So You Think You Can Dance Season 9 Premiere Recap: The 5 Best Auditions from NYC and Dallas

daniel baker sytycdSo You Think You Can Dance returned Thursday night by poking a little fun at American Idol, The Voice, The X Factor, and especially its new timeslot competitor Duets: “All year long, your television has been dominated by singers. Isn’t it about time for a little dance?”

Um, yes please, we’ll take it. Even if the Season 9 premiere came with a side order of a guy so petulant, even Cat Deeley came close to losing her omnipresent brand of cheerful cool. (Nah, I’m not going to mention the dude’s name, since you know he’s got a Google alert on himself, and therefore even a negative mention would be a victory for him.)

Instead, let’s cut right to the work of reviewing the five most promising auditions from the two-hour telecast (which was heavy on the guys, and light on the ladies):

5) Jarell Rochelle | I’m not big on mime (or mime-esque) work, but there was something so pure and open about Jarell’s movement — and yes, as Nigel pointed out, the guy’s smile — that I didn’t even groan at moves like Jarell shrinking his body down to a lyric like “life’s too short.” Of course, the fact that Jarell was dancing in front of his mother — whose bout with Best Disease means she may eventually lose her vision — probably didn’t hurt the emotional impact of this audition, either.

4) Bree Hafen | I appreciated this 29-year-old’s honesty that she sometimes grapples with guit over taking time for her dancing and away from her adorable kids (age 2 and 5). Yet as much as I got a surge of cuteness overload when little Stella took the stage in her tutu and mimicked mommy’s routine, Bree has enough talent of her own that this audition would’ve been memorable even without the little moppets in tow. There’s a sophistication to Bree’s movement, and an evocativeness in her expression, that may be a product of her age and life experience, and I’m eager to see more.

3) Hampton ‘The Exorcist’ Williams | Yeah, Hampton’s “soul cleansing” routine was pretty literal, but holy cow did this fella commit to the character of the dance in a way that, for lack of a better term, was positively soul stirring. His stuttering moves — performed with vibrating body and an almost haunted facial expression — moved Mary to tears, left Lil’ C wanting to punch him in the face (in a good way), and had Nigel saying he’d personally pay for Hampton’s ticket to Vegas if he got vetoed by his fellow judges. Thankfully, there was no such quarrel: We’ll see him in Hell Week!

2) Daniel Baker | The native Australian and member of the San Francisco Ballet may win Round 1 of SYTYCD‘s Best Body Competition, but as Nigel huffed to the squealing crowd, “Please! It’s only a man without a shirt!” Really, it’s what that body can do that’s impressive: As Daniel did a lap of the stage with effortless leaps, my jaw dropped lower than a Kardashian’s approval rating. The guy is, in a word, exquisite. (And no, I’m not just talking about his torso.)

1) Shafeek Westbrook | The Philadelphia street entertainer gave us a long intro about how he likes to flip over, well, pretty much everything — people, objects, whatever gets in his way. And yet Shafeek’s routine was so much more than gimmicks. The fluidity with which he married b-boy tricks with a lyrical, fluid motion — set to a soundtrack of classical strings and streetwise beats — was absolutely wonderful. Plus, dude can do a handstand and then arch his legs back over his head, to the point where they almost graze the floor. Frankly, I didn’t really need the backdrop that the dance was about his friend’s soul rising from the 9/11 rubble: This one spoke a hundred different stories without a single explanation.

What did you think of SYTYCD‘s Season 9 premiere? Who were your favorite auditioners? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV news, interviews, and 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. Sarah El says:

    Shafeek is totally my early favorite right now. I was also really into Leo Reyes, who wasn’t listed. Overall I’m super excited for this season already. I missed Dance so much!

    • Jenst says:

      I love this! As soon as I saw this I mailed my bestie and said this was my guy – a street dancer who can kill with contemporary moves.

    • KathyB says:

      Loved Shafeek too, but… my only issue is the 9/11 thing. How old is he? I hate to admit how cynical I have become, but what is his connection to this “friend” that died in 9/11 – over a decade ago?

