You know you’re watching a particularly fantastic episode of So You Think You Can Dance when Debbie Allen spends a good chunk of the two-hour telecast shimmying her shoulders and spontaneously shouting encouragement like “Work it out, Ms. Thing!” and “This child is fierce!”
Oh, and by “Debbie Allen,” I also mean myself.
Seriously, not only was the third episode of SYTYCD‘s ninth season stuffed to the point of exploding with talent, but we also got to see Miss Debbie grinding up on Nigel Lythgoe* while doing a dance called “The Wobble”; a totally adorable mom revisiting her cheerleading years; and a grandma (a former dancer herself) so overcome with emotion that she promised to cry over every single one of her granddaughter’s future SYTYCD performances — “even when they do hip-hop.” (*More hilarious and less disturbing than you’d imagine)
Also hilarious? This amazing exchange between my favorite recurring judge and the aforementioned grannie:
Debbie (praising granddaughter Courtney Kirby’s tryout): “Eighteen years old and you’re already a beast!”
Grandma: “She’s more of a butterfly.”
Later, when Debbie and Mary Murphy outvoted Nigel, sending Courtney straight to Vegas instead of forcing her to further prove herself in the choreography round, Grandma quipped, “Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind so you don’t look ridiculous?”
Anyhow, before this turns into a recap of So You Think You’d Be Perfect for Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, let’s get into the five best auditions from the ATL, three of which came from a dance collective of talented kids crammed into one apartment operating under the name Dragon House:
5) Asher Walker: Mary was right that Asher’s technique may not have been as crisp as some of the show’s best b-boys, but as Debbie noted, it was almost as if the small-town Virginia kid took the language of hip-hop and translated it into something unique and unexpected. There was such an incredible lightness to Asher’s feet that he seemed to be on the brink of levitation throughout his routine, and there were a few moments where his movement almost seemed to mimic swing and riverdance styles to connect his bag of tricks. Justin Bieber could do a lot worse for a backup dancer.
4) George Lawrence II: There was something alternately sad and stirring about George’s backstory, the way his father cheered him on through basketball, football, soccer, and a promisng track career, but couldn’t quite muster the same enthusiasm when his son switched to dance. On the floor, though, George noted that he has the freedom in knowing “I am who I am,” and that vibe percolated through his entire routine — his leaps felt like he was breaking free of the ground, his extensions a way to reach beyond his circumstances. I’m not sure I loved George’s routine as much as Debbie did — there were still a few moments where I felt his movement looked a little leaden — but that move where he went from completely prone into a headstand was a thing of breathtaking power.
3) Audrey Case: Okay, so Nigel was right that we didn’t need to know about her hidden “talent” of making fart sounds with her neck — “it’s probably why she’s never had a boyfriend,” zinged Mary Murphy — but Audrey’s audition was a bracing mix of sweetness and sensuality, grace and flexibility. I’m usually bugged by dancers who keep smiles plastered on their faces from start to finish, but in this instance, Audrey’s big grin felt inviting, almost seductive, juxtaposed with the Bette Midler come-on “Do You Wanna Dance.” And at just 18, you’ve got to imagine there’s room for the kid to keep on growing as an artist.
2) Boris Penton/Andre Rucher: I’m combining two of the three residents of “Dragon House,” mainly because I figure when it’s all said and done, Nigel & Co. will probably send only one of ’em to the live shows. (Also, the episode was too good not to spread the wealth a little.) Boris’ routine was in many ways the most subdued, but his skittery movements juxtaposed with the plaintive sounds of a piano piece was as surprisng as it was stirring. Plus, I’m not certain the guy has any bones in his legs. Andre, meanwhile, took the stage feeling “nervous and tired,” but none of it showed when he transformed his body into a fully operating assembly line to the futuristic sound of Excision & Datsik’s “Invaderz.” The way he worked his arms behind his head like a giant lever, the way he went flat on the floor, bent backwards on his knees, arms working with robotic synchronization, proved Andre could be the stealth force of Dragon House.
1) Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer (pictured): Holy “robot animated popper” (his words, not mine), Cyrus’ routine has to rank in my Top 5 SYTYCD auditions ever. Whereas his Dragon House buddies were reserved, maybe a little nervous, Cyrus entered grinning, as if he had no doubt about the power he could wield with just the slightest hand gesture, the way he could contort his face to infuse his number with razor-sharp wit. I started giggling when he leaned forward off the stage, and as he looked backwards to check out his own bouncing booty. By the time Cyrus began his robo-walk up the stairs toward the judges’ platform, I was howling with laughter, not just because the gesture was a funny, knowing nod to the fact that he was definitely going to Vegas, but because I needed an outlet for the overdose of joy Cyrus’ dancing was making me feel. The guy has definitely tapped into a new offshoot of the genre — did anyone else feel like there were elements of vogue-ing somehow informing Cyrus’ popping? — and now we just have to hope the dude displays some halfway decent partnering skills when he gets to Vegas. Also: “LET’S GO, DRAGON HOUSE!”
What did you think of the Atlanta auditions? Did I leave any of your faves off my countdown? And what did you make of the the Dragon House guys? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!