"So You Think You Can Dance" Season 9 made its final audition stop this week in Salt Lake City, and while the Utah town is typically known for conservatism, it's apparently also home to quite a few hot tamales, as Mary Murphy would say--at least judging by Wednesday's episode. It seemed like the Hot Tamale Train pulled into SLC Station and unloaded a bevy of ballroom and burlesque beauties, which had guest judge Adam Shankman amusingly declaring, "If my life circumstances had turned out differently, I would have wanted to live in Salt Lake City!" (I'm already assuming that pervy Nigel Lythgoe has hired a Utah realtor and is looking into purchasing a Salt Lake City summer home...)
Below are the top hot-tamale highlights from "SYTYCD's" sometimes salty Salt Lake City auditions. Cue music!
Witney Carson - This ballroom dancer proclaimed, "I like being a woman," even though she initially seemed about as womanly as one of the kids on "Dance Moms." But somehow how this fresh-faced girly-girl, whom Nigel had called a "little cutie," transformed into an Anya-esque tigress when she hit the stage. "Holy moly!" Nigel cried out, while probably coming close to suffering another heart attack. "You are for sure what I call hot tamale," Mary said, screeching out her first official "WOOOOOOOOOOO!" of the season. Witney exhibited the perfect crowd-pleasing, potentially vote-garnering mix of innocence and sex appeal, and I think viewers of all persuasions will simply adore her.
Deanna "Dee" Tomasetta - A daddy's girl from a large, loud, proud Italian family, Dee probably causes her older brothers and father much grief, with looks and legs like hers. And now that she's been on national TV with her golden gorgeousness on full display, I suspect the male Tomasettas will experience many sleepless nights. Dee was just lovely, performing a contemporary routine featuring a crazy sustained backbend that had Adam blurting out, "Oh my gawd!" Said Adam: "You are completely living in your world. For someone so young, you have a real wisdom about how you dance." Nigel was actually rendered speechless--he just cut to the chase and handed Dee a ticket to Vegas. I wonder if any of her concerned male relatives will fly out to chaperone her in Sin City?
Gene Lonardo - I am sure that Gene Gene The Praying Mantis Dancing Machine will be a polarizing contestant, but I am totally Team Gene. When he showed up in green warpaint looking like a cast member of some experimental stage version of The Jungle Book and announcing his intentions to audition with conceptual piece about "the life cycle of male praying mantis," I was worried that he'd be as crazy as this week's alien-space-dance reject Lynn Gravatt, but instead he was a Kanemura-esque, Sonya-Tayeh-baiting revelation. He made it look easy being green. "It was not only intriguing, it was entertaining," said Nigel. "You're sort of brilliant!" cried out Adam. Gene actually hails from Las Vegas (no surprise; I am sure he fits right in there), so he was going to end up in Vegas anyway...but it turns out that "SYTYCD" will be paying for his return ticket home. I am now praying that the Praying Mantis Man makes the top 20!
Lindsay Arnold - This ballroom contender's audition wasn't as exciting to watch as Witney's (no "WOOOOOOs" from Mary this time), but she was impressively skilled--"a rare combination of a good performer and a good technician," as Nigel put it. I have doubts if she can go beyond Vegas or make it far on this show, but Mary compared her to Julianne Hough and told her, "The sky's the limit in the ballroom world for you." So maybe we'll see Lindsay on "Dancing With The Stars" one day.
Mariah Spears - Talk about the emancipation of Mimi! This badass chick is currently my new favorite Mariah. She's also my new favorite Spears, because she's got the X factor! This "little blonde girl" krumper--the best girl krumper ever on "SYTYCD," according to Adam--was the biggest surprise of the entire episode. The judges chuckled dismissively when she declared krumping her genre specialty, but Mariah definitely had the last laugh when she somehow suddenly morphed into the lovechild of Comfort Fedoke and Russell Ferguson and wowed 'em all. Mariah was only advanced to the purgatory-style choreography round at first, but she impressed enough to eventually earn a Vegas ticket. The RIZE of Mariah Spears has begun!
