Longtime readers will be aware that I am an unabashed fan of the television show So You Think You Can Dance, AKA “American Idol except for dancing instead of singing and also it doesn’t suck,” which has just commenced its fourth American season. It’s a better show than Idol in so many ways.
The judges are much, much better than Randy, Simon and Paula; less self-impressed, less self-important, less attention-seeking (although Mary Murphy’s tendency towards gimmickry – catchphrases, her incredibly annoying shrieking – is starting to really grind). Their moments of humour tend to be organic rather than have the bad-sketch quality anything associated with Paula Abdul generates. Most importantly, they tend to be more respectful of the contestants. This is, I think, in part because professional dance is a much smaller world than professional musicianship is; nobody wants to get a bad reputation in the business.
That same quality is what leads the contestants to be, on average, so much better than on Idol. I particularly remember last season, when the judges were particularly harsh in their criticism of Cedric, an unschooled but brilliant hip-hopper with no professional technique worth mentioning. The audience began booing, but Cedric told them to be quiet, because – and this is why I love this show – he hadn’t learned enough and he knew he had to learn more, and was eager to learn more. (Also,
Diana Ross Debbie Allen gave him free admission to her dance school based on his performance, which is also awesome, but that is neither here nor there.) The serious professionals know not to piss anybody off and be respectful, and the talented amateurs – mostly B-boys and krunk grrls, but the occasional freestyle lyrical performer as well – all want to prove they’re as good as the schooled kids.
The best thing is that, unlike Idol, where the theoretical entertainment of the tryout episodes is derived from bad singers (be they attention whores or simply deluded), with every season of So You Think You Can Dance there is less and less bad dancing in the tryouts, because bad dancing is so rarely entertaining. You might want to see a bad singer every so often for novelty value over a competent singer, but given the choice between a fairly inventive breaker or a idiot flailing around, most people will pick the breaker. Or the lindy hoppers. Or the ballerina.
And that’s just the tryouts. The performance competition inevitably trumps Idol. Every year. Period. When Idol gets a breakout performer like a Melinda Doolittle or Bo Bice upping the ante for the entire episode? That is the norm for SYTYCD. Every season has half a dozen performers of that calibre minimum.
But the best part of this show, for me, right now, is that there’s two of it. The first season of the Australian version of the show just finished up (I’m downloading it like a madman), and it’s arguably even better than the American version. Interestingly, it’s a lot more multiculti and diverse than the American version, for some reason, despite Australia being a lot whiter on the whole than America is. Take all the strengths of the American version I just listed and emphasize them, improve the format and editing and pacing of the show itself (the Aussie process of tryout is more formalized but with greater leniency on the parts of the judges – and the editing is just heaps better) and that’s the Australian version – it’s just fucking fantastic television.