The 16th season of Fox’s dance-show competition “So You Think You Can Dance” kicked off Monday night at 9 ET/PT with something new with a flashy geometric backdrop to the audition stage as well as two spanking fresh judges. Then there was also something old, with Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy passing judgment (and dusting off the Hot Tamale Train for good measure) and ever-congenial host Cat Deeley chatting with the contestants. And something tried and true, in that there were, as always, some amazing terpsichorean hopefuls putting on quite a show in the hopes of earning a gold ticket to the Academy.
Here’s our full recap of the events for Monday, June 3, that unfolded on the Season 16 premiere episode, including introductions to the two exceedingly well-qualified and enthusiastic judges who replace last year’s Vanessa Hudgens and Stephen “tWitch” Boss. All times are ET/PT.
9:00 p.m. “Growing up, I loved watching ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ ” we hear one youthful female voice utter during the intro. Whenever reality shows feature someone saying that, it makes me feel ancient. A male voice says, “I was inspired by watching people doing stuff I had never seen before.” Images of presumably dancers who are trying out this season flash by. “This show has created so many careers for so many people and changed so many lives.” Meanwhile, “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman” plays in the background. Hey producers, you don’t have to try so hard to justify why this wonderful showcase of talent is still on the air.
9:03 p.m. This season, instead of the judges traveling around the country hunting down worthy performers, the dancers are coming to them in Hollywood to show their stuff. And apparently the show has invested in some snazzy 360-degree cameras to better capture every thrilling leap, jump and spin in mid-air. Nigel then introduces the new judges,ni beginning with Laurieann Gibson, a true dance diva given that she is Lady Gaga’s choreographer and creative director who has also worked with Nicki Minaj, Beyonce and Katy Perry. Joining her is “SYTYCD” hip-hop alum Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval.
9:06 p.m. No time is wasted in getting to the first dancer. She is Dezi Saenz, an 18-year-old hip-hop dancer from Long Beach, Calif. She considers herself a girly-girl, one enjoys getting her nails and hair done. Of course, Cat can’t resist ogling her metallic green nail polish that matches her outfit. “People are pretty surprised when they watch me dance because I’m bubbly and friendly,” Desi says. “Then I come out and I’m a beast.”She exhibits amazing grace and control with her moves and has one trick when she makes her chest tick up and down that is outrageous. The crowd goes wild. She even walks on her sneakered toes. The first standing O of the season is the result. Laurieann declares her routine to be the very definition of a natural-born gift. Meanwhile, Dominic is crying. He compliments her by admitting that he has never cried over “such a grimey dope hip-hop routine.”
9:09 p.m. Nigel announces that a dancer needs three “yes” votes to go on to the next stage. Dezi, of course, gets a full four.
9:12 p.m. Next up are a brother and sister ballroom duo from Provo, Utah, Stephanie Sosie, who is 19, and Ezra, who is 18. The closeness in their ages meant, as he says, “We grew up joined at the hip.” His sister got cut from the Top 20 last year. Turns out, her mom was admitted to the hospital after suffering a stroke. Their father, Enrique, discusses getting the bad news while mother Lucy, sits by them along with another brother, Tristan. Ezra says, “When we go out there, we just want to show America what dance has done for our family.”
9:14 p.m. Stephanie tells the judges that even though she would love to make Top 10, she is dancing for her mother today. The pair do a rapid-fire jive to “Proud Mary,” and Stephanie’s fringe-bedecked red pants are working it, but Ezra is a ball of energy, too, and pulls off lots of sharp, strong moves. Another standing O. Nigel gushes over Ezra’s legs and how he picked them up and then flicked them out. “It’s really some of the sharpest movements I’ve seen anybody do with the jive.” He then tells Stephanie she was “this close” to getting through the previous year. “You said you were doing this for your mum. Then always dance for your mum.”
9:16 p.m. Nigel warns Domenic to use two pens to save her ears from what happens next. Yes, Mary shrieks, “You’re on a mad Hot Tamale Train.” Um, I don’t know about you but that declaration gave me pause. Should siblings be on the Hot Tamale Train? Can a Hot Tamale Train be platonic, too? Please discuss amongst yourselves or in the comments section below. They both get tickets, of course.
