Summertime is filled with annual traditions, from trips to the beach and that local seasonal ice cream shoppe (that spells it with two p’s and an e) to that one night a week you make sure to stay in and watch So You Think You Can Dance. But traditions need to get shaken up every once in a while — after all, you gave up Rocky Road for Dulce de Leche a few years ago — and that’s true on TV, too. In other words, we need to accept the changes that are coming to our annual summer danceathon with its new “Street vs. Stage” approach.
Not that we don’t have questions. We have tons of them. But we also have access, so we went straight to the source — executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe — to get some real answers about what’s changing on the dance competition show, and what’s staying just how we like it.
Let’s take it from the top. How are the initial auditions going to be affected with this new Street vs. Stage format?
The individual dancers are told they’re going to Vegas or they’re not. There’s not a choreography round after that. It’s straight to Vegas, and then when they get to Vegas, they have to do choreography there.
What happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas, so what will that round be like?
At the end of the day, we’re creating a Top 10 of stage kids — and stage includes everything from ballroom to tap to contemporary, basically formal training — and [a Top 10] of street kids, which breaks down into the different hip-hop genres, street salsa, street tap even, street tango. They won’t have to do any other form of dance other than their own for the whole first part of the program, going through Vegas until we get our Top 10.
What that’s allowed is, of course, these incredible street kids to come on and say, “Oh good, I don’t have to do ballroom straight away.” It’s still really difficult for them because so many of them can’t pick up choreography. They can do their own thing, and they choreograph themselves, and they’re brilliant at what they do, but when it comes to doing somebody else’s work, they find it really difficult. It’s a certain part of the brain that you have to train. So we’ve still had the trainwrecks in Vegas and lost good people that we thought were fantastic.
What’s the gender breakdown of the Stage and Street teams? Is it five girls and five boys each?
I don’t really want to tell you how it’s broken down at the moment, but it’s not even [along gender lines] is all I can say. It isn’t just going to be a boy and a girl that leaves each week this year; it’s going to be one Stage and one Street kid. I don’t care if they’re male or female. The finale, where it usually is two boys and two girls, will break down into two Street and two Stage.
What are new judges Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo going to bring to the table?
Jason, a lot of people don’t realize, is a stage school kid. He’s done tap, he’s done ballet, jazz, and contemporary while he was growing up. … He dances, he employs dancers, and he’s literally at the forefront of the pop music industry in this country right now. He’s perfect to talk about what is wanted to be employed.
With Paula Abdul, what I’ve always said about her is because of her background as a dancer and choreographer, she doesn’t just look at the dancer in front of her and go, “Oh yes, you’re a good dancer.” She looks at the future for that dancer. She’ll go, “How can they grow?” as they all do on So You Think You Can Dance across a season. So she’s got that mind that doesn’t judge there and then what they’ve done, but much more what the possibilities are.
We know you’ve named tWitch and Travis Wall “team captains.” What does that mean?
The idea is really to be a psychological mentor for the kids. Obviously tWitch and Travis have both been through the competition and know it well and can help the kids.
Does that mean Travis won’t be choreographing this year?
I think Travis is going to choreograph the big major routines, where we’re not judging them.
Once we’ve got the Top 20, will the Stage and Street kids be paired or dance together?
It’s not just going to be partners now. It’s going to be threes, fours, two Stage one Street. It’s totally open to anything and everything that we can think of. It’s much easier for us to look at dancers in groups, to be able to say, “You let your group down” or “You were fantastic. You stood out.”
Will there be All-Stars?
Absolutely! When it comes to the Top 10, we’ll start doing that as usual. I don’t want that end of the show to change very much. The only way it changes is the different characters that are going to be there now, not just doing duets, and getting more groups in there. … I just think we’ve got an awful lot more of a playing field without rules now, and let’s just experiment. That’s what dance should be about anyway. We shouldn’t be just doing the same old thing, we should be pushing boundaries and experimenting.
How will eliminations work?
I’m hoping that this is going to happen: Each week, when we choose the bottom three Street and the bottom three Stage, I would like America to vote with a Twitter vote to save one of the Street and one of the Stage, and the judges to vote to keep one Street and one Stage, and the ones that aren’t voted for — the bottom Street and the bottom Stage — will get cut. For me, that makes it an awful lot more interesting because normally the kids were voted off and still had to dance on the night. Now dancing on the night means that they can be saved via Twitter vote or by the judges, and I think that’s really important.
Any early predictions you can share?
Some of the Street kids, you just go, “Oh, you are fantastic,” but they’ll disappear very quickly because they can’t pick up the choreography. But the ones that can? Wow. Watch out. I’m going to say now I think that a Street kid is going to win this year.
So You Think You Can Dance Season 12 premieres Monday, June 1 at 8 p.m. on Fox.