‘So You Think You Can Dance’: What you didn’t see


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Hordes of tweens line the balconies and bleachers, like extras on the set of “Gossip Girl.” Princess-purple jumpers and headbands abound, and no toenail has been left unpainted. It’s the first episode since the Top 20 “So You Think You Can Dance” contestants have been announced, and the audience at CBS studios is suitably pumped.

Tommy the warm-up guy is doing his thing, tonight to the tune of “We Are Family.” He tells us to turn to our neighbor and “tell ‘em a secret.... Now, give ‘em a hug!” Because after all, “We Are Family.” Ushers troll the aisles, searching for wayward sunglasses and gum; both are prohibited during filming.


Stage manager Debbie Williams emerges, whom I recognize as the bandanna-clad mother figure who held all of the madness together on the set of “American Idol.” “You may have read about her in the L.A. Times,” teases Tommy, no doubt referring to idol pundit Richard Rushfield’s account of Debbie’s seemingly interminable list of responsibilities.

We practice cheering, and the lights turn pink. Tommy summons two men from the audience to dance like Elvis Presley. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ blasts through the speakers and the dance-off commences, complete with crotch-grabs and floor-spins. Sure, Elvis wasn’t known for his floor work, but as Simon Cowell would say, they’re making it relevant. We practice booing and the lights turn yellow. Two girls mount the stage to take a stab at dancing like Beyonce.

Debbie must have had some time off since the ‘Idol’ finale, because she’s tan, refreshed and even sassier than usual. “You are so white,” she cackles at Tommy. “You are a sex machine!” she adds, cracking herself up. Tommy may be the warm-up guy, but Debbie is the one whose personality fills the theater.

The choreographers emerge and the audience erupts, ecstatic. “Woo!” Crew members and choreographers alike are celebrities on the set of “SYTYCD.” Tommy does a disturbing rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” while more guests file in. “You can boo me,” he remarks, apparently surprised that we haven’t already begun to do so. Dutifully, we boo.

We film a few shots of audience “boos,” just to fill space on the show. A woman on the balcony boos so vigorously that I wonder if she’s planning to put this on her reel. “Oh! That’s ridiculous!” She shouts emphatically, between guttural boos. “It’s the Emmy awards of booing!” Exclaims an endlessly amused Debbie Williams.

That’s when ‘SYTYCD’ host Cat Deeley emerges. Ebulliently adorable yet startlingly sexy, Cat is wearing a glittery mini dress reminiscent of the one Cameron Diaz wore in “The Mask.” The Top 20 dancers follow, all drunk on endless possibility and blinding lights.


There are 20 dancers on the stage, but there might as well be just one. The woman in the hooded sweatshirt is doing moves I have never even imagined, let alone seen. Even with her face concealed by her hood, she robs the focus from the hordes of skin-baring beauties that surround her. Later, I find out that the hooded wonder is Comfort, a 20-year old hip-hop dancer from Fort Worth, Texas.

Judges Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe take their seats, along with the evening’s guest judge, Dan Karaty. Even the ‘SYTYCD’ vets look like they can’t wait to get things started. There isn’t a jaded face in the whole theater.

Between segments, Tommy keeps us pumped by asking the audience to sing Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back.” To my great surprise, the tweens know every word to the early ‘90s mega-hit. It’s amazing which songs stand the test of time.

Although most of the performances are riveting, I can’t help but tune out during the ballroom dance numbers. “I hope people realize how good you both were in it,” remarks Nigel, after one such performance. Alas, Nigel is right; to a non-dancer, the number was just non-interesting.

The high point of the evening –- and the only standing ovation of the night –- comes when Katee and Joshua take the stage for their devastatingly beautiful dance to Jordin Sparks’ “No Air.”

The only moment that comes close to rivaling its intensity comes courtesy of none other than Comfort, she of the hooded sweatshirt and killer moves. Comfort emerges in what she later calls a “bra and panties and beads,” and gives a performance so sizzling and joyful that it has me laughing out loud. Plus, there is more personality in her minute of pre-performance video than in the rest of the contestants’ combined. Watch out for this one, guys!


At the end of the show, the dancers take the stage one final time, for a freestyle party of sorts. Most of the dancers circle the stage, but Comfort remains firmly planted in the front row for the bulk of the dance break. Why dance in the back when I can dance in the front? she seems to say.

The mood in the theater is overbrimming with fun, even when pickup shots drag the taping past its natural close. I –- a ‘SYTYCD’ virgin –- am shocked at just how thrilling the whole spectacle really is. Even Nigel is surprised by what a blast he’s having. “I’d quite forgotten how much energy you bring to this,” he remarks, regarding the audience with a wide smile.

And Nigel isn’t the only one showing some love. Between pickup shots, Cat Deeley kicks off her stilettos and chats with the contestants, Tommy the warm-up-guy and everyone in between. After the final dance couple make their plea for votes, the show is over. Finally, after so much buildup, the Top 20 can relax ... until tomorrow night, when the axes fall.

-- Stephanie Lysaght