9:20 p.m. Boy, that newfangled camera that captures dancers in slo-mo and in mid-flight while spinning around is getting a workout in a montage sequence. Meanwhile, Mary extolls the virtues of a shirtless strong male dancer whom she dubs “a diamond in the rough.”
9:24 p.m. Matthew Deloch, 20, from Gonales, La., who tried out in Season 14 but had to lay low last year because he tore his meniscus — a word that refers to torn knee cartilage that I never needed to spell until now. He was out of commission for six months but came right back to audition again. A contemporary dancer with amazing spins and leaps. There is true beauty in his strength. Laurieann had to fan herself afterwards. Nigel declares his technique to be “superb.” He really liked Matthew’s split jetes, one example of which is shown in the photo above. Laurieann compliments him even more when she mentions that she studied at a school called Alvin Ailey. “Have you ever heard of that?” He says he has and smiles. “I know that Mr. Ailey would only have dreamed of seeing someone like you and the facility that you have.” We will definitely be seeing more of him. As Matthew strides out in triumph, Mary and Dominic say to each other, “Please, can we have another one of those?”
9:30 p.m. The talent is having a little Cat face time and the way that Laurieann verbally pinches herself when she says, “I can’t believe you are talking to me this close” makes me like her all the more. Nigel gives D-Trix a rave mid-show early review, saying, “He is so good with his critiques. It’s almost better than his dancing.”
9:38 p.m. Just when you think you have heard and seen it all on this show, a unique performer introduces you to a whole new way of dancing, in this case comic jazz dancing. Next in line for judgment is Aussie Sarah McCreanor, 26, whose nickname is “Smac.” She has crazy-cool red hair and unique style of expressing herself both verbally and on the dance floor. The routine has Brisbane native moving and grooving to “Boogie Wonderland,” and her eye contact with the audience reminds me of Phoebe Waller–Bridge on “Fleabag.”The thing is, she can really dance and be funny at the same time. Mary says, “Your professional timing couldn’t have been any better. You’re like the Lucille Ball of dancing.” Smac’s reply? “I love that.” Nigel’s assessment: “Smac, you’re a star.” Let’s hope she sticks around this season to give the choreographers a reason to lighten up more with their routines.
9:43 p.m. We next meet the lovely Amanda Butler, 29, a hip-hop dancer and a busy mother of three from Odessa, Texas. She decided she needed to get back into dancing, so she joined an all-mom crew. She has brought them along her fellow moms, who have 38 children between them, for support on stage during her audition. Oddly, she stands in the back of the pack — not wise. There is a lot of hair whipping and hip shaking going on but the flair just isn’t quite there. By the time Amanda does step up, her energy seems to be flagging. Laurieann says she finds the crew inspirational and would love to see more, but most of the other judges aren’t quite there. Their consolation prize is having Dominic join them onstage for an encore.
9:52 p.m. The last dancer of the night is Gino Coscullvela, 18, a contemporary dancer from Miami who appeared on the TV show “Dance Moms” when he was 9 and had to kiss a young Maddie Ziegler. His brother and sister both dance professionally and he started to learn the ropes he was 5. His mom is an elementary school teacher and it has been tough on her to support three kids that want to dance. Gino is more than ready for SYTYCD, after having Cat smooch him good luck on the cheek. Nigel invites his mom to join the judging panel and she takes his seat. Gino does an emotional routine to “For All We Know.” The kid has it all — drama, spins, leaps, handstands, tumbling. Nigel says he will be shocked if he isn’t in the Top 10 this year. Laurieann has some doubt, saying she only saw the dancer in him when he was still and came out of a step. Mary, however, is moved to tears. It’s a yes from one and all. By the end of the show, Laurieann has dubbed Gino “Baby Baryshnikov.”
Next time: Dancing twin brothers, a returning tapper and a toddler making a few moves.