To me, one of the most exciting things in life was always the first day back at school after the long summer break, and this is what tonight's season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance felt like. The anticipation. The BIG DAY feeling! The excited jitters. The reconnecting with the people you haven't seen for so long. And, of course, the wondering what's changed since you and everyone last saw one another.
Here's what hasn't changed: Cat Deeley and I are still best friends/soul mates and are still going to have a sleepover, probably sometime very soon. Tyce Diorio still has chin straps made of human hair. And this show still, like always, feels particularly fresh and clean and right and loving on the heels of the mind-numbing journey that is American Idol. Don't get me wrong, I'm still riding a Phillip Phillips high, especially after watching him tearfully nuzzle himself into the warm embrace of his family last night. But SYTYCD has always felt a little more homegrown, a little less produced and stagy than its older, sillier cousin Idol. SYTCYD has less hoopla. It has judges who give actual opinions. It has Cat with a bullhorn!
Here's what has changed since SYTYCD and I were together last: The results show has been eliminated, which means that everything will now be folded into one two-hour episode each week. Two (2!) winners -- one lad, one lass -- will be crowned America's Favorite Dancer at season's end. That's a big deal! In other news, Tyce already seems more gentle-hearted this season. Am I speaking too soon? I can't explain it exactly, but it may be true. And Lil' C has apparently worked on his vocabulary. Tonight he made sense every time he spoke and used only real words.
Tonight we met a ton of disgustingly talented dancers, and in the two cities we visited, storylines began for a bunch of contestants who we may well be seeing a lot more of in the coming months.
In N.Y.C., perma-judges Nigel and Mary were joined by guest judge Tyce Diorio (whose real name, I feel I need to share with you here, is Keith -- a fact that I learned from my dancer friend last season, and a fact that I've really enjoyed having in my pocket) and the auditions got off to a swell start with contemporary dancer Amelia Lowe, a 1920s-channeling, gamine Francophile in an adorable bob and red lipstick who danced to Edith Piaf and got an enthusiastic send through to VEGAS, baby! Formidable!
My first glimpse of the possibly new, improved TyceKeith came when Toshihiko Nakazawa and his shock of red Ronald McDonald hair did a hip hop/popping and locking routine, but then couldn't understand much (any?) of the judges' feedback because of his limited English. TyceKeith was just so super sweet and classy about it. He talked to Toshihiko simply but not condescendingly and didn't shout or speak in broken English, which is, let's face it, what 90 percent of us inadvertently do when we are trying to bridge a language barrier. Toshihiko was sent on to choreography.
NEXT: An acrobat, a wiggler and a ballet beefcake