I’ll admit I was a little worried when judge Mary Murphy warned against excessive booty-shaking to kick off So You Think You Can Dance‘s Season 9 Los Angeles auditions, but then I remembered: We’re talking about the inventor of the mythical Hot Tamale Train, a woman whose hooting, hollering, and general hootenanny-ing is so patently goofy, there’s no way she would seriously place restrictions on the fine art of contestants putting their backfields in motion. Plus, fabulous guest judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson wasn’t cosigning that warning anyhow. Let the wild rump-bumping begin!
In all seriousness, though, the two-hour Los Angeles tryouts proved to be a fast-paced, action-packed affair, complete with a real live Lenny Kravitz nesting doll; a pair of funny, flamboyant brothers called the Ninja Twins (if Pauly D and The Situation have a summer home on Fox’s gross-looking The Choice, couldn’t the network greenlight a six-episode reality show following fabulous Nick and fabulous James’ fabulous adventures in styling/table-waiting?); and so many excellent performances that it’s going to hurt to narrow ‘em down to just five faves. (Seriously, half of me wants to cut someone to make room for the Shaolin Warrior and Vegas Week vet Alexa Anderson, but alas, they must be denied for the moment.)
And anyway, like the old adage goes, they can’t all be winners. So here are my picks for the best Los Angeles auditions:
5) Caley Carr | With a chunder-inducing handlebar moustache, a backwards baseball cap, and unironic use of the word “gnarly,” I was all set to write off this surfer dude/skateboarder/barback/tapper. But I’ve got to be honest: Caley’s unexpected routine — set to Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” — left me mesmerized. I loved how the self-described “A.D.D. boy” mixed up the tempo of his tapping, the way he sped things up and looked like he was levitating, the way his torso took on a life of its own (with occasionally spastic outbursts), and the general herky-ness of his arms and neck. That bow and glare that punctuated the final line of the song completed my transformation from skeptic to fan, but alas, Caley just didn’t have the overall skill set to move past the choreography round. File under: Fun while he lasted. Also: Come back next year!
4) Jasmine Mason | I loved how Jesse Tyler Ferguson commented on Jasmine’s magnificent hair, and the fact that even just standing in front of the mic, she was serving “marble statue” elegance, because honestly, if this SYTYCD thing doesn’t work out, there’s always America’s Next Top Model. Jasmine’s choice of “I’d Rather Go Blind” was an inspired one, with the bluesy ballad allowing her to bring a languid sensuality to the stage that didn’t seem forced in the way that so many “sexy” contestants’ routines do. It’ll be interesting to see if Jasmine goes further in the competition than her brother, Vegas vet Marshea Kidd, who broke his neck and was in a coma just six weeks prior to his and Jasmine’s L.A. tryouts. I’m just hoping that crafty Nigel Lythgoe resists the urge to let ‘em both advance to the Green Mile, then cut one at the last minute. Honestly, this family has suffered enough, haven’t they?
3) David Matz | Like the judges, I’d never heard of a “
sear Cyr wheel,” but thank heavens for circus performers who live together in zany loft spaces dreaming up weird and wonderful new ways to entertain us. Watching David manipulate the giant steel ring like it was a lithe partner, seeing him hang from its rapidly spinning frame with just one hand and one foot, I understood why Mary called him a real artist and said she didn’t even care if he’d be able to master other styles. I’d have sent him straight to Vegas, too. But even though David fled the scene during choreography callbacks — that’ll teach him not to take a dance class for a full four years! — at least he didn’t hit a “slick spot on the stage” (a phrase that made me want to watch David’s performance through closed fingers). Oh, and at least we got this genius quip from JTF: “It’s amazing what you can do with one of Cat Deeley’s old earrings!”
2) Megan Branch | I expected something “pretty” and inoffensive from this 18-year-old Arizona gal, but that’ll teach me to judge a dancer by her “I’m a mama’s girl” intro package and sunny disposition. Megan’s routine — set to Björk’s “Hunter” — turned her into a beautiful but slightly dangerous insect, rubbing her hands together, cocking her head at odd angles, then taking flight with a spookiness graceful gawkiness that’ll be catnip to Sonya Tayeh. As Mary noted, Megan is “so So You Think You Can Dance.” Yep, Megan pretty much embodies many of the reasons this show will be on my DVR recording list forever.
1) Eliana Girard (pictured)| Talk about giving pole dancers a good name! The former Alvin Ailey member/Cirque du Soleil “pole aerialist” (who looks a little like 30 Rock‘s Kristen Schaal) introduced me to the wretched sound that’s made when human flesh rubs up against a metal pole — can you tell that everything I learned about strip clubs came from The Sopranos? — and then proceeded to deliver a performance so breathtaking it had JTF (not incorrectly) comparing Eliana’s exuberance to that of Season 8 champ Melanie Moore. Indeed, there was a deep emotional vein running through Eliana’s work, but also a technical excellence that was punctuated by her ridiculously good leg extensions and leaps. And let’s be honest: Eliana’s got a poweful sex appeal that’s just subtle enough to maybe win her more fans than uptight detractors.
What did you think of the L.A. auditions? Did I leave any of your faves off my countdown? And what did you make of the Ninja Twins? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!