Let me preface this by saying that the following critique does not mean I am unhappy with the winner, or that I think that the dancers in this season are not “good” dancers. I have never considered myself a connoisseur of dance. I simply enjoy the entertainment aspect of this show, and I was not as entertained as I thought I would be this season, especially with all the hype surrounding it.
As season 6 of So You Think You Can Dance was gearing up during the live airing of season 5, they ran several promotions, implying that season 6 was going to be SPECTACULAR, repeatedly showing the clip of Mia Michaels saying, “Season 6 is going to be blow season 5 out of the water!!!” So, so untrue.
Here are the reasons why season 5 was a huge disappointment:
1) The New Set
Season 6, inspired by the fancy set of the finale of season 5 (which was filmed at the Kodak Theatre – where the Oscars are held – instead of their regular studio), eradicated the stairs & stage duo that we all have come to associate with any SYTYCD around the world. Instead, the stage was a vast open space with a giant jumbotron screen as the backdrop.
Although I’m sure the new set was more technologically advanced and a lot larger, the lack of stairs made the stage seem smaller because vertical space was completely left untouched. Previously, fans could watch from the tops of the stairs where there was a viewing balcony, and the choreographers would design their pieces to incorporate the stairs, which was always fun. The new set is also flanked on both sides by huge lights, which seems like the set is being pressed into (does that make sense?)
Anyway, I’m just saying that the attempt at seeming impressive and grandiose only ended up being very flat and distracting (dang, that jumbotron was SO distracting!!!)
2) Hot Tamale Train
Mary Murphy’s signal of approval (and subsequent prompt to America to vote for the couple that received this approval) is frankly, super annoying. However, it’s TV and entertainment, and things like the Hot Tamale Train help the viewers understand what is good/bad dancing. This season, Mary appointed the Hot Tamale Train seal of approval to only about 2 or 3 routines out of the ENTIRE catalogue of routines from the Top 20, and from what I remember, 2 were given to Karen, the sexy Latina ballroom dancer.
If you consider how many routines there are in one season, this is pretty pathetic. It just goes to show that there were some very lackluster performances/choreography/partnerships this season. Which brings me to my next point…
Mia Michaels, a SYTYCD fave (not just in the US, but all around the world) was involved in the audition process, but resigned from the show to pursue other projects, including choreographing for SYTYCD Canada, Australia, and UK. It may not have been obvious, but it seemed that there was a little bit of a frantic atmosphere in trying to salvage the group of choreographers with some new recruits. Travis Wall (not a brand new recruit, I know) is a pretty great replacement for Mia, though. His contemporary pieces move me just as much as Mia’s do.
The issue with having new choreographers is that although the dance community may know them fairly well, the TV watching audience have yet to warm up to them and associate them with adjectives such as “good”, “exciting”, “unique”. The choreographers themselves may have to fine-tune their work to be more fitting for a television program as well, which takes time. Perhaps the hob-nob group of choreographers is what contributed to the lack of standout performances.
By this, I mean trios of dance styles in the Top 20. There were 3 tappers, 3 ballroom dancers, and 3 hip-hop dancers (of course, there were plenty of jazz & contemporary dancers, but that’s a given in any season).
The 3 hip-hop dancers aren’t usually an odd thing either, but this season, all 3 were very inexperienced and none of their talents stood out as much as…say, Philip from season 5. Russell (winner of season 6) clearly had talent, but having a krumper on the show was definitely a new and kind of shocking thing, and definitely difficult to choreograph. And the diff between Russell and Philip is that pop & lock is easily translatable through TV, whereas the energy of krumping is (sadly) lost in translation.
Also, the 3 tappers was a very odd thing for me. Nigel Lythgoe kept reiterating that it was the first time they’ve had ANY tappers on the show, so why dive in with having three? I don’t really understand the choice. Not saying that they didn’t deserve to be in the top 20, but it was definitely going to throw the general viewing public off. To accommodate the tappers, the sound/audio people had to adjust, a new choreographer had to be hired, and the audience had to learn to understand the language of tap, which is a good thing, but to understand the nuances and differences between all 3 tappers within one season is too much to ask from a television audience.
Adding a permanent 3rd judge to the group was a good choice, I think. However, not allowing guest judges to sit in the panel was a huge detriment to the show. The variety of judges from previous seasons allowed for diversity in opinion, inside jokes developed, and it was always a breath of fresh air week to week. It also made me, personally, want to actually listen to what the judges had to say. The permanent judges’ comments become way too predictable and boring.
SYTYCD Australia also has a system of 3 permanent judges, but from time to time, they have a guest judge (often a choreographer of the show), which makes it fun to watch, since we hardly get to hear what the choreographers have to say.
There were way too many injuries this season. This is, of course, unavoidable and there is no one to blame. However it should still be addressed.
