As part of a piece I'm working on for 225, I was able to pop by the SYTYCD auditions in New Orleans today and speak for a few minutes with the judges. Two of them anyway. Mary Murphy, Adam Shankman and Lil C were there, though Lil C went back into the auditions before I could speak with him. You're going to have to forgive me if I seem needlessly mysterious. Because these auditions are for Season 6, which won't air for a few months, information about the progress of individual contestants is protected until particular episodes air. However, it's my understanding that everything not related to the progress of conteststants that was said to the press (that would be me, as well as reporters from The Times-Picayune and offBeat), or in front of us, is fair game.
Adam spoke about how the SYTYCD judges tend to give lots of (positive) feedback to the dancers, even the ones they know won't go forward or even appear on the show, because every single one of the judges has been in the contestant's shoes, trying to begin careers as professional dancers. He also commented on his tendency to encourage contestants to continue dancing even if they might not necessarily be the best, if it's clear that dance brings them joy.
Something I enjoyed finding out about was that the judges now often watch monitors (on the show) so they can give feedback on what the audience sees after a performance. A while back, Adam mentioned, he gave feedback that he got lots of flak for and he realized later it was because what he'd mentioned hadn't even been shown on the televised show. They are live shows - so the camera doesn't always catch details the judges see.
He said that the bar's been set higher than ever for the contestants currently trying out for Season 6 because not only are they having to follow memorable dancers from every previous season, but they're essentially competing with the current Top 20 for the judges' attention. They have to stand out not only in their own cities, but also against the tough competition of Season 5's Top 20. That being said, I'm happy he was so impressed by a contestant in New Orleans, saying in one of his latest Tweets, "Just saw a kid audition that I swear will be top 20. Unreal."
It's no secret that Adam Twitters, but I was not expecting him to Twitter while he was answering our questions. Presumably, from what I gathered at the time and since, someone sent Adam a direct Tweet, telling him to keep his eyes open for a particular contestant. Can't name names, and this is all hearsay (I was standing next to him at the time) of course, but I have good reason to believe that the contestant Adam was Tweeted about may be the same contestant he mentions in his Tweet. :) For the record, Adam and the other judges had already seen the contestant in question by the time Adam received the Tweet. Whew! Technology!
What really gets me is this picture Adam Tweeted - I didn't know Cat Deely was there! Why didn't I get to interview her?
One of the reporters asked Mary how well the judges are able to keep track of former contestants after each season and she amazed me by reeling off (without any notes or hesitation) many contestants' names and their current projects. You definitely get the idea from watching the show that it's a pretty tight community, that the judges remember and look out for the contestants, so I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised she was able to name around a dozen contestants and what they're doing now. I didn't know, for instance, that Neil had been injured and probably won't be able to perform for a year.
While the other reporters interviewed the other two judges, (the reason I missed Lil C!) I stayed behind to ask Mary more questions.
Mamma Mia! wanted me to ask her how the hot tamale train got started. When I did, confessing that my mom wanted to know and that we watch the show while texting each other after every routine, she laughed her trademark laugh and told me that she's called dancers hot tamales throughout her career. She happened to put one of those hot tamales, Anya from Season 3, on the "hot tamale train" and the catchphrase was born.
If you read my blog, you know I go on sometimes about SYTYCD and that I was recently upset about Natalie Reid getting cut without being asked to dance for her life. The circumstances of that seemed odd to me (and others in the blogosphere, from what I can tell). So, I asked Mary what happened with Natalie. She seemed genuinely sad when she said that Natalie hadn't been standing out throughout Vegas week, hadn't been living up to the expectations of the judges, who remembered her (of course) from last season. Many dancers, she said, are able to stand out in their cities and sometimes don't carry through in Vegas, when the best of the best are together. She said that by the time Natalie was cut, there weren't any more opportunities to dance for your life. In the episode, other contestants dance for their lives after Natalie was cut, but it looks like the editing of the episode may have a lot to do with our confusion. In the clip, Natalie even mentions, "They just kept saying 'you're not living up to our expectations,'" which you don't really see them say in the episode. I just keep coming back to Sonya using Natalie and Brandon as the example of her choreography, Sonya jumping up and hugging Natalie after she got cut (Nigel did, as well, I should say).
Both Mary and Adam seemed genuinely warm and demonstrated that they're very passionate about discovering new dancers and mentoring them. SYTYCD has always seemed like "kinder, gentler reality show" (as reality goes) from my viewpoint as a fan on the couch and that's only been strengthened by meeting two of its judges. And before our interview ended, Mary asked me to tell my mom "hi," which Mamma Mia! loved, of course.
When Season 6 airs in the fall, I'll confirm whether the Mystery Contestant Adam's excited about now does indeed progress to the Top 20. And of course, when it prints, I'll link to the 225 piece that started it all...