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No tap dancing through these tests

June 08, 2007|Claire Zulkey | Special to The Times

If there was any question about why the judges on "So You Think You Can Dance" are relatively mild compared with their counterparts on other reality/talent programs, Wednesday night's episode answered it: Any additional pressure on the contestants would be out-and-out cruelty.

Every reality-TV show has plenty of tears: tears of joy, tears of anger, tears of exhaustion, tears of sadness, and, for the most part, the tears are just over-the-top pleas for attention. During callbacks this week though on "SYTYCD," each and every tear seemed warranted. This round in the show is similar to the first week in Hollywood on "American Idol," when the original crop of contestants to make it through the first round is trimmed through a series of more intense tryouts.

How intense? Consider that it was difficult to grasp the choreographers' moves from the comfort of a couch and with the benefit of TiVo, let alone having to learn and perform them on the fly and do them again and again. The dancers were quickly taught new steps in hip-hop, Latin and contemporary dance. If they succeeded at one genre, they moved on. If not, they were eliminated or had to dance one more time to prove they were worthy. And then, finally, the remainders were not allowed to continue unless they were able to expertly perform a group number that was choreographed overnight.

This is grueling stuff. It's hard to tell these things for certain without being behind the scenes, but it seems that of all competition shows, "SYTYCD" is the most serious about the competition at hand. Though in the earlier episodes contestants may have squeaked by due to a good personality or a unique back story, the first few minutes of Wednesday night's episode swiftly and mercilessly eliminated several contestants we've grown to know.

When poor Hannah Lee, who barely survived an accident many years ago involving a collapsing fourth-level dance floor, was cut in the last round after having to dance on a sprained ankle, it was made known: There are no Sanjayas on "SYTYCD."

This show is so for real that the judges (minus Nigel Lythgoe, who can do whatever he wants since he co-created the program) actually participate with the dancers and don't just throw around words like "pitchy" or criticize the contestants' weight as they slowly put on the pounds themselves.

Weren't reality-TV shows mostly supposed to be about cheesy, manufactured drama and cheap laughs instead of actual talent? Somebody must have forgotten to send the memo to the producers at "So You Think You Can Dance."

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