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!