So You Think You Can Dance is going old school, and if you’re a fan, breathe a sigh of relief.
Fox’s reality dance competition show premiered its 14th season tonight, which has been dubbed “Back to Basics.” Gone are last season’s junior competitors. Also wisely dumped is the Season 12 format that pitted “Street” against “Stage” dancers.
Instead, SYTYCD is relying on the formula that made it popular and won a loyal legion of fans, with adult competitors performing a variety of styles. Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo are gone as judges; Mary Murphy is back, and joining her is newbie Vanessa Hudgens.
The premiere episode, the Los Angeles auditions, was the perfect introduction to this season, with some beautiful performances, crackling judge chemistry, and kooky characters.
Here are three reasons we’re glad to be “Back to Basics”:
1. Older dancers have more story to tell
Look, last season’s kids were cute and adorable and entertaining and all that jazz. No doubt they will grow up to be amazing performers — someday. Former SYTYCD stars like Twitch, Fik-Shun, Melanie, and Comfort are still so beloved because of their outsized personalities. They’re just more interesting because they’ve had some life experience and seasoning.
Of course, it’s hard to tell at this point if there’s another Twitch in the making this season, but even the premiere had some promising performers, like “breaking contemporary” dancer Mark Villaver, whose sunny disposition and big smile got everyone in the auditorium letting out therapeutic breaths.
2. Mature dancers give mature performances
Not only are adult performers more interesting as people, they can tell more interesting stories on stage. Many of SYTYCD’s most memorable numbers have been romantic or sensual — think Mark and Chelsie in “Bleeding Love” (Season 4), the park bench dance with Heidi and Travis (Season 2), and Melanie and Marko’s “I Got You” (Season 8).
In this premiere episode, consider ballroom dancers Kristina and Vasily and their gorgeous, moving, and romantic samba. That kind of choreography is inappropriate for tween dancers, so we missed out on a huge chunk of expression last year.
3. All aboard the Hot Tamale Train!
Mary Murphy has her haters. She can be loud and shrill. But she knows her stuff, especially about ballroom. She also brings a warmth and emotionality to the judges’ table that counterbalances Nigel Lythgoe’s sterner, stonier facade.
And having worked together for so many years, Murphy and Lythgoe just have a “zing” to their interactions that he never had with Paula Abdul (much less Jason Derulo).
So You Think You Can Dance airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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