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!