with the top 10.

      • Liz says:

        It was Jacob in Atlanta and Will (who did not win in S4) in SF who did the choreography round with Katee. Love to see both of them back as all stars.

  6. shmrck says:

    YES!!!! to Lily Nguyen. That so brief glimpse totally intrigued me.

  7. I can’t wait to see Lilly Nguyen in Vegas – female Asian hip hop dancer FTW! And I agree that Ryan Ramirez’s audition was a little flat.

  8. Volcfom says:

    I definitely agree with these. Melanie was by far my favorite. Looking like Ginnifer just makes me like her more!

  9. Truffula Seed says:

    I know the producers love them, but I am SO over the b-boyz. Ashley, Melanie, Amber were wonderful. Still waiting for another awesome Contemporary boy as strong as Danny or Travis.

    • Saracen Riggins says:

      I’m not necessarily over b-boys, but I am over them constantly declaring that every new one they find is the best one ever. No one will top Dominic in my book. Legacy maybe, but that’s it.

  10. Louie says:

    Geez, Nigel, give us a break here…
    We didn’t even get a breather before my other favorite show came running in to tell me that, no, I will not get my Wednesdays and Thursdays back thankyouverymuch.
    All in all a pretty good debut devoid of too many joke auditions. And Melanie was also my favorite. Just hope she doesn’t go the route of Teddy Tedholm (crazy pants guy) and Gabi Rojas (circus girl) who have outstanding first auditions before completely choking in Vegas.

  11. wendeelue says:

    On this show you have to worry about those who get little screen time. I’ve had my reality heart broken too many times. I agree with you about Ryan not being that impressive – They probably love her looks so much that they are willing to at least put her into the next

  12. Tucker says:

    I just about agree with your list. Though after being stunned by Melanie Moore, it was hard to focus on anyone else. I thought the two guys who auditioned together, Dion and Damon, were hilarious standouts, and I thought the partner of the girl who did the Colombian Salsa was superb. Too bad he wasn’t auditioning. His foot work was impressive.

    But Melanie blew me away. And I agree about her art being pretty damn good too.

    • SlezakFan says:

      I missed the first 10 minutes of the show. My husband told me there was this terrific “ballerina” audition (he doesn’t know anything about dancing) that I surely missed. I was doing page refreshing on TVLine all morning wanting to hear what Slezak says about it. And after seeing Slezak’s review, I you-tubed her audition. I was moved to tears! Ethereal is the word.

    • Debbie M says:

      Isn’t there an age requirement of 18 on this show? They said that her partner was 17 and hoped he’d audition next year.

  13. Bee says:

    Melanie Moore was so powerful and graceful! She made herself longer and taller as she danced; amazing. I look forward to watching her trajectory.

    Who was the girl with the two-toned hair who spoke about being homeless in the bay area for a while? I thought she was good and could really improve throughout the season. It seemed like dancing was her only outlet for a difficult life. I’d like to see more of her; she has potential.

  14. amadeline says:

    While I was enthralled by last night’s show, I also noted that they played the “dead father card” by the second dancer of the night! Boo!

    Also – where are the results of the American Idol all time best performance?

  15. Sabrina says:

    Thankfully the awful auditions were short and the fantastic were long this year. I was happy for Ryan in that the way they aired her getting the “no” in front of her family last season was beyond cruel. Even worse was the dancer in NY that Mia Michaels visited. I can only hope that Uncle Nigel does not pull that trick out of the bag again this year. So happy this show is back!! Best competition show on TV but we need more Cat, she was not in the show enough last night.

    • Teecie says:

      I agree. The entire show when the judges visited the top dancers to deliver the news was a complete waste of time and incredibly cruel to the ones who didn’t make the cut. So glad it’s a top 20 this year.

  16. Debbie M says:

    That stripper chick had the worst eye shadow EVER. You could see it from space. And what kind of person would nickname himself “I Dummy.” Really dude?

  17. Mindy says:

    Melanie Moore and Jeffrey McCann were my favorites. Melanie was so beautiful, I totally loved her. And Jeffrey was such an exciting B-Boy. He had great fluid moves, and great tricks. I loved him. Hope he doesn’t fall apart in Vegas.

  18. Rudy says:

    What were the names of the two guys whom copied 98% of Les twins’ routine?

    • Ronnie says:

      They are Deon and Damon, the D-Day Twins. Not sure of their last names.
      Or as Nigel condescendingly says EVERY season, “surname”, in a purposeful attempt to embarrass people.

      • vikinggeek says:

        I am fairly sure that Nigel uses “surname” because of the culture he grew up in, and not to condescend. It is actually more accurate, considering that in the Chinese and Japanese cultures the first name spoken is generally the family name, or surname.

        It was kind of hard to watch Nigel and that boy from the US South miscommunicating so badly. I am glad someone bailed the boy out by finally saying “last name” to help him out.