      • Sunny says:

        His friend was prob older and worked down there. I have friends that are younger and older than me so it didn’t seen odd

        • Deej says:

          At least he saved he explanation until after the dance, not before so we weren’t influenced by the story in our appreciation.

    • D says:

      KathyB, I had the same thought. I suppose if he is in his late 20s it is possible…

  2. Larissa says:

    Agreed!! So excited to see what else this season has in store! And I am pretty sure that little girl in a tutu was better than the wiggle guy!

  3. great picks! liked all 5 of these <3

  4. Maggie says:

    Daniel Baker used to dance with Alex Wong! The idea of watching them dance together, yum!!

    • Tiffany says:

      Alex Freaking Wong! ;)

    • Sha says:

      really? double yum haha

    • Elena says:

      He did? That’s so cool. He actually reminded me of Alex during his audition. He has incredibly strong technique and I could see him going far in the competition if he can survive hell week. Also, little dancing Stella was the cutest thing I’ve seen on my tv this year.

  5. It was a great night. Can’t wait to see more of the show .. I think you may have pick my five favs as well!

  6. jba says:

    So glad to see your recap, Michael. I was worried that Duets might prevent you from doing it. The Exorcist was incredible. Nice to see some unique dances along with the contemporary dancers. Zombie guy was also good but on the creepier side. Was there any good ballroom dancing? I was a little distracted while watching so I might have missed it.

    Glad the show is back. Nice change from AI.

    • Sha says:

      The exorcist got me emotional as well. Zombie guy would definitely be good in horror movies. No ballroom yet.

  7. daisyj says:

    Lil’ C may be as annoying as ever and the storyline-creation distressingly blatant (Seriously, was there ever any doubt that the Texas lady with the kids was going to be anything but a) decent but unexceptional and b) sent straight through to Vegas?), but I couldn’t be happier that my favorite dancing-show-with-real-dancing is back. Can’t wait to see what the season brings.

    But can we just decide right now that anyone who performs to LMFAO is automatically considered to be joking?

  8. Juan says:

    Shafeek Westbrook was increadible, it was amazing combining those bboy moves with such fluidity. Best bboy routine ever on I think. Also the excorsist one was also very good and moving. Finally the only girl was good though not wow, but her kid was so cute, too good

  9. Judith Conway says:

    I enjoyed this show as I have for years…..just wonderful!!

  10. HC says:

    Saw Shafeek’s audition and that bending back move you talked about is called a hollaback! If anybody knows Victor Kim from Quest Crew with SYTYCD’s Dominic (used to), Hok, and Ryan Conferido, he can do it amazingly well! Didn’t get to watch the whole premiere but I’m so excited!! Hopefully Shafeek can go far! :)

  11. heyang says:

    A lot of excellent dancers so far. Great start to the seasons. We’ll have to wait 15 years to see if Stella lives up to her early potential. The littlest ones are always so cute at the dance recitals, but Stella is even younger than them.

  12. Trina says:

    It would be nice if less ‘professional’ dancers were on the show. Daniel and Alex are great but really, have they not achieved a foot hold ( pun intended) in the dance community already?

    • tanya says:

      I think dance is such a short-lived career. Your peak years are typically counted on one hand, so I actually appreciate these dancers who are so trained and skilled in ONE style trying to expand themselves and gain access to more mainstream audiences. Professional dancers in ballet companies aren’t exactly household names, and I’m pretty sure most of them couldn’t do hip hop justice like Alex did in his season. :)

    • heyang says:

      THis show is to showcase dance. Hard to do in a summer show if you only used amateurs. They can do it with DWTS because the ‘stars’ can support themselves and only have to learn 1 genre of dance. Without the prior extensive training of SYTYCD contestants, you wouldn’t have the caliber of dance being demonstrated on SYTYCD.

  13. Scout says:

    Loved Hampton. It was so haunting and moving. I will never forget that dance. I cried right along with Mary. I never really cared for this show, but really I enjoyed it immensely last night. It is a nice switch from the glut of singing shows. It’s on the DVR :) Thanks, Michael.

  14. Heidi says:

    What was the song Jarrell danced to?

