Of course, while the standards were poles apart, so was the premise of emerging professionals vs. celebrities having a go. As entertainment, they each had their own function.
TEN let their series vanish after just three seasons (the US show is now at 10 seasons), a lesson it has similarly learned after parting with both Big Brother and The X Factor. It now revives the brand after a 4 year absence as a genre that is largely ignored by primetime television. The show is also back where it belongs on Sunday nights, rather than the failed mid-week timeslot of its previous outing.
In the host role is TEN-darling Carrie Bickmore with US superstar Paula Abdul lured to accompany Jason Gilkison, Aaron Cash and Shannon Holtzapffel as judges. There are already some key changes to the former series, in the opening audition episode.
If you know your dance then you’ll be smiling when you hear the opening bars of “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line. 100 dancers, who presumably have passed a producer audition already, are divided into four categories: jazz, urban, ballroom and contemporary. As the groups are put through their paces with 4 guest choreographers (including Kelley Abbey) the music cleverly twists into its own variation of the song and the sequence serves as an opening dance card to what will follow.
From there we meet Bickmore and the judges at the audition cull. The kids -let’s face it, they are mostly kids- are in awe of their judging panel, and who can blame them? As they learn group routines several contestants are profiled in back-story packages.
There’s the farmboy who loves to dance, the two girls who are dating one another and worried they may be split, the science-nerd who is part of an urban dance troupe, the boy who sleeps in his mum’s living room, the girl whose mother is paralysed from the waist down, and the guy whose father drops him off at dance lessons from his semi-trailer.
They are wonderfully diverse, optimistic and hungry.
But having group cattle-calls as opposed to the solo auditions of former seasons, means I have trouble remembering their routines and individual talent. Unlike those singing shows where we connect emotionally to the singer, So You Think You Can Dance Australia offers me a broad brushstroke of choreography. This risks underselling itself when Reality shows require us to connect in early episodes.
I’m also not sure where dancers fit in if their dance style does not fall into the 4 selected categories. Where does Ballet, African or Swing fit?
Encouragingly, the show no longer mocks those with no talent. There are no car-crash auditions by people who snuck in the back door. Everyone here has a level of skill.
But it is still Reality TV and there are tears. As some are culled, hopes and dreams are discarded on the floor like last year’s Programming ideas. At one point segment producers try to collar a distraught eliminated contestant for some camera time. He keeps walking saying “No I don’t have to do anything.” Smart boy.
The editing of the opening episode dwells as much on the 4 judges as the 100 contestants. At this early juncture, the male judges are yet to give us a memorable moment. Carrie Bickmore is most effective when talking with contestants, but the show’s format means the real work in Performance shows is still ahead of her. I didn’t warm to her voice-over narrations which made me feel like I was watching The Project.
I suspect the best is yet to come for this show and it may not realise its potential until we have 20 dancers at the (As Live) Performance shows. Then I can cheer for my favourites, disagree violently with the judges and marvel at the level of skill on the stage.
Until then, we’re probably still warming up on the floor.
So You Think You Can Dance Australia returns 6:30pm Sunday on TEN.