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The Torch is Passed on SYTYCD

Season 13 of So You Think You Can Dance came to a close tonight and if you’ve read any of my recaps over the season, you know I was not a fan of this format. I was angry for a full 24 hours when the Next Generation contest was announced, and I waited for a last-minute reprieve much like I hope for every day of this election cycle. On the eve of the premier, I even considered a boycott of my favorite show for the past 12 years (remember that one year when we had a Fall season – sorry Russell). Tonight I have to eat most of those angry words and congratulate the folks at Fox, or Nigel, for pulling together a memorable season. I won’t say it was perfect, and I’m still not sure what I want to see come back for next year. What I do know for sure is that I still love this show for what it does for dance.

Tonight, hip hop dancer Kida Burns took home the first Next Generation trophy with mentor Fikshun Stegall who won Season 10 with Amy Yakima. Adorable JT Church came in second, followed by the very tall and very amazing Tate McRae in third and snappy tapper Emma in fourth. I was honestly fine with any of the kids in the top 5 winning. It was a well-balanced group with fan-favorite All-Stars, and it was anybody’s game.

I was pulling hard for JT only because I wanted an All-Star that didn’t win their season to take home the prize, and if anyone deserves that second chance, it’s Robert Roldan. Several years ago he sustained injuries that could have kept him from walking again. He worked hard, came back and has since become one of my favorite people on the show. I was also pulling for Comfort Fedoke to win because she was ousted early in Season 4, got a second chance reprieve and lasted a few more weeks but has been a solid All-Star for the past few years. They both seem to be really cool kids with their heads on straight, and I love that they endured what had to be an emotionally delicate season with these kids. I don’t think there is a prize package for the coaches, but I wanted them to feel the real joy of the confetti shower.

Rather than review the night, which was the typical mix of judge’s favorite routine picks and then All-Star favorite routine picks, I want to talk about what worked and didn’t work with this season.

Worked:

  • Having All-Stars on every single week kept the level of dance very high. I say this with the adult version too. Once the All-Stars hit the stage, the performance value goes up. Having them on stage every week not only pushed the kids but kept the skeptics entertained.
  • Keeping all ten All-Stars on stage throughout the entire competition and mixing in group routines was perfect. I personally never get tired of watching new group numbers on SYTYCD (completely the opposite of how I felt about group numbers on American Idol).
  • Bringing in amazing choreographers to work with the kids was better than I could have imagined. I had nightmares of them bringing in competition or pageant coaches because I couldn’t imagine that the kids could keep up with NappyTabs or Travis Wall or Mandy Moore. I can’t name them all but there were some really talented choreographers this season, and I think they put in extra work to make the kids look good and in turn, we got to see some great pieces.
  • Picking kids that tugged at our hearts. Sure, there were some really cheesy moments where the kids turned up the stage face, but there were also genuinely touching moments. We’ll never forget Robert and JT in Stand in the Light or The Mirror. Tahani Anderson and Comfort hit it hard every week but tugged at our hearts as a mother-daughter team struggling with an absent father in the NappyTabs piece I’m Going Down. Sasha Mallory and Jordan Wandick were moving together in Brian Friedman’s piece set to Andra Day’s The Light that Never Fails. And who can forget the cool taps of Gaby and Emma or the radiant smiles of Kida and Fik-Shun or Tate McRae and Kathryn McCormick being gorgeous almost every single week?
  • Matching most kids and their All-Stars perfectly. I called the pairings of Comfort and Tahani before I even knew Comfort was on the show. Same with Kida and Fik-Shun. The chemistry was built into most of the teams, and it worked well.

What didn’t:

  • As much as I love watching Nigel dig himself out of inappropriate comments, did we even need judges? I think there was so much trepidation in saying mean things to kids that it almost rendered the judges pointless. I often felt, as a blogger, that I didn’t want to critique these kids too much because, well, they’re kids. Sounded a lot like the judges felt the same way. If I heard Paula tell JT and Robert that they were meant for each other one more time, I think I might have launched my remote into the wall.
  • Saying that the age group was 8-13 turned off a lot of people. I think doing this again might work if we go to maybe 10-17 removing more of the awkward stigma of watching a very young, very small ballroom boy dance with a full grown woman.
  • Ballroom did not work for me in this format, with the exception of Ruby and Paul. Ruby was actually old enough to give off an older vibe. Watching her and Paul dance wasn’t weird because they were similar in height and the age gap wasn’t as noticeable. Both of the other ballroom kids were paired with adults that made them look like kids, and when there is a lot of shimmy-ing and hip rolls, I just can’t dig it. I think that the same-sex pairings also eliminated a lot of the “ick” factor that we anticipated when learning of the new format.
  • Too much emotion when they got kicked off. It’s hard enough watching young adults go through this process. Seeing how hard these tiny faces had to work to fight back the tears was too emotional for me. That added to my guilt of saying anything negative ever. Fun to watch them dance. Horrible to see them get sent home.

In the end, I do think it was one of the better seasons. The choreography and the concepts were through the roof creatively, and I think a lot of choreographers were re-energized with new faces and a constant flow of All-Star talent. I sometimes sit and marvel at what a gift this show has been to the world of dance, but also to some of the kids that have gone through the program. There is an extensive list of dancers in the entertainment world right now that have come from this show. They are going on tour with Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce. They are leads on Broadway and winning Emmys or working with Michelle Obama on fitness campaigns. We aren’t turning out slacker dancers here. This show has found and promoted some great talent. Tonight’s crop of kids was no exception. I’m anxious to see what will happen with the show, but my fingers are crossed, and my wishes will all be for a Season 14.

P.S. I can’t go without commenting on the stunning group numbers from Mandy Moore and Travis Wall tonight! To quote my favorite host Cat Deeley, absolutely gorgeous! See you next summer.

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