New promo. New judge. New crews. New season. New format, with regional battles first, then an integrated show after two are let go in each. What does Omarion add to the mix besides a flock of girls trailing him into the studio? We'll see. Can anyone dethrone the dominating West (Poreotix and Heavy Impact were on my L.A. list)? We'll see. Since there's so much newness going on, we'll try to do something a bit different here too and get opinions from dance professionals each week when the crews are narrowed a bit. Here are your crews:
There's been speculation and rumors (even the naming of possible judges), but word has finally come down that "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew" has chosen a new judge to sit on the panel with JC Chasez and Lil Mama following the legal troubles plaguing Shane Sparks: Omarion.
Blog communities were abuzz with who could take the seat of the popular choreographer, still embroiled in a molestation investigation, if the show wanted to go in a different direction. We're not ones to pile on the situation here, though, and just hope the whole thing comes to a fair and favorable end for all parties. But we all, like the show, have to move on. And I think the show did it in a big way.
Omarion is one of the most popular performers in hip-hop / R&B music today. Besides a newly released CD called "Ollusion," he brings a few No. 1 albumsand chart-topping singles, both as a solo artist and as part of B2K, which means he knows about dancing in/with a group. He'll definitely bring in a different dynamic and a fan base, though Sparks' occasional battles with contestants will be missed.
I got a chance to ask a few quick questions of Howard Schwartz, one of the creators of "America's Best Dance Crew." We first talked about the new format of the show and how it will now have 12 episodes. Every week for the first three weeks you'll see five crews from different regions (South, West and East). Yep, there will be regional competitions before they even get to L.A. for the big showdowns. More show, more dancing and more opportunity to see talented crews is cool with me. Obviously, we couldn't discuss Sparks, but Schwarz did talk about the naming of the new judge. Here's a quick Q&A:
What were you and "America's Best Dance Crew" looking for in a judge? We were looking for a judge who could understand what the crews go through when they get on stage and perform. So, a judge that understands the performance side of it and can see when a crew comes out and definitely has IT. All in all, this is television, and we want to reach out to the audience and be able to perform for them and excite them. We were looking for a judge who can differentiate dancers and dances from each other, who can tell technique apart from personality and tell technique apart from aspects of specific dances that may be confined to one part of the U.S. And also who might be able to give us an opinion that might not be the same as our other two judges; someone who feels strong enough in their own skin to be able to recognize crews that have it together.
And with chemistry maybe playing a role, has the new judge spoken to the others yet? Not necessarily. ... We're not looking to have him sit in and audition or see how well he does with the other two judges. The other two judges speak for themselves and have their own opinions and come from their own backgrounds. And they bring a quality about them that's uniquely their own.
When we first found JC. It wasn't so much that he wasn't a choreographer. He wasn't a teacher or he didn't teach dance. But certainly he came from the perspective of a crew. A very popular dance crew, and he danced with so many different choreographers and learned so much from that. And he started at such a young age. Lil Mama. A lot of people don't realize that she grew up as a dancer. What's happened to her now -- the fact that she's a performer -- doesn't take away from the fact that she was a dancer, and she brings something different from her background. As does our new judge. His background is one that he started off as a dancer early in his life. His mother was a dancer. He grew up in Los Angeles as a dancer, maybe in the hood a little more-so than in the classroom, but regardless, has the skills and has perfected it along the way. He can bring the street perspective and the dance perspective.
The answers ended there, but Schwartz does bring up some interesting points that could make Omarion a great judge. The criticism (well, from me) would be that there's no longer a pure choreographer on the panel. Everyone is a multifaceted performer, and though the show is all about who gives the best all-around performance (dancing, presentation, creativity and originality) each week, it was cool to hear the intricacies that Sparks would sometimes bring to the table. As mentioned earlier, though, we all have to move on. Omarion may help spark a show that some fans characterize as being a bit ... stuck. Even "American Idol" tried that mansion/long hallway walk thing after numerous successful seasons, just to shake it up. Whatever dynamic he brings, and as entertaining and constructive or destructive as the judges can be, it still comes down to the crews. Next week, those will finally be unveiled, and the fun starts again.
"Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew" just finished the auditions for Season 5 this weekend, having made stops in Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Boston and New York. Besides the normal casting needs, guest judges from past championships and the show's regular judges, choreographer Chonique Sneed was called in to add some fresh perspective on the initial choosing of the crews. We got a chance to talk to the dancer, who has choreographed and helped choreograph routines for Pink, J. Lo, Britney Spears, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, Christina Milian, Jay Z and Paulina Rubio. That's definitely enough varied expertise to be a big help.
Here's a quick video interview that was done before she traveled to the New York auditions. The interview that follows on the jump was done after auditions.
It's the day before, and surely there are butterflies for the crews about to audition for "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew" Season 5. It seems like just yesterday that We Are Heroes first hit the stage, pop-locking their way through the competition while faltering, tumbling, getting hurt, growing and ultimately winning the title for Season 4.