        • Ronnie says:

          Surname is commonly used in Britain (and India/Australia). But Nigel does not use it to be more “accurate” in deference to cultures that don’t actually put the family name “last”.
          He knows the word is not commonly used in American English. We know this because he has been told repeatedly every season. He insists on using it because he feels the British usage is the only correct one.
          This is nothing but a pedantic, juvenile, older man displaying his superiority over young people. I would have no issue with him using it in many other settings with different audiences, but given that he is talking to young people in America and knows it is not a commonly used term, it is simply a petty insult.

          • BK says:

            OMG. You have got to be kidding me. I couldn’t believe that kid didn’t know the meaning of “surname.” It is not an uncommon or British word. It’s not Nigel’s fault that most people are idiots.

  19. charlie says:

    Great auditions show with mostly ‘good’ auditions [great except for Nigel’s infantile antics!].

    Happy that the format this year will be a hybrid of the early seasons and last season. Will be nice to see the top 20 dance together and then bring in the all-stars for top 10. Hope Lauren Gottlieb and Allison Holker will be back as all-stars. Love to see Katee as well.

  20. agrimesy says:

    I’m new to SYTYCD, but I really enjoyed the season opener. No question, Melanie was my favorite. I loved her paintings, and her dancing made me cry. I hooked.

  21. Matt says:

    Melanie was amazing definitely my favorite.

    As for Ryan I think you’re being a bit hard on her. I too was a little dissapointed, but that is only because we know how great she is. That solo was still borderline straight to Vegas on it’s own merit, but when you have such high expectations that isn’t enough. She has to be amazing everytime. It’s like when people say it’s hard to get to the top but harder to stay there. It’s the expectations that are so high that if you are marginally off it is disappointing.

    I have no doubt she’ll slay it in Vegas and make the top 20 and show everyone why people love her so much.

  22. Teecie says:

    I’m so glad SYTYCD is back! I loved Melanie, Ashley, Ryan and Jeffery, though I am always perplexed when a B-boy gets sent straight through to Vegas. I really would like to see more of the choreography round (I love Katee!) and even less of the ridiculous auditions. I hope Mary continues in her toned down persona. All in all, it was a good first episode.

  23. Ellen says:

    It was SO wonderful to see true talent in a contest. AI – wake up and take notes. As for my favorites, I agree with your top 5 — they certainly stood out. However, I can’t wait to see the others who made it to Hollywood – I’m sure there’s some talent in that group.

    Question: what ever happened to Alex Wong??? from last season. Wasn’t he going to return THIS season? Anyone know where, how he is?

  24. CAM says:

    Melanie was amazing. I was moved to tears and didn’t even realize it for a few minutes. There was just someting about every move she made and the obvious love she has for dance.

  25. Eurydice says:

    What? No mention of Schizophrenic Sobbing Guy? I smell a conspiracy!

    Actually, enjoyable and frustrating as always. I wish we could see more of the good dancers and more of the choreography round, and I have zero interest in anybody’s backstory – but I’m looking forward to some fabulous dancing.

  26. Angie says:

    Love this show and glad it’s back. A lot of the dancers were great – either mvoed me or made me smile. T don’t care of rhte bad dancers either, but at least there’s fewer of them shown now. I like the plan for this year, too – top 20 and when top 10 bring in the all-stars. I think they’re waiting for the top 10 to determine the best all-stars for the contestants. I definitely want Allyson and Katee. Would also like to see Twitch, Joshua, Benji and Travis!

  27. mary says:

    It’s very nice that they don’t try to embarass people. Even the bad dancers dance better than I do.

  28. vgerd says:

    There’s a rumor that Alex Wong will be back as one of the All Stars this season. I hope so!

  29. Go Go says:

    I met Melanie when she was in Seattle. She was a total sweet and down to earth person! She told me she auditioned for the show but didn’t know if she was gonna make it to the top 20. I got an autograph from here and she ever messaged me back on Facebook! I will totally vote for her. Seriously super nice person!

  30. Tray says:

    I’m sure Amber will continue to surprise us. She’s great ! How come no one remembers the asian guy with a bullet in his shoulder ? He was really strong too, and seems to be as good in hiphop than in contemporary !

  31. Saracen Riggins says:

    I guess I’m in the minority, but Marko was one of my favorites as well. Melanie, of course, claimed my top spot – but I also really enjoyed him. I need to rewatch b-boy McCann, I must have been distracted during his audition because I don’t remember him. I wasn’t crazy about the homeless two-toned hair girl. I do feel for her, but something about her really put me off. And lastly – I need to see more from Ryan – so far, she’s not really anything special in my opinion.

    • Saracen Riggins says:

      OH! And like Slezak (and other commenters) said – I was initially put off by Amber Williams, but totally had forgotten why by the end of her audition! Hopefully she’ll continue to win me over!