  15. VCI says:

    Favorite of the night was definitely Hampton (side note they sent a lot of hip/hop dancers straight to vegas this year, which I love)

    but I prefer Cheehon the switz ballet dancer over Daniel. Daniel was technically great but I didn’t connect to him when he danced, but felt something when Cheehon danced,

    • D says:

      Yes, I noticed this also about the hip hoppers going straight to Vegas. I wonder why they made this change.

    • Magically Suspicious says:

      I always end up pulling for the bboys, so I was glad to see them put more through. It usually ends up with one bboy, one tap, one or two jazz, one or two ballroom, and what seems like 87 contemporary dancers in the finals. I enjoy the contemporary, but seeing the other genres struggle to take on things they’ve never encountered is the best part of the show. The contemporary dancers always seem to have an advantage because their training has introduced them to other genres.

    • Gisele Glen says:

      yea I felt something too when cheehon danced I felt he was hot!!! lol

    • big cheddar says:

      I liked Cheehon, the other male ballet dancer, as well. If he’s good at other styles, I could see the picking one less male contemporary dancer, putting both Cheehon and Daniel on the show. A battle of the male ballet dancers would be kinda cool.

    • tewence says:

      agreed! cheehon i thought was better than daniel. he had such a refinement for only being 22! if he continues in the direction he’s already been going training wise, i think he will have a long career. to me he seemed more versatile! but yes, hampton was quite moving, and the technique took a back seat which i wasn’t mad at.

    • I was wondering why the Swiss wasn’t on this countdown. His core strength and graceful almost boneless movement had my jaw hitting the floor. I’ll admit that his personality didn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies but his dance was impeccable.

  16. Adam says:

    Exorcist guy deserves a Grammy for that Performance. No Joke.

  17. Lana says:

    I have been waiting for this show since the last season ended!! loved all of the great dancers. Even enjoyed the ocean dancer as he was suprisingly fluid. I prefer this dance show because these are professional dancers but they are professional in one genre and it is fun to see how well they learn others, thats what makes this show so unique and wonderful. Hampton (exorcist guy) suprised me and I know I felt the same way as the others when he explained what kind of dance he did. However as he danced with his movement and his eyes I ended up being very moved and crying sooner than Mary did. I don’t know how he will handle the other styles but I will never forget how his style makes me feel and I agree with Nygil he is genius! I can’t wait to see more!!!

    • tewence says:

      i was thinking i was crazy for thinking the ocean guy moved well! i even said that out loud haha. he did have a fluidity to him, obviously no technique, but he moves smoother than many trained dancers.

  18. ladyhelix says:

    This was such a breath of fresh air – it’s wonderful to have SYTYCD back!! I DVRed it, and sat down thinking I’d watch “just 15-20 minutes”. But I could NOT stop – I watched the whole show (zipping through commercials).
    I can’t wait for next weeks show!!

  19. Rachel says:

    I am REALLY hoping Shafeek and Bree make it to the top 20!! I’ve rewound her audition (complete with getting the ticket from her son and giving her daughter a turn!) so many times. LOVED it!

  20. Becka says:

    The Exorcist guy was just pure performance art. I wouldn’t necessarily call it dance, but definitely performance art. It got to me on a really deep level…others thought it was dull..but the emotion in his face and the way his body moved…was just nothing short of amazing.

  21. MAS says:

    I found SYTCD in season 2 and have been a huge fan. The past two seasons have not had the punch, and I thought maybe I was just tired of it. I tuned in expecting maybe to watch only a bit. Holy Cow! I think that was a best audition show to date. Some great dancing, some great back stories, and the most awesome portrayal of a 2 year old imitating her mom I have ever seen, in part because it wasn’t rehearsed. I wish I had some talent my 19 month old could imitate. Right now his favorite thing to imitate is my pushing the vacuum. :) SYTCD just move up to must see immediately viewing. Yippee!

  22. Maureen says:

    The exorcist had me crying about 30 seconds into the performance. I am a loyal SYTYCD fan who is constantly impressed with the quality of the dancers, but no one else has ever moved me the way he did. I agree with Nigel that I think he may be a genius.