Murphy Yang - It always amazes me on this show when parents don't support their kids' dancing dreams, especially if those kids are actually talented. Murphy had another one of those sob stories: His dad was so dismayed that he wanted to be a dancer instead of, say, a doctor or lawyer, that his family disowned him and moved to California without him. I thoroughly enjoyed Murphy's Fred-Astaire-as-a-B-boy audition, even if his lack of legitimate training showed. And while I understood why Murphy didn't make it past the choreography round, I do hope that he continues to pursue dance, gets some formal training, and returns in a season or two. And I hope that one day, his dad realizes what a talented son he has.
Dareian Kujawa - This shirtless Hawaiian himbo was pretty much perfection from the ankles up, but Nigel and Mary had serious issues with his dead-fish-like "lousy feet." Adam, however, raved about Dareian, saying, "You are what this show is all about...you will have choreographers clawing each other's eyes out to get at you if you keep dancing like that." Everything else about this guy's strong, athletic, passionate audition was fantastic, so he received a straight-to-Vegas ticket anyway, despite his floppy feet. I hope Dareian can get a better footing in the competition, so to speak--if he can, then he will surely be unstoppable.
Adrian Lee - One of many of this episode's repeat auditioners, Adrian was likely familiar to regular "SYTYCD" viewers from Season 7, when he almost made it all the way to the top 20, until Mary paid him a home visit to personally deliver the bad news that he'd been passed over. At the time, Adrian was discouraged and nearly gave up his "SYTYCD" dream (his angered mom even stopped watching the show!)--but after sitting out last season, this year he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and tried again. And I am so glad he did. His likability and his infectious sense of joy and love of dance came rushing back, even if his self-styled choreography wasn't the best. (Pair him up with Mandy Moore or Sonya Tayeh, though, and he'll be fine.) So Adrian scored another ticket to Vegas--and Nigel even handed an extra plane ticket to Adrian's mother! All was forgiven, at least for now. I hope Adrian makes it this time.
Rachel Applehans - This girl can dance, for sure, but she bugged me. The burlesque bombshell freely admitted that she wanted to make Nigel "a little uncomfortable" with an overtly sexual routine, which I don't necessarily think was the best strategy for a show with a big voter base of young girls. Girls won't vote for someone like Rachel, whose bustier-clad, hair-whipping, floor-crawling audition bordered on striptease at times; I almost kept looking for a pole on that stage. I had the same issues last season with wannabe Pussycat Doll Jordan Casanova, who sometimes crossed a line from tasteful to tawdry, but Jordan thankfully proved she was able to adapt to other, less sexy styles of dance. Rachel proved that as well, when she survived the choreography round--but if she wants to survive the voting rounds, should she make the top 20, then she needs to tone down the sexpot act just a tad. Wholesome girls like Melanie Moore and Lauren Froderman win "SYTYCD"; stripper chicks do not.
Leroy Martinez - Leroy didn't receive a ticket to Vegas, but he scored a one-way ticket into America's hearts with his standout, smile-inducing audition. A lovable lug who works at a doggy daycare facility and oversees an afterschool dance program for at-risk youth, Leroy came across as the nicest man to ever appear on "SYTYCD." He also surprised with his superfun audition, during which he was gravity-defyingly light on his feet despite his deceptively heavy frame. The judges, especially Adam, absolutely fell in love with Leroy ("This is why this is my favorite job," Adam gushed), and although they had their doubts about how well he'd fare in choreography, they couldn't let him go just yet, so they gave him a shot. Leroy floundered in the choreography trial (when he was amusingly paired with aforementioned stripper-girl Rachel), but I certainly enjoyed the short amount of time that he was on the screen. Might I suggest that his crew the Peacemakers try out for "America's Best Dance Crew" next year?
So there you have it. The "SYTYCD" auditions are complete! Next week, the Vegas rounds finally begin, and I'm looking forward to seeing a bunch of my favorites from the Dallas, New York, L.A., Atlanta, and SLC auditions strut their stuff. See you then!