As all of the winners have, the all-girl group came out of the West. No, it's not just because all the best crews come from the West, but also because that's where the biggest turnout seems to be. And tomorrow, it happens again as crews will gather once more for the right to represent the left coast and have their banner hung from the studio rafters. Atlanta, Houston and today Denver all had their chance, and Boston and New York await, but Saturday is L.A.'s time.
Housers, tappers, rockers, steppers, krumpers, ballerinas and b-boys will all get their turn. It's an open call, though you do have to fill out the questionnaire. It's probably a little late for anyone trying to get together a routine and just storm the place, but you never know. Playback Studios in Van Nuys is the spot, and the line starts at 8 a.m., with doors opening at 9 a.m.
We'll report in Monday morning with what happened over the weekend, including some video, interviews and whatever else crops up. Hopefully some of the crews that didn't make it last year come back out, because there were some good ones (like this crew, and this crew).
Past champs will be around to evaluate. Hok of Quest Crew joined the judges in Houston. Nichelle of We Are Heroes will be in Los Angeles. But it's all about the new. New crews, a new season and a new champion for the upcoming season. Good luck, and see you there.
Layla Kayleigh told me last week, and it was said over and over again, that there was no clear-cut dominant crew in the fourth season of "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew," and that was true. But in the final performance, there did seem to be one crew that climbed its way to the top, despite being on the bottom often. No dramatic Mario Lopez pose and music here: We Are Heroes is the new "America's Best Dance Crew" champion. The first non-b-boy crew and the first females to possess the "ABDC" trophy, they certainly deserve it -- especially based on those last two showings. But before we get into that, let's talk about the Judges' Choice performances.
Lil Mama's crew was up first, and she brought the girls out to play. We Are Heroes, Artistry in Motion and Vogue Evolution took the stage after an intro and another obvious product-placement shot having to do with Facebook and a product that will not be named. At least they're upfront with it, just like this performance was with the girl power. Vogue is so dramatic with its movements, especially that leg-breaking back drop, that it raised the drama level of the other crews. Heroes took the center with its pop-locking precision and gymnastics, then Artistry got on stage and seemed to meld both We Are Heroes' and Vogue Evolution's styles. They all worked well together, too, in what was probably the night's best number. Because I missed them on the night they were eliminated, here's Artistry at the finale.
They were one of the last crews you thought would be in the finals of "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew," but Afroborike and their couples-dancing, Latin-flavored style has persevered and is now, along with We Are Heroes, awaiting America's vote a few hours from now. Who's going to win? The popular vote is on We Are Heroes and their fire-spewing, backflipping, pop-locking finale. But Afroborike is resilient and has lots of support, so it might not be as clear cut as we think. Check back later on for commentary and video from the finale.
Luckily, we were able to have a quick talk with Afroborike member Veronica Collazo as the days closed in.
How did your group form? We were in a company in Vegas for a show for three years together, then the show fell apart (Raw talent life at the Sahara). We then had the opportunity to audition for the show and made the decision to bring our Latin flavor ... and they liked it and they picked us.
How did you come up with the name? Afroborike is a combination of two words. It's Afro-Cuban, because we have two cultures mixing. We have 5 Puerto Ricans and one Cuban. Afro-Cubans and borike, which is the first name that the Indians used to call Puerto Rico. We wanted to mix all of that.
The women of We Are Heroes have been popular, but embattled, since the first episode of the fourth season of "Randy Jackson presents America's Best Dance Crew." In the bottom two crews a few times, they had to be saved by the judges. But in their last two performances, they cemented themselves among "ABDC's" best ever. As the final decision approaches (two days left) and Heroes is one of the two remaining crews, they took a little time out of their schedule to have a final chat. You're repping the West, but is everybody from this side of the States? Ali: No, we're not. Hero and Mami are from Japan. Nichelle is from the Bay area in California. Riquel is from Idaho and I'm from New York. But we did all move out to Los Angeles to pursue a dancing career.
How did We Are Heroes form? Ali: We all met Hiro separately because we were all professional dancers and auditioning and doing jobs. Riquel and Mami were dancing with her for a couple months. When they actually got to doing the show, there were two other girls dancing, one from Japan and one from Europe, and they didn't have their visas. So Hero had seen some of us perform and called me and Nichelle two days before the audition, and that's how we got together. I actually met Riquel at the audition.
The Massive Monkees were one of the most popular crews on "America's Best Dance Crew" this season, and though they were eliminated on Sunday, they were nice enough to sit down and talk a bit about their season and their mission. Confession: The initial interview was lost (eaten by my imaginary electronic dog), and Massive Monkey crew members Brysen and Jerome were nice enough to re-chat with me about the Monkeys' past and their travels through the season. After the interview there's a video conversation with Shane Sparks after the Rhythm City-Massive Monkeys battle about how he thought the season was going, and a few words from Fanny Pak's Glenda. Three days until the live finale, and congratulations to Massive Monkey Tim Soriano on his and his fiance's new baby girl!
Before we get to the last show before the finale of "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew," let's talk dance. Big awards shows traditionally have had a hint of dance -- or more than a hint in the case of the Hugh Jackman-hosted Oscars -- but that didn't often include hip-hop. Until now.
