Monday, May 03, 2010

So You Think You Can Dance Format Change Summit


In case you've all missed it (what, you're not losers and don't follow Nigel Lythgoe on Twitter?), the new season of So You Think You Can Dance is set to have some pretty significant format changes. Outlined here, the changes include:

The competition round will feature only 10 dancers, down from 20. Only one dancer eliminated each week. The dancers will be paired, each week, with a different partner from a pool of "all-star" SYTYCD dancers. [At the time this discussion started, the announced all-stars were: Allison (season 2), Lauren and Pasha (season 3), Mark, Twitch, and Comfort (season 4), Ade (season 5), and Kathryn (season 6).]

The judges will choose the eliminated dancer (from a fan-voted Bottom 3) until the finale.

Mary Murphy will choreograph on occasion, so she won't always be a judge.

Mia Michaels will return to choreographing.

I figured it was time to get the band back together and discuss these changes to our favorite dance competition show. Answering the call were Vance, Lauren, and Kirk.

Click to read the full conversation (including all 12 all-stars) after the break...


Joe: SO! First impressions? Does this make you more or less excited for Season 7? Did you think the show was in need of such a drastic shakeup?

Vance: I guess I'll start and start it off on a positive note. MIA WILL BE BACK! YAY! MARK WILL BE BACK! YAY! PASHA WILL BE BACK! YAY! ALLISON WILL BE BACK! YAY! I can also see the pros of the 1 vote off per week combined with All Star pairings, in that it won't necessarily be guy-girl guy-girl. And the final can possibly be all girls or all guys. And no one can survive until the Top 10 with a stronger partner. But then again, there is no Top 20.

Kirk: I'm already looking forward to seeing Mia in the audition rounds. More cutting! I'm super glad they're bringing her back, ditto the rotating judges chair. Toni Basil issues aside, I really like the guest judges and missed them last time around... doesn't seem right to have a season of SYTYCD without 'C.

As for the all-stars, there's a chance it'll work, if only because I get the sense that a lot of people are a little burnt out on the current setup... it feels like much of my recent time with the show (especially last season) has been spent reminiscing about when the dancers were better, the routines more memorable. Perhaps the producers decided to simplify the show while giving us more of our favorite dancers?

So I could see it working okay, provided they find good contestants and the whole thing can avoid seeming desperate.

What I'm curious about is... what were any of those dancers even doing? The SYTYCD endgame is still kind of murky for me. Like, if you win, you end up doing backup dancing for an American Idol singer or something? Bringing all those contestants back seems to imply that this is the best gig they can get, which kinda robs winning of some of its oomph.

Joe: See, Kirk, one of my favorite things about the show is the exact opposite of what you're saying. Because there is no path to notoriety or mainstream superstardom in the dance world, the competition becomes much more about the work itself. Being the best dancer on the show becomes its own reward. I tend to watch American Idol with an eye to what singers I like the best, yes, but I also have to think of things like marketability, likability, how they would fit in the current musical landscape. And that all gives "Idol" some dimension and that's fine. But it's great to watch a show like "Dance" where the ONLY thing that matters is what's happening during those ten weeks.

At base, I like this idea because I will enjoy seeing the all-stars again, and honestly, I don't get attached to more than 10 dancers per season anyway. I do hope the semifinal/Vegas rounds are expanded a bit, so making the Top 10 becomes a momentous achievement. [BTW, I don't think Mia's hopping back onboard 'til after Vegas.]

LOVE that we're getting a rotating judge back. I loved Adam Shankman the best of all judges last year, but I missed my Debbie Allen and Lil' C terribly. Having Mary's seat become (semi-)rotating appears to be the best of both worlds. And i wonder if this means Travis Wall will get a seat on the panel before long.

I noticed that Anya (season 3 ballroomer) was announced as an All-Star today. Which seems to leave one slot open. For a boy. Who are we hoping pulls that slot? They've already got a bunch of contemporary experts, so I guess my hopes for Neil and/or Jakob are long shots. I've love to see Gev or Legacy return as hip-hoppers. Or Hok! Sweet lord, Hok!

