With SYTYCD’s fate on the rocks after crowning last season’s winner Ricky Ubeda, executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe made a bold move by replacing permanent fixture on the judging panel and scream queen Mary Murphy with previous American Idol judge Paula Abdul and pop star Jason Derulo. Their star power combined with a new twist to the format that pits “stage” dancers (mostly contemporary, jazz and ballet with a sprinkling of tap dancing) against “street” dancers (hip-hoppers who specialize in everything from animation, breaking, freestyling and krump) and eliminates one from each team (instead of a guy and a girl) makes this season one to watch.
Nigel also brought in two likeable mentors for each team: Season 2’s Travis Wall and Season 4’s Twitch, both of whom were runners-up on their respective seasons and so, are looking for their first win amongst the ten talented members of their team. So before tonight’s show, let’s talk about those people and which of them could win, just based on what we know about them so far: their personality, audition, a few solos and their ability to stand out from the crowd.
From Team Stage:
One standout from Travis’s side is ballet dancer Jim Nowakowski. When he first arrived on scene during the auditions, Nigel compared him to Season 7’s jack-of-all-trades Alex Wong. The show also gave him a lot of screen time to talk about the multiple cleft palate surgeries he’s had, making him a likely contender for the “redemption arc”. He does, however, have some competition on the male side of his team in Edson Juarez, who got injured in Vegas, and Moses Parra, who struggled and was forced to dance for his life, but both of them came back even stronger.
On the girls’ side of Travis’s team, red-haired contemporary dancer Kate Hartpoolian stands out from the crowd. Prior to the show, she was a member of Travis’s dance crew, “Shaping Sound,” and therefore likely has the chops and experience with her mentor to deliver some great routines. Tapper Gaby Diaz has also shown that she can take criticism and improve dramatically, while jazz dancer Hailee Payne has that fierce, eye-catching look that will fare well in routines by choreographer Sonya Tayeh.
Other faces like jazz dancers Marissa Milele and Alexia Meyer, contemporary dancer Derek Piquette and ballet dancer Darion Flores have mostly been seen in the background, but on a show like this, that means very little. Season 9’s female runner-up, Tiffany Maher, was barely seen at all until the live shows where she became a standout. For example, Alexia’s audition and material since is reminiscent of last season’s finalist Jessica Richens and may, therefore, make her one of Nigel’s early favourites, but we will see which of these underdogs standout when the curtain opens on Monday night.
From Team Street:
Twitch’s team has it’s fair share of memorable faces too. During Hollywood Week, the Street women rose to the top in search of the American edition of the show’s first female hip-hop winner. For this reason, contestants like krumper Jaja Vankova, freestyler Yorelis Apolianaro and locker Jessica Rabone all stand a chance of becoming early frontrunners. Each of them has shown they can handle choreography with ease and still deliver memorable solos in their style. They also all have the personality to avoid being stereotyped as the “unlikeable tough girl” like past female hip-hop contestants.
That’s not to say that the Street boys should be discounted wholeheartedly. Actor-turned-hip-hopper Virgil Gadson was always the centre of attention when he got up on stage and he has the personality and “it” factor that made contestants like Fik-shun, Cyrus and even Twitch himself so likeable. Breaker Burim “B1” Jusufi also made a name for himself with his high-speed solos that rank among some of the best the show has ever seen.
And like Team Stage, Team Street has its fair share of underdogs. hip-hopper Ariana Crowder made herself memorable at the last-minute by standing out in her group round routine. Waacker Lily Frais and locker Alain “Hurrikane” Lauture had some of the most memorable and unique solos of the season so far and hip-hopper Megan “Megz” Alfonso and freestyler Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge remained a consistently strong presence whenever they were shown doing the end-product in choreography rounds. Like Team Stage, it’s clear that Team Street also has a few contenders for the title.
It will all come down to what happens in Monday night’s show. What routines will Travis and Twitch put them in to impress? How will they fair? Which of them will fall victim of the mysterious injury we heard about at the end of last week’s show and who will step in to replace them? Season 12’s streets (and stage) are mean and only one of them can win it all.
Catch my recaps of Monday night’s shows every Tuesday. Until then, enjoy what is bound to be a great season of dance and let me know who your early favorites are in the comments below!