The popularity of "So You Think You Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew" was on full display at the Emmys on Sunday night when dancers Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy of "Dancing With the Stars" performed to LMFAO's "La La La" and were joined by dancers who included "So You Think" winner Joshua Allen and members of "ABDC" winner Quest Crew. It was cool to see the guys performing onstage at the Nokia, and props have to go out to Emmy nominees Tabitha & Napoleon D'Umo, choreographers for "So You Think" and "Dance Crew."
Usually, despite whatever craziness erupts from the table, the judges are still overshadowed by the performances on "America's Best Dance Crew," which is a good thing. But in this week's episode, and even in the MTV Video Music Awards that followed, the judges seemed to take the spotlight away from the performance (just a little, but enough).
Let's start with the performances, which is where the focus should be anyway. Time for the group dance, and with the crews doing a tribute to Michael Jackson, you know that they wanted it to be really great. And their "Smooth Criminal" routine, with Rhythm City's Alonzo Williams getting the spotlight, was one of the show's best. I don't think there's been a group performance that has been as together and precise as this was (even the Janet Jackson in the second season, though that one was awesome, too). With crews like Rhythm City and We Are Heroes, that should've been expected, and Afroborike and Massive Monkeys got their chance to shine as well. I put it a mini step below the Missy Elliott performance and group dance, but hey, if Michael Jackson performed with them like Missy Elliott did ... maybe it's apples to oranges.
On to the show. Only four crews left, and there's no real need for a dramatic pause. We Are Heroes and Afroborike were the crews America voted to keep around, and Massive Monkeys and Rhythm City are the crews that had to battle it out to stay alive for now. We'll explore this a bit later. We (myself and colleague Deborah Netburn) asked the crews which judge they feared/wanted to impress most, and here were the responses from Afroborike and Massive Monkeys.
So, the dance craze challenge was nothing new for "America's Best Dance Crew," and it didn't seem to be that tough of a test -- until you factor in the trampoline! As evidenced by the stitches-induced injury sustained by We Are Heroes crew member Nichelle during one of their rehearsals, it can be dangerous. Even if you're used to tumbling, the extra bounce can take you out of your comfort level.
That comfort level is something that the judges are seemingly trying to get all of the crews out of in the last few weeks. I don't know if they're physically tired or just mentally tired of seeing some of the same old moves, but the criticism has been a bit blunt lately. And it didn't stop Sunday night.
The first saved crew was Afroborike, sending Vogue Evolution to the bottom two. Don't ask me how, but Afroborike has latched on and gotten a following. It's tough to peg them or to gauge what the audience will feel like doing from week to week when it comes to this crew. Their challenge was to do the swag (swag surfing), dancing to Fast Life Yungstaz' "Swag Surfin'." Everyone will be talking about one move that they did, with the guys grinding in the faces of their female teammates. Risque, to say the least. They weren't very memorable with the challenge, or even in using the trampoline, but Shane Sparks definitely noticed "the move," saying "I've been waiting years for a show to let you do something like that on TV!" JC Chasez, though, echoed my sentiments on the performance in saying that it was "good, but I need to see excellence." Massive Monkees and Rhythm City were saved, so that meant We Are Heroes was once again in the bottom two. Their Bollywood dance last week was pretty good to me, but not enough for the voters. I just don't get it, but they didn't dwell on it, so I won't.
If last week was a bit of a misstep for many of the groups, this week was an episode where everyone got back on track and -- despite the "it's-all-family" mentality in the "America's Best Dance Crew" crew garage -- served notice that they were out to win the competition.
Bollywood was the challenge this week, and I liked how the different styles of dance were presented to the crews by Bollywood groups on the "ABDC" stage. The lighting and atmosphere allowed the crews to take in not only the moves, but also the elegant presentations of the dancers in a way that the harsh practice studio would not have. Very cool, and viewers even got an education in six very different Bollywood dances.
Massive Monkeys. Been down on this crew for a while. They've had tricks but haven't put it all together -- until this performance. Tricks like their neck-breaking space needle (see video), plus dancing, plus taking their time and actually showing us a little bhangrawhile performing to “Bang” by Rye Rye featuring M.I.A. really put them back in the game. The crew hasn't been the best or cleanest choreographed crew, but they put it all together here really for the first time. Offstage, you could tell that the crew was happy with their performance, and they definitely should be.
Vogue Evolution. The crew's public breakdown took center stage over their dancing. Member Leiomy Maldonado walked off the stage during an earlier rehearsal, and there was a rift for a little while. Luckily, you didn't see it on stage as the crew performed the circular, flowing Rajasthani dance. Despite the fact that Leiomy had to climb crew members' backs in high heels, it was only OK -- not great. The judges seemed more fixated on addressing the crew's internal problems than their moves. Viewers only got to see a piece of it, but at the show it felt like a full-on intervention. Lil Mama, speaking directly to Leiomy, said, "You're becoming a woman, then act like a lady." JC Chasez complimented the crew, saying that they had performed like "professionals." During the advice session, Mario Lopez chimed in: "This is turning into Dr. Phil."