It's the ninth season of "So You Think You Can Dance," and host Cat Deeley assures us that "after eight seasons we thought we'd seen it all, but apparently not."
The first stop is in New York, pulling talent from Broadway to the streets of Brooklyn, every surrounding borough and beyond.
Joining Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy on the judging panel is Tyce Diorio. As you'll recall, each dancer gets a chance at a solo. The best of the best will be sent straight to Vegas for the next round, while any on-the-fence dancers will be sent on to a group choreography stage where some will move on and some won't. And the rest, well, it was a great trip.
Amelia Lowe sort of conjures images of "The Artist," but producers weren't going to let that point go unnoticed. Her whole intro package was done in 1920s silent-movie style, but her performance lived up to the hype and she's off to Vegas.
Toshihiko Nakazawa of Japan says he does a little hip hop, a little locking, a little popping and a little ballet. Once the language barrier is overcome, Toshihiko's performance is captivating. Nigel says it was reminiscent of Twitch because he didn't know what to expect next. Tyce tells Toshihiko that his body is "like a musical instrument." He'll come back for choreography.
Austin Freeman, 21, is a nerdy looking guy who says he's going to be dancing "the wiggle." He says he does this all over New York City, which he says sometimes prompts laughter and gets people to make fun of him. He says his goal in life is "to become a celebrity." He wiggles his body while music plays and is sent packing.
After a montage of good dances, we meet Shafeek Westbrook of Philadelphia, who's a master flipper, but his audition is a demonstration of raw physical control. He does some amazing tricks, flips and handstands. Nigel says Shafeek brings something unique to the show. Mary says it's unlike anything she's ever seen before. Tyce tells Shafeek he moves "like silk." He's got a ticket to Vegas.
At the end of the night, Toshihiko struggles in choreography and checks himself out of the competition. He couldn't lift his partner. A bunch more dancers get their tickets punched for Las Vegas.
Day 2 in New York and we meet Leo Reyes, who says he's auditioning now for her mom, who had attempted suicide recently. He cries as he talks about how he'd taken his talent for granted and hadn't done anything with it that his mom could see. His moves bring the other dancers to their feet and get him to Vegas. He calls his mom to tell her he did it for her.
After a montage of some terrible performance, we get a ballet dancer named Chehon Wespi-Tschopp of Zurich who says he's put his own twist on his ballet background. Sure enough, the judges are impressed. Tyce thinks Chehon needs to go to Vegas, so he does.
For the second hour we head to Texas for the Dallas auditions, and Lil C is on the panel now. We meet Bree Hafen, a mother of two who says she's felt guilty for wanting to get back into dancing after dedicating her life to her kids for years. She's 29 and ready to give it a shot. Her two kids, 5-year-old Luke and 2-year-old Stella, come and sit in Nigel's chair to watch their mom. Bree impresses Nigel enough that he asks little Luke, "If I give you something will you give it to mommy?" Luke walks up to the edge of the stage with his mom's ticket to Vegas. After all the praise, little Stella gets her chance to show some moves and she brings the house down.
Two creepy guys -- one who says he does "exorcist style" and another who does "zombie" style -- are coming next. First, Stepheon "The Zombie" Stewart, freaks everyone out -- in a good way -- with some impressive physical control in a sort of popping and locking performance. Lil C is fired up, saying, "That's what I wanted to see!" And, "I love my job." Nigel says it's "one of the most entertaining routines" he's seen. Lil C says that after all the time and energy and effort he's devoted to dance, performers like Stepheon are what keep him doing what he does.
Hampton Williams tells the judges that he aims to cleanse the audience's soul through his dance. Everyone seems a little skeptical, if not downright afraid, but it's a riveting performance that has Mary crying, some of the other dancers in the crowd crying and giving him a standing ovation. Nigel tells Hampton that he "might be a genius." Nigel says he isn't sure how Hampton's skills will play out in the competition, but he doesn't care and he'll pay for it himself, regardless of what the other judges says. Mary seems convinced, though, still crying and saying she's never been so moved by that style of dance before. Lil C says he wants to kick Hampton in the face (in a good way). He says Hampton showed freestyle that no one's ever seen before.
Daniel Baker from Australia now lives in San Francisco. He talks about a book his father gave him about America, and that's why he'd always wanted to live in the U.S. He took up ballet to get to America and gave up a job with the San Francisco Ballet to try out for the show. The crowd chants, "Vegas! Vegas! Vegas!" But the judges insist on playfully acting cool until handing him a ticket to Vegas.
After another montage of Vegas-bound dancers, we meet Sam Shreffler, who explains that he's on the autism spectrum and his symptoms fluctuate. He does what he calls "lyrical freestyle." Nigel tells Sam that he won't be moving on to choreography, but urges Sam not to give up dancing.
Up next is a B Boy trying out for a "mainstream" TV show called "So You Think You Can Dance," who says he despises the TV show called "So You Think You Can Dance," and isn't interested in going mainstream. Cat is clearly annoyed during her pre-audition interview and tells him to "go on, get out of here" before he heads to the stage. He immediately tells Nigel he disagrees with the way the show is run. His name is Von Kipper and while he shows off some decent moves, Lil C says he thinks the conversation with Nigel threw him off.
Jarell Rochelle comes up next and explains that he wants to do something with his dancing while his mom -- who is going blind -- can still see it. Nigel invites Jarell's mom to his seat on the judges' table so she can get the close-up. She cries while she watches her son on stage, and Nigel can't help but smile. Nigel asks Jarell's mom to hand her son his ticket to Vegas.