In the first competitive performance episode, Noelle had a knee injury and her partner Russell had to dance w/ his choreographer. In the week of the top 8, Ashleigh had popped her shoulder and was under doctor’s orders not to perform. By pure luck, Russell was her partner that week, and he once again had to perform with his choreographers’ assistants, twice.
Oddly enough, Russell himself got injured during the finale episode of the season, and he had to sit out on the rest of his performances. But he did win the whole competition at the end of the night!
In addition, projected season favourite, Billy Bell had to drop out of the top 20 due to illness (unknown) even before the competition began. He did, however, get to show off his skills in the top 20 exhibition episode.
The injuries lead to viewer confusion, and also to lackluster performances. It just lacks excitement when a competitor is resigned to the sidelines due to injury.
7) Top 20? Top 19?
Since Billy Bell dropped out before the 1st competitive performance episode of the top 20, he had to be quickly replaced by the judges’ 21st choice, Brandon Dumlao. I guess you could see it as Dumlao being given a “second chance”, but seriously, he had virtually no time to rehearse before the show, and since there wasn’t any expectation that he would join the cast, the producers totally left him out of the Vegas Week footage and the audition footage – the viewers were not given a chance to warm up to him, I think. And of course, he was eliminated the very first week because he just wasn’t ready to join the top 20 cast, which the judges acknowledged when they eliminated him during the top 40 @ Vegas. It was unfair to put him in such a situation.
This whole top 20 going down to top 19 (once Billy left), then back to top 20 again with the addition of Brandon, only to lose him immediately is immensely annoying and confusing and seems like a huge waste of time to me. To add even more confusion, the finale episode of season 6 started off with a brand new group routine featuring “Your Top 19!!” (imagine Cat Deely saying that). Brandon was not a part of that group. LAME. The info on Wikipedia is wrong, btw. Watch the finale episode carefully, and you’ll see what I mean.
8 ) Group Routines
None of the group routines were memorable. I honestly think the set played a huge part in this fact. It kind of just swallowed up these huge routines in a jaws-of-life-type way. It made it difficult for the camera to capture from 360 degrees, and the group routines just seemed pretty stunted. It was nearly impossible to pick out who was who in each routine, which is actually my favourite part of watching group routines. The only one I really enjoyed and clearly remember is Wade Robson’s Comanche piece, which the top 20 performed as a part of the exhibition episode.
9) Lack of Male Eye Candy
Nathan was arguably the “cutest” guy this season, but he was annoyingly immature. Ryan was also another good looking dude, but his wife was alongside him the ENTIRE time. And let’s be honest…the following of female tweens always means popularity and success for a show like SYTYCD. I don’t think Kevin is as good looking as he thought he was (he kept talking about how he’s a model…blech), Russell was drowned out by his dreads, Legacy cried too much, and the rest of the team was well…playing for the other team (I assume).
Season 5 had Jason, Ade, Jonathan, Vitolio, and the very sweet Evan.
10) The World Series
Since this was the first time SYTYCD was airing in the fall, the show had to deal with unprecedented programming issues, such as the World Series. Therefore, for the first 2 weeks of the competition, there was no results show, no public voting; the judges selected 2 dancers to eliminate during the very same performance episode.
Getting rid of the voting aspect significantly truncated the length of the audience participation of the show, which is really unfortunate. It also meant 2 less group routines, and 2 less special guest performances (which I admittedly ignore at times, but I do like the idea of it). It just made the whole season seem really short.
11) Corporate Sponsors
Too many Zellers plugs! The Christmas gift exchange and the audience dance-off was just so unnecessary.
12) The Finale
Compared to the grand finale of season 5, which was filmed at the Kodak Theatre and featured the top 4, the finale of season 6 was filmed at the same studio stage and was a competition between the top 6.
The beauty of having the top 4 as finalists was that all 4 could dance in every combination possible between the 4, and it would show all of their strengths and weaknesses right before the final vote. Having a top 6 for the finale was hectic, rushed, and chaotic. This rushed atmosphere was reflected in that the fun, informative, and tone-setting film packets shown before each routine were eliminated entirely (for the 2nd time this season). To get rid of those film packets on the night of the final vote is SO incredibly STUPID on the part of the producers.
Needless to say, the finale was definitely not the high-point of my viewing experience of this season, which is a testimony to how pathetically the season ended.
All in all, I think the biggest mistake SYTYCD made was making the decision to have the show air in the fall. Having the show air once a year made it more of a special occasion, and allowed returning auditioners sufficient time to improve and mature.
I don’t know the specifics about the television industry, but I’m guessing that airtime in the fall is a lot more expensive than airtime in the summer. This could explain why the earlier episodes were so rushed and had to mash in all the routines in 1 hour instead of 2.
Anyway, here’s to hoping that season 7 impresses!