SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE Recap: Welcome Home, Mary Murphy

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SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE season 14 began with the first round of this year’s Los Angeles auditions. The reality dance competition series has (thankfully) returned to a more traditional format. The “Stage vs. Street” and “Next Generation” gimmicks are dead, hopefully for good. What’s left is, as series host Cat Deeley put it, the show we all “know and love.” And speaking of something SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE viewers all know and love? Perhaps the best part of  the new season’s return to the SYTYCD of old is its corresponding return of a familiar face. For the first time in almost three years, Mary Murphy was back at the judges’ table, bringing along her screams and plenty of tickets for the series’ talented dancers to take on her trademarked hot tamale train.

Welcome home, Mary Murphy. You’ve been missed. It would have been impossible, even with the massive amount of talent auditioning for this new season, to consider anything a return to form without you. Now, let’s take a trip on that train in search of this season’s hot tamales.

Just getting started.

We all know the drill by now. Episodes of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE that feature auditions tend to start out with sweeping shots of the dancers, lined up and waiting for their chance to show their stuff. The season 14 premiere was no exception. Even in these short clips, it was obvious that there was a lot of talent and a lot of heart, just waiting to be put on full display.

After the opening montage, it was time to take a trip to the judges’ table, where Mary Murphy was taking shots of the crowd on her phone. As excited as everyone is to have her back, it looked like she was just as happy to be there. Before the first dancer of the day had his chance to take the stage, Mary let out her first “WOOO!!!” since season 11.

If that moment didn’t bring tears to your eyes (to accompany the ringing in your ears), make sure to leave some comments that will teach me how to turn off the feelings…

First contestant: Mark Villaver.

As is SYTYCD tradition, Mark had a chance to share his backstory with Cat Deeley and, by extension, the viewers at home. On the one hand, he had this weird, almost egotistical, air about him in one of the clips. On the other, he was almost bashful with Cat. And his story about his single, deaf mother — who also happened to be a street dancer — raising him was just the kind of feel-good stuff this series is known for. In other words, there was no way of knowing exactly what to think of Mark before he actually danced.

Cat Deeley, on the other hand, was as on-point as always and knew just how to handle this guy. When Mark said he loved being on television and dancing, she responded with, “you’ve hit the bullseye with our show.” Love it.

When asked about his style of dance, Mark rambled about expressing himself and came up with “thera — therapeutic” as a name for his hybrid breaking and contemporary style. Then, he wasted time by “teaching” the judges some moves; so, by the time Mark finally danced, yours truly was already like, “ok, and?”

His feet were kind of just…hanging there. And he didn’t quite have the connection in the more contemporary-type parts of his solo. But Mark’s tricks were nothing short of amazing. Despite not quite nailing some of the contemporary flavor, he still blended two very different styles of dance in an interesting way. The creativity and diversity of movement involved were both more than enough for me to consider this a successful outing for Mark Villaver.

The judges agreed.

Mary Murphy was basically just excited, which I was completely here to see. She loved every second of Mark’s performance and said the two styles he worked with were “integrated beautifully.” Nigel Lythgoe complimented Mark on his signature moves: “We will remember you long after you’re gone today because of your moves.” That left Vanessa Hudgens, who was new to the judges’ table and, as far as I could tell, borrowing Carrie Ann Inaba’s happy pills for the day. She said Mark’s audition was “an amazing way to start the morning,” with about 900 exclamation marks thrown on the end of that sentence.

The verdict? The first contestant of the day was given the first ticket to the Academy for SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE season 14.

But, really, who cares? The most important part of Mark’s audition was the moment when Mary Murphy put him on the hot tamale train. That’s the first passenger on that train in almost three years. How, exactly, did this series even exist for two seasons without it?

Wait. It didn’t. Just ask the massive ratings drop.

Up next: Ballroom dancers Kristina and Vasily. “It’s ok, everybody. They’re married.”

Guys, there’s actually someone here to explain ballroom to us again. Someone get me a cardiologist because I’m having palpitations.

Before Kristina and Vasily had the chance to dance, they proved to Cat Deeley that men can’t count. The couple has been married for some number of years (nobody can agree on how many), and Vasily couldn’t even keep his guess straight. Disaster? For their relationship, maybe. For their dancing, strangely not.

The piece started off without much of interest, save for maybe Vasily’s blindfold. But then it just kind of…took off, performance-wise. Throw in some nice samba rolls (per Nigel’s comment during the audition — I never know ballroom until Mary explains it to me) and Kristina’s great extension; and you’ve got an amazing number. Bonus points to the dancers for kissing their way through that lift.

Mary cried because she was sure that seeing a performance like Kristina and Vasily’s was going to make tons of people fall in love with ballroom dance. She wanted to put the dancers on the hot tamale train; but she couldn’t get the words out until after they were gone because she was so overcome with emotion (I cried because Mary cried.)

Nigel made weird comments about “50 shades of dance” before saying the pair was “absolutely stunning,” and Vanessa told the dancers that her “heart exploded” when they were kissing.

Simmer down, Vanessa. The real feels should come from seeing SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE actually be its old self again.

Verdict: A pair of tickets to the Academy.

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