"So You Think You Can Dance" judges Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy and Adam Shankman took some time out from the Los Angeles auditions for the show's fifth season to talk about what they expect from the show this year.
Q: What do you expect to see this season?
Nigel Lythgoe: A lot more people coming along that have been inspired by realizing that you don’t have to have major dance classes and be formally trained. I think Twitch and Joshua being the final two dancers last season have shown people you don’t need complete formal training, and I think that’s opened the competition up to a lot of people. Anytime that you’re saying to street dancers, “You can win this if you’ve got that extra little bit,” they’re gonna come along and audition. I find that exciting because what they provide for us is something other than the formal training, and if you can put them both together, you can’t beat that. You know, when you take Joshua, who was, you know, reasonably good at everything he was asked to do and brilliant at what he does, he’s a winner.
Q: What is that extra little bit that makes one dancer stand out?
NL: With street dancing, it is the complete inhibition to jump onto the back of your head that a formally trained dancer wouldn’t dream of doing. They would turn on their choreographer and say, “I’m not doing that. Don’t be stupid.” 'Cause the choreographer wouldn’t be able to do it, the choreographer would just be saying, “All right, jump onto the back of your head.” But these kids will do that.
Q: How do you feel about being this person who’s producing all these stars, from “American Idol” to a show like this? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
NL:When you get to my age it’s [laughs], no, I wanted to be the emerging talent when I was that age. But now, yeah, it feels really great. You know, I was fortunate enough to go to the Super Bowl this year, and I was in tears at Jennifer Hudson singing your National Anthem. In tears. America’s got a wonderful way of doing things like that. And to have Jennifer Hudson, after all the trials and tribulations she’s had, I felt very proud that you know, we found her and we shoved her in front of the judges. She was one of ours, as it were. Very proud. So, it makes you feel wonderful. Dance in particular makes me feel proud 'cause it’s been shoved in the back of the spotlight for so long. Dancers have been supporting people with far less talent than themselves.
Q: How do you feel Los Angeles compares to the other audition cities?
NL:New York is always very interesting. And major cities like New York, Chicago, always have tried to develop new styles of dance. And New York at the moment is doing this sort of zombie-like dance, which is very much like what Robert Muraine does where he pulls and dislocates. It’s something I wouldn’t be able to do until I was probably a zombie. So those sort of cities are always very interesting. Los Angeles for me is interesting in a different way because it’s so diverse. It’s a magnet to everything that’s slightly weird [laughs]and they all come to Los Angeles. It is the capital of the moving image world as it were —movies and television. And people assemble here from all over. And that’s what you find when you come here: you’ve got the belly dancer, you’ve got the contortionist dancer, you’ve got some weird thing called the fairy dancer, which is a girl, thank god, that’s going to appear later on today. So, it’s always interesting. You don’t get bored with Los Angeles. Miami, that you expect to be really exciting -- and I was expecting sort of hot, spicy salsa dancers -- was pretty boring. And not so much salsa, more cold porridge. It was bland.
Q: Do you have any special guests you’d like to see on this season?
NL: I would like to see a lot. “So You Think You Can Dance” is on in about 20 different countries that make their own versions of “So You Think You Can Dance” around the world. I’d love to bring their winners and get a results show, and see something worthwhile, and say, “Hey, let’s look at the Australian winner. Let’s look at the Canadian winner.” The Iraqi [version] is very interesting because they do belly dancing. They actually choreograph belly dancing in those shows, with males and females. So, you know, the more we can see of what’s going on around the world, the more inspiration the dancers here will get, hopefully. The more you take in as a dancer, or anything in life, the more you have to be able to give out.
Ballroom dancing champion Mary Murphy, known for her loud laugh and outbursts on the show, giddily expresses her delight, “I’ve got the best job in the whole world, are you kidding me?" [laughs].
Q: What kind of dancers are you seeing emerging: fairy dancers, belly dancers? Is there any kind of theme you’re seeing?
Mary Murphy:I think there was one time we saw 10 dancers in a row and we were just like -- I’m not really sure if they just came off the crazy bus or not, but they’re a very interesting group of people. [laughs] Some new styles that we’d never heard of before: jazz-rock or jazz-combat, medicinal fairy-land or dancing or something, I don’t know what they call themselves, but I like the fact that they are showing up in droves and doing something different. I mean, it’s always so much more fun, isn’t it? If everybody just showed up as a cookie-cutter type of dancer, how bored would our audience be? And how bored would I get, you know? I love to watch dancing, but if it all ended up in the middle of the road, you’d turn off your television set. But that’s never the case with "So You Think You Can Dance"; there’s always something interesting going on. Every time we get a superb dancer, or somebody that’s just outrageous and genius, it fires me up for like, the next four hours. When you get that dancer that comes along, it’s just like somebody injected me with 10 shots of B12, and I’m just like “Amen!” You just wanna start screaming.
Q: We saw you perform last year on stage; do you think you may again?
MM: I don’t know! I may dance again; I may never dance again. I was happy about that last year. I was nervous of course, like any dancer, to put myself out there professionally again after not training, and going out there in a short period of time. I kind of put myself in the shoes of the dancers of the show and gave myself about six hours to put the dancing part together. I will tell you, I worked my butt off for one month before then, because my lungs and my leg strength was not ready for that. So there I was, going up and down [the] Santa Monica steps, and just weight train, weight train, not working on the dancing, hoping that the dancing was still there from all the years I’ve done that. But man, I was like, “Holy smokes!" When I did it two times for camera, I was like, “[coughs] I can’t breathe!" [laughs]
Adam Shankman is a highly regarded choreographer whose resume of film choreography includes the 2007 remake of "Hairspray" and Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Boogie Nights."
Q: Do you have high expectations for L.A.?
Adam Shankman: I have the highest expectations in L.A. and New York. This is my hometown, so I’m always pulling for the team.
Q: Is it a higher caliber of dancers here in L.A.?
AS: In some cases yes, in some cases no. I think a lot of the dancers that we’re seeing here seem to be from other places. The best dancers in the city, a lot of them aren’t coming to audition.
Q: What kind of surprises can people expect this year?
AS: What is thrilling to people is always seeing great talent and you know how hard these kids work. At this point I can’t speak to any “surprises,” just because we haven’t cast the show yet. I think that if you liked it before, you’re gonna like it better now.
Season 4 champion Joshua Allen and Top Girl Dancer Katee Shean stopped by The Orpheum to hang out and watch some auditions. A relaxed Katee said: “It’s cool to be on the other side. We would be in line at 3 a.m., you know, waiting, and now you can kinda just breathe and look at the process and be here to encourage everybody else.”
Joshua and Katee are both L.A.-based, trying to “stay busy and work.” They say everyone from the previous shows support each other and get together often for “Sunday family dinners.” They were hopeful about the possibility of popping up in Season 5.
Joshua shared what he thinks the next winner needs: “I really think it’s what you have in you, if you have a real, real love, dying passion for it, you’re gonna do it. I did a lot of things that I never thought I could do.”
-- Leslie Anne Wiggins
Photo: From left, Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Adam Shankman. FOX