Vance: Yah, rarely do dancers become famous in the first place, so the show IS the fame and makes rock stars out of dancers who usually are relegated to the background. Even in ballet, there are only a few principal stars with a huge company behind them. And it's usually only smaller moments like seeing Travis Wall choreograph, Neil Haskell on Broadway, or Mark Kanemura joining Lady Gaga's entourage that we consider successes post-SYTYCD. So coming back as All-Stars will be a nice little gift back...

BUT... are they choosing right? Nigel sure is kinda choosing obvious picks. And making sure the demographics are there. I mean, no offense to Comfort but COMFORT? Really? Just because they want a female black Hip-Hop dancer? (And I'm guessing Donyelle (who I would have much preferred) was busy with her own dance troupe and motherhood?)

And does Anya seem like she comes as a package deal with Pasha? I like Anya, but seriously, Pasha is the star in that team. I wish Legacy had the hip-hop slot (given to Twitch) but from his tweets, it didn't seem like he's been contacted by Nigel. I would love Neil AND Jakob to be on, but is there really only 1 slot left? If you think about it, since they're always switching, they CAN have more than 10 All Stars if they want. Having a rotation of stars every week.

Anyways, while it's true we don't get attached to more than 10 or so dancers a season, and usually it doesn't really get great until the Top 10, the Top 20 did give us a chance to start weeding them out in our minds ourselves. I guess the prolonged Top 10 now will have to do. I can also see why the judges want to take back the ultimate vote-off power (especially after seeing what's happening on American Idol) but looking at some of the decisions they made last year, I'm not sure giving Nigel more power is a good thing. Let's hope for some outside sense with the rotating judges.

Kirk: Oh, on the whole, I really like that SYTYCD is more humble than American Idol. It's nice to watch a show that isn't constantly reminding me what a huge effing deal it is, and where the judges have more of a sense of perspective about the show, the industry, and themselves.

And I also like that they have their own community - The 100th episode, when they all got together at the end and had cake? I died. So really, it seems like the new format will build that community more firmly into the fabric of the show, which is pretty cool. Rather than a contract or whatever, the reward for doing well on the show is a place in that community, which is in many ways a better prize than, say, a recording contract. Especially since, as Vance points out, there's no equivalent for dancers.

I was also surprised to see Comfort on the all-star list - she was a dancer who never really connected for me. For that last male slot, it'd be great to see Gev back, since I always liked the guy, but if there's one dancer from the past few seasons that I want to see more of, it's Jakob. God, such a freak, and a great partner!

I realized that with this shift, the show will kinda become a twist on "Dancing With The Stars" - the twist being that the stars are dancers, too. Which means, sadly, no more watching for that special couple that blossoms into amazingness. Seeing duos like Katee and Joshua or Courtney and Gev find a groove together has always been one of my favorite parts of the show - I'm kinda bummed that we won't get that anymore.

But the more I think about it, the more I'd like to see some more shake-ups, especially among the choreographers. It seems like a lot of them are repeating routines that we've seen before (especially Tab+Nap, who I thought got overworked last time around). Travis's routines were the by far the most enjoyable of last season, and I, too, hope he turns up as a guest judge. And it makes me wonder who else is out there!

Sometimes I wish that they made a competition show for choreographers. So You Think You Can Choreograph (...eograph ...eograph)

Joe: In Comfort's semi-defense, she did shine on a couple of those hip-hop performances in her final weeks (with Twitch; with Thayne). As far as hip-hop girls go, I'm a Sara von Gillern guy myself, but alas.

Kirk, you bring up what a great partner Jakob was, and that's a great point. I'll remember it when the hordes of Danny Tidwell and Will Wingfield fans come complaining that those two weren't chosen for the all-star pool. Both great dancers, sure, but they were AWFUL partners.

And I agree that we're losing something with not being able to see pairs of dancers grow and bond together. That was always a big part of how I grew attached to the dancers -- think Kathryn/Legacy just last season. I guess there will be bonding with the all-stars too, but there won't be a sense of learning together.

What do we think of the increased judges' control over the eliminations? I've never had much of a problem with the dancers Nigel and Co. have chosen to be eliminated. Even the ones I've really loved (Matt Dorame from season 4; Victor from last year), you could tell they'd run out of steam. It's America whose choices haven't always been the best lately (looking at y'all, Evan and Ashleigh).

