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Fox commissioned this reality/talent contest from the people behind American Idol in 2005 in an attempt to get lightning to strike twice. The show's eventual executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe (himself a former dancer) thought it would never work. And, although the series isn't the pervasive cultural juggernaut that Idol has become, it's still a significant success.The show adheres pretty closely to the Idol format, but with some interesting variations. Auditionees who aren't either sent to the next stage of the competition or rejected are asked to stick around and show they can pick up some basic choreography, then a final decision is made on them. Once contestants make it to the Top 20, they're paired up into couples of one guy and one girl. If any couple lands in the bottom three for the votes, each individual performs a solo and the judges make the decision of which guy and which girl goes home that week. This continues until they have 10 contestants remaining, then the couples are determined by the girls picking a guy's name from a hat, or vise-versa. Also, once the Top 10 is established, voters now vote for their favorite individual dancers, and the judges get no more say on who goes home. Said Top 10 contestants also get to perform in a tour following the end of the season, which gives the judges a vested interest in making sure the best qualified dancers don't wind up voted off too early. Sometimes some dancers who are popular but didn't make the Top 10 will also be on the tour; for example Chelsea Traille, who was eliminated in Week 3 of Season 4.Season 7 followed a different format, where there was only a top ten (what actually happened was a top eleven) and instead of being paired up with other contestants, the hopefuls were paired with "Allstars": fan favorites from previous seasons. The judges and the fans both seemed to enjoy the format, though injuries wreaked havoc with the season.Season 8 returned to the top twenty formula, but when the competition narrowed down to the top ten, the Allstars were brought back. And even though it was never made a big out of, the judges now continue to make decisions beyond the top 10.Season 9 made some changes to the voting and elimination process on the show. And instead of naming one winner, two were crowned- America's Favorite Boy and America's Favorite Girl.Season 11 returned to crowning a single winner as America's Favorite Dancer.Nigel Lythgoe was the sole regular judge for the first couple of seasons, as the other two spots were filled with a rotating group of choreographers who taught the contestants their dances on weeks they weren't acting as judges. In season 3, the histrionics-prone Mary Murphy, a ballroom choreographer, became the second regular judge, effectively making her a louder but more sensible version of Paula Abdul to Nigel's not nearly as acerbic (anymore) version of Simon Cowell. Beginning with season 6, Adam Shankman is also a permanent judge. In season 7, Mia Michaels replaced Mary as a permanent judge. Mary came back as a judge in season 8 with Shankman absent due to working on a Tom Cruise film.With dance styles ranging from various Waltzes to Bollywood, and from Contemporary to Hip-Hop, the show has become a somewhat unlikely but welcome showcase for the art and culture of dance and has spawned a number of spin-off shows in other nations (curiously, the most successful translations thus far are the Polish, Turkish and Benelux versions - the British one was axed after two seasons).
The oft-kooky Cat Deeley, especially in that she towers over most dancers and oddly pronounces certain words.
Guest judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Season 10 winner Fik-Shun often smiled, winked, and pulled face at the audience, and it worked perfectly. When he returned in season 11 for an all-star dance with Zack, it was part of the choreography.
Aerith and Bob: Any season will have people with ordinary names, people with extraordinary names, people with ordinary names spelt differently, and occasionally someone with a nickname- for instance, season 6 had Ryan, Victor, Kathryn, Noelle, Channing, Ellenore and Legacy.
Sonya Tayeh has a signature move where the guy, behind the girl, wraps his arms around her waist and lifts her, usually with the girl either lifting one leg straight up or lifting both legs but bent at the knee. It shows up in a LOT of her pieces; some fans call it the "toddler lift."
Filler: Less as seasons have gone by, but still some pops up on results shows.
First Name Basis: Once a dancer reaches the final 20, he/she is always referred to only by his/her first name (and last initial, if two dancers that season have the same name), even when being announced as the winner. Also, when former finalists are brought back, they are usually referred to by their first names - there tend to be two exceptions; dancers who are now regular choreographers on the show, and Chelsie Hightower when she came back as an "All-Star" partner.
