A Leaner So You Think You Can Dance for 2012

This May, summer’s reality television mainstay, So You Think You Can Dance, will return for its ninth season. However, outspoken executive producer Nigel Lythgoe took to Twitter on New Year’s Day to announce that FOX has canceled the results episodes, whittling the series down to one airing a week.

While I am not surprised by this business-driven decision (TVLine.com reports that “the show’s most recent finale drew just over 6 million total viewers and a 2.1 demo rating, down 13 percent year-over-year.”), I am sorry to see the results shows go.

Without a doubt, SYTYCD features the best and most entertaining results shows in reality television. The SYTYCD results show have always been swift and light on its feet, providing less filler than its reality counterparts, from brand new dances from its contestants, to guest performances from dance troupes from around the globe. Not to mention, the SYTYCD results shows featured the first American televised appearance of Lady Gaga!

"So You Think You Can Dance" winner Melanie Moore

Despite the downsizing of the series, I do have faith that Nigel Lythgoe will be able to come up with a dynamic, revitalized format. Lythgoe noted via Twitter: “With the help of [Fox president of alternative entertainment] Mike Darnell I think we have some great new ideas.” SYTYCD has certainly not shied away from dramatically shaking things up in past seasons, from airing the competition in the fall of 2009, to introducing the All-Stars, to changing voting procedures, to hosting an ever-changing lineup of judges.

I look forward to whatever changes are in store for So You Think You Can Dance this summer, but I bemoan the fact that my summer will be filled with less Cat Deeley. After all is said and done, I would much rather spend an hour with her than an hour with Ryan Seacrest.

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Narrative Success: My Favorite SYTYCD Routines

Season eight of So You Think You Can Dance performs live in San Jose tonight, so in honor of the tour, I’ve complied a list of my favorite routines from the series (I only started watching in season four, so this list reflects these latter seasons).

I had the pleasure of attending season seven’s So You Think You Can Dance tour (winner: Lauren Froderman), and while it was a hoot to see the performers live in person, I felt the viewing experience to be little disconnected. The intimacy of watching the dances on television was understandably lost in translation to the arena stage. At such a far distance, I found myself watching more of the jumbo video screens, rather than the dancers themselves. I felt removed, despite the energy of thousands of screaming fans. But there were still many unexpected highlights, including D-Trix’s shirtless breaking solo to Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” while massive pink hearts soared above him. Seriously.

In re-watching my favorite SYTYCD routines, it’s clear that there is a particular aesthetic that I’m drawn to in a SYTYCD performance. I’ve found that the most successful routines are the ones that convey a narrative and/or tell a clear and concise story. The audience is able to connect to this story and use it as an anchor for their emotional responses (I see those tears, Mary Murphy!). At the risk of over-simplifying, this application of a theme or narrative takes what could be viewed as abstract movement and contextualizes it for an intimate television audience, turning the performance into something that any viewer can understand and enjoy.

In the videos that follow, the live performances live within the context of the rehearsal process, wherein the choreographer/s discuss the inspirations behind the dances.

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“Bleeding Love” – Mark Kanemura & Chelsie Hightower, choreography by Napoleon & Tabitha D’Umo, Season 4

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“How It Ends” – Kent Boyd & Neil Haskell, choreography by Travis Wall, Season 7

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“If It Kills Me” – Jeanine Mason & Jason Glover, choreography by Travis Wall, Season 5

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“Gravity” – Kayla Radomski & Kupono Aweau, choreography by Mia Michaels, Season 5

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“I Got You” – Melanie Moore & Marko Germar, choreography by Napoleon & Tabitha, Season 8

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Update 5.28.14: Looking back at this list on the dawn of SYTYCD‘s 11th season, inexplicably featuring the desperate-for-relevancy Justin Bieber, my same appreciation for narrative driver holds.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. My absolute favorite routine from seasons 9 and 10 was a vibrant and eclectic dance by SYTYCD alum-turned-Lady Gaga featured dancer Mark Kanemura. This unique performance was untethered from any context whatsoever. Sit back and enjoy this bold celebration!

“I Am The Best” – Mark Kanemura & Jenna Johnson, choreography by Mark Kanemura, Season 10

Guilty Pleasures? American Idol and SYTYCD

Do you believe in the concept of a guilty pleasure? Or do you live by the fact that whatever makes you happy, makes you happy, all judgements aside?

I’ll admit that I am an unabashed fan of American Idol, a show which for most people, easily falls under the very definition of “guilty pleasure.” Not that there’s much to admit here, as I pretty much wear my pop culture loyalties on my sleeve. (I’m looking at you, Kris Allen t-shirt!)

For one of the best love letters written to American Idol, I’d like to offer up Daniel Fienberg’s piece, “TV’s Best of the Decade: No. 7,” which does an excellent job analyzing its merits, tackling common criticisms against it, and extolling its pleasures.

Granted, this article was written before the Paint Salesman stole the sash and tiara from Mamasox, but even that misstep can’t tarnish all these moments of great ecstasy that American Idol has showcased throughout its history: Kelly Clarkson’s coronation, Carrie Underwood’s “Alone,” David Cook’s “Billie Jean,” Kris Allen’s “Heartless,” and the list goes on…

The rollercoaster narrative of “the Search for a Superstar” (remember that original tagline?) is still engrossing after ten seasons, mixing soaring high notes with moments of “pitchiness.” How could you not root for this season’s underdog extraordinaire, Haley Mothereffin’ Reinhart? Her soul-baring “House of the Rising Sun” was a triumph unlike anything the show had seen before.

And Lady Reinhart is still slaying it all through the summer…

(Yes, I was in the audience for the above performance)

Of course, for all of the joy that came with watching Haley’s divine performances, came, too, all the extreme frustration of the inept judging panel praising every single contestant except her. The feedback felt personal, the atmosphere became hostile, the producer’s manipulation felt more and more blatant. Week after week, the viewers’ patience was tested.

This is where So You Think You Can Dance swoops in and offers up a refreshing palate cleanser of sweet summer relief.

So You Think You Can Dance provides quite a different pleasure than American Idol. Sure, they both feature performances of “artistic expression,” but at its core, SYTYCD succeeds more often than its singing counterpart.

Simply put, SYTYCD is a celebration of teamwork over competition.

Yes, ultimately a SYTYCD contestant must dance for his or her life solo, but inherently, success stems from working together with a partner, with the choreographer, with the music. He or she must make his or her partner look good, if not flawless. Much of the charm of SYTYCD lies in witnessing the growth of an artistic partnership (ie. Jess & Clarice), and it will be interesting to watch what happens next, now that this season’s duos are split.

More often than not, American Idol duets have gone the way of Jacob and James out-wailing each other, rather than Adam and Allison respecting each other’s talents. And need I remind you of The Voice duets? Oof.

Much of SYTYCD‘s joy can also be attributed to its charming host, Cat Deeley, who was finally nominated for an Emmy after being shut out the past three years. No one else in the business is more deserving and has her mix of charisma, grace, spontaneity, and genuine caring for each contestant. I don’t see Ryan Seacrest standing up for Haley against Randy or hosting an annual 4th of July BBQ for Idol contestants…

In the end, though the artistic origins may differ, both American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance can provide viewers with a sense of pleasure, guilty or otherwise.

Mileage may vary.