Vance: Oh yah, I would have been down with Sara von Gillern too! And yes, I hated Danny since day 1 because he was all ME ME ME dancer and a horrible partner. I've blogged about it, but when I saw him in Memphis the musical on Broadway (which he's in right now anyways, so he's busy), he basically dropped his partner. She looked PISSED. (He caught her just in time before she smacked the floor, so injury averted, but still.)

Joe: How did I know that last all-star would end up being Dominic? Inferior Quest Crew members for the win, I guess.

Kirk: Huh, Dominic ... he never made that huge of an impression on me as far as I can remember, but then again, he always made Sabra look really good, and she wound up winning! So perhaps strength as a partner is indeed factoring into the decisions? In my mind, the ability to dance super-well and make your partner look good has usually been what separates the great contestants from the good ones. Though he never connected on his own, Ade was actually like that - he had this incredible athleticism, and made his partners look great. It'll be nice to see him back!

I have no problem with the judges getting more control - the only issue I've ever had with the SYTYCD eliminations is that the process isn't very well-explained... I remember feeling kind of baffled for like the whole first season I watched, unclear on how the voting/dance for your life/elimination part of the show really worked. That's probably on me and my short-attention-span ass, though, heh.

Taking it down to single eliminations seems like it'll change the feel of the competition considerably, and will doubtless make the whole thing feel more focused. Really, the big challenge for the next crop of contestants is going to be measuring up when placed next to their all-star partners! I would imagine that means the audition process is going to be pretty brutal, which: bring it.

Joe: See, and I always thought it was SABRA who made DOM look good. Though, Kirk, I agree that the challenge for the newbies will be to wrest attention away from the all-stars.

Anyway, I was wrong, it's gonna be 12 all-stars and not 10. The two final all-stars got announced this week, and to my delight, they're two of my all-time favorites: Courtney Galiano (s4) and Neil Haskell (s3). At the risk of sounding partial, FUCK YEAH.

So once again, here are our all-stars:

Allison (season 2)
Lauren (season 3)
Pasha (season 3)
Neil (season 3)
Dominic (season 3)
Anya (season 3)
Mark (season 4)
Twitch (season 4)
Comfort (season 4)
Courtney (season 4)
Ade (season 5)
Kathryn (season 6)

Final thoughts on the all-stars? I have to say, I kind of intensely love this group. Though I wonder if we're gonna be sick of seeing dancers like Comfort, Anya, and Pasha, since they're pretty much the only option for their specialty (i.e. if there's a guy who draws hip-hop, his partner will always he Comfort; anyone who draws any ballroom number will get Pasha or Anya). (...Oh, who am I kidding, how could I get sick of seeing Pasha?)

What about you guys. On a scale of 1 to 10, how psyched are you for the new season?

Vance: I was gonna say, sick of seeing Pasha? Have you gone completely MAD? Looking at the full list ... Hmm ... no S1'ers. And considering how awesome S2 was, I'm shocked there's only 1 (then again, Travis will still be choreographing). And I agree, I think Sabra won but is also easily forgotten because she was the ultimate partner and morphed from style to style, making it all look good. But she didn't have her own distinct style/identity BECAUSE she immersed herself in each dance.

Lauren: I'm here, I'm here! Lord, I am EARNING the vacation I am taking later this week. But I couldn't not weigh in on all of this, and forgive me if some of what I've got you guys discussed last week already. Seriously, Joe, sick of seeing Pasha? NEVER!

I am actually really excited about this new format because I was definitely getting a little bit bored. I think the main reason for that is having a Fall season -- I didn't have time to miss the show yet from the summer, and I also have enough other TV to watch and recap during the regular season that committing all that time to SYTYCD because kind of unrealistic for me and so I never got as into it as I had been in the past. I didn't necessarily jump to needing a new format, but when the new format was announced I was stoked because I love the idea of seeing the all-stars again and because it feels fresh.

I am thrilled about the new voting, too, because while I don't always agree with the judges' decisions 100%, I do agree at least 90% of the time and I don't trust America nearly that much with who they sometimes keep around FAR past when I think they should be there. (Evan, you're darling, but no.)

