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'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Smile! It's Season 8!

June 1, 2011 | 10:56 pm

SYTYCD-20101115_Episodic_JN-3503 Last week I regaled you with all the reasons why I’m psyched for the return of “So You Think You Can Dance.” The auditions roll on this week (Margaret Eby will be filling in for me Thursday night while I’m out of town), so let’s get right to the high- (and low-) lights.  

On Wednesday night, Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy visited Salt Lake City with Robin Antin, creator of the Pussycat Dolls, who seemed more interested in possibly poaching contestants for her show than for “SYTYCD.”  

The episode got off to a promising start with two step dancers, Devon McCullough and Micah Clark. I like step dancing because it reminds me of my high school (I can still show you, albeit awkwardly, the first few step moves to my school’s fight song.)  Devon and Micah were fun and high-spirited onstage and were sent through to choreography. Micah didn’t make it to Vegas, but Devon did, so could we see a stepper in the Top 20? Nigel (wearing an interesting sweater/bow tie combo) seems to enjoy step, so who knows.  

I also really liked Annie Gratton, the redhead who auditioned with a fierce number set to “Sweet Dreams.” I already liked her sassy dance attitude but I really fell for her dad, Francois, who got up onstage and danced with her to "Boom Boom Pow." Francois, at 50 and in jeans, showed off more moves than I’d ever be able to pull off in my lifetime.

 Salt Lake City had its share of characters as well. The judges loved nearly-nude Chase Thomas for his dance skills and toned body (I think Chase liked his own toned body, too). Despite the fact that he went straight to Vegas, Chase rubbed me the wrong way by griping to the judges about his cheating fiancee, even though he’s been married to a completely different person now for almost a year. I’m sure his wife is tired of hearing that story, too. But the truly special character was Brittany Starr, who claimed her father was Ringo Starr, before, of course, Ringo was replaced by a doppelganger named Richard Starkey (never mind that that’s Ringo’s real name.) I think it’s safe to say that nine times out of 10, any time anyone auditions for a reality show while wearing a hat, he or she is kind of nuts. Brittany also sported a gigantic tattoo of Princess Diana on her arm and says she’s a lesbian (although I’m not really sure why that merited a dunh-dunh-DUNH! sound effect from the show). Her dancing reminded me of Britney Spears’ from that fateful year at the VMA’s: for a regular person, not that bad, but for an established dancer, not so good. We later met Brittany’s Dad, Ringo, who seems like he’s had a hard life but at least has a nice Sgt. Pepper suit to show for it.  

Then we headed to New York, where Nigel and Mary were joined by judge Jason Gilkison. By and large, the judges were disappointed in the turnout in the Apple That Never Sleeps, but there were a few bright spots. Samara “Princess Lockeroo” Cohen seemed like she was going to be a punch line audition with her “wacking” style of dancing, but her helicoptering arms and tough-girl stage presence earned her a ticket to Vegas. I’d love to see her take on some Doriana Sanchez disco.

I’m don’t know yet whether I’m a fan of Brian Henry, the krumper whose mouth got him into trouble with the judges. I’m not sure he meant to dis Lil’ C and Russell Ferguson but it sure didn’t sound great when he dismissed them as mainstream. His krumping (and body) were impressive, but the judges’ feedback for him was what I loved about the show. They were able to separate his talent from his somewhat defensive personality and gave him a shot in Vegas.

We saw two fun breakdancers in New York, too, Virgil Gadson and Robert Taylor Jr. If Brian Henry’s “anger” got him in trouble in his audition, Virgil and Robert’s good-natured humor onstage definitely aided their auditions. In fact, it seemed clear the judges generally wanted some smiles onstage. I actually liked that Broadway dancer Jess LeProtto wasn’t all cheesy smiles in his audition, but the judges wanted him to look like he enjoyed dancing more. So perhaps Season 8 is going to be known as “the happy season.”

-- Claire Zulkey

Photo: Contestants show off their moves in New York. Credit: Jeff Neira / FOX