The one thing I will miss a little is the same thing you guys mentioned -- seeing partnerships grow during the first part of the season -- but at least on paper for me the trade-offs are worth it right now. I always enjoy the dancing when a couple is doing the style of at least one of the two dancers because it's just so much stronger, and so to have the all-stars there in that respect I think will raise the level of dancing even higher. Also, I adore most of the picks and can't wait to see them again. The impression I've gotten is that a lot of the dancers on the show have gotten opportunities afterward, but I think because the dance world is still not mainstream in the way the music world is, they aren't nearly as visible. I watch Dancing With the Stars on and off and love the few SYTYCD alums that have gotten a chance on there, and have also noticed Pasha, Anya, and Travis (off the top of my head) at various times appearing in performances on that show.

I hope this makes sense because I had to just throw this all in an email while I had a chance.

Kirk: Dang, seeing the list all at once I'm reminded how much I really like all of these dancers. This should be great!

Interesting that they don't have anyone from Season 1. Wonder if it has anything to do with how many people watched that season, versus Season 2 and beyond? I know I didn't tune in until S2, anyway.

Joe, allow me to second your FUCK YEAH to the addition of Courtney and Neil and upgrade it to an OH FUCK YEAH. Not only did Courtney dance in my Official Low Resolution #1 Favorite SYTYCD Routine Of All Time, I always thought she was an awesome contestant. By which I mean I always thought she was hot.

Vance: Ok, I just got back from seeing Burn the Floor and right now, the cast includes Ryan and Ashleigh, Artem and Karen Hauer, and Pasha and Anya.

And seeing Pasha and Anya dance again has gotten me REALLY excited about seeing them on my TV every week again! I guess at this point we all seem curious about the new switch and could be interesting.

It could work... as long as they CHANGE THAT DAMN FUGLY SET FROM LAST SEASON.

5 comments:

Mertseger said...

I am happiest about Mary not being a permanent judge. I was a huge fan of her judging in the early seasons, but her schtick became increasingly stale. And we also lost being able to see her choreography which is quite good.

I'm more temparate on the format change. One of the primary points of the show is that there are a lot of good dancers out there that TV (at least) never focussed upon. In the all-star format, there's some chance that the contestants will be overshadowed by their "all-star" partners.

There's also the issue that the all-stars do not include any of the past winners. So your reward for winning the show is to be excluded from the list of potential all-stars? I guess we're supposed to believe that the winners have gone on to better things, and there's probably no rule against their returning as an all-star. But still.

I'm more comfortable with the judge's selection now that the tour has collapsed. It was pretty clear that some of Nigel's picks were driven with an eye towards tour-balance rather than who was best.

Ultimately, though, as long as Cat's back, I'm a happy camper.

Kris McN said...

I think these changes are pretty exciting. It seems like dancing with the All Stars will consistently raise the quality of performances. Yeah, it was nice to see partnerships develop, but the flip side is that no one will get hamstrung with a dud partner - remember when Janine was stuck with Philip for weeks on end? Not that it stopped her in the end, but she was definitely fighting an uphill battle with him and would have been break-out sooner with a better partner.

Monty Ashley said...

Wait wait wait. There will be episodes where Mary won't be judging?

This is the greatest news I have ever heard. Although I guess her judging screeches will just be replaced by interview screeches.

DuchessKitty said...

My friend and I had a similar discussion about a week ago:
http://duchesskitty.blogspot.com/2010/04/upcoming-sytycd-season-7-discussion.html

I'm pretty much excited about everything that's coming down the pike for this coming season.

One thing I didn't see you guys discuss was the fact that supposedly there won't be any same-gender routines. Nigel tweeted that the duos will be boy/girl each week (at least until the final 3) no matter who gets eliminated.
And even the All Stars don't get voted off, if we have a lopsided amount of boys vs girls that means that we'll end up not seeing some of the vets as often as others, which I think totally sucks. Some of my fave routines have been the ones from the finale where the girls and boys got to dance together.

Esi said...

So according to this: http://popwatch.ew.com/2010/05/10/so-you-think-you-can-dance-mia-michaels-judge/
Mia is a PERMANENT judge (yay!) and therefore won't be choreographing (boo!). But having Mia's insights every week will be amazing. Esp. when Li'l C is the guest judge.