Happily Married: Ryan and Ashleigh Di Lello from season 6. Made it just a little awkward when the judges were talking about how much chemistry either of them had with their respective partners Ellenore and Jakob.
Choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon.
And choreographers Jean-Marc Genereux and France Mousseau... just watch this clip.
Hypocrite: Earlier in the show's run, Mia Michaels would come down on anyone who couldn't dance Contemporary Ballet, frequently referring to such dancers as limited or untrained, regardless of any training in other styles they may have received, while never expecting Contemporary Ballet dancers to have ballroom, jazz, broadway, or hip-hop training/experience.
This was particularly visible in Season 2 with Heidi and Benji (both lifetime ballroom dancers) and in Season 3 with Pasha (possibly the best male ballroom dancer the show has seen).
Even now, the show patronisingly refers to many hip-hop dancers as 'untrained', ignoring that it takes a lot of training to be doing what they're doing. Whether they trained in a studio or by themselves doesn't matter at all.
Humiliation Conga: Poor Janelle from Season 9. Gets dumped by her boyfriend the night before the episode, gets savaged by the judges for her routine (they even criticized her hair), and is voted off the show.
Kissing Discretion Shot: The end of Allison and Ivan's "Sexy Love" routine sees them kissing behind an umbrella silhouette.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Not so much a name, but a combination: it seems like whoever gets one of Sean Cheesman's African Jazz routines ends up in the bottom three.
One name: Tyce Diorio.
Nice Guy: Season 6's Ryan. It got to the point that when he and Ellenore did a Lil C hip-hop routine, the judges pointed out that he was just too nice for hip-hop (and apparently, Lil C was complaining that he got 'the nice one and the weird funny girl'.)
As well as several Paso Dobles, making them seem ridiculously epic.
Once a Season: The song used for dance callbacks is fast, with a strong beat.
The Oner: Season 10's top 20 episode kicked off with one of these to "Puttin' On The Ritz".
One Steve Limit: Averted. So far, there have been four Ryans (Conferido, Season 1; Rankine, Season 2, Di Lello, Season 6 and Ramirez, Season 8), three Brandons (Bryant, Season 5; Dumlao, Season 6; Mitchell, Season 9), two Laurens (Gottlieb, Season 3 and Froderman, Season 7), two Roberts (Roldan, Season 7 and Taylor Jr., Season 8), and more people with the name Ashley and its variations than you can possibly count (Ashlé Dawson, Season 1; Ashlee Niño, Season 2; Ashlee Langas, Season 3; Ashley Valerio, Season 5; Ashleigh Di Lello, Season 6; Ashley Galvan, Season 7 and Ashley Rich, Season 8).
Season 4 had Chelsea/Chelsie and Kourtni/Courtney. Ironically, it was the first season without a girl named Ashley or some variation of the name.
Season 10 had Jasmine Mason and Jasmine Harper. However, Jasmine Mason got eliminated fairly early.
Variation: Season 11 has an Emily and an Emilio.
Overshadowed by Awesome: Season 7 had some very good contestants, but sometimes it was hard to notice them when they were dancing with the likes of Anya, Pasha, Twitch, and Comfort, who were arguably the best in their styles the show had ever seen. Female fans, especially, found themselves vulnerable to distraction whenever Pasha took the stage.
Given this show's fan base, male fans often found themselves every bit as vulnerable.
Your failure to mention Allison both frightens and enrages me.
This sometimes happens when a decent dancer is dancing with a really exceptional one (like season 3's Lacey, season 5's Kayla or season 6's Jakob), and it's usually nobody's fault.
Invoked and averted by Season 9's Eliana and Cyrus. Eliana expressed concern that she was being overshadowed by Cyrus' popularity, but went on to win Favorite Girl, while Cyrus got 2nd place for Guys.
It can also happen if one dancer isn't exceptional, but steals the show because the dance focuses more on them or because of their outfit (see Kevin and Karen's Latin Ballroom dances in season 6- Kevin was continually overlooked in favour of Karen, though the dances weren't that amazing and Karen wasn't especially great).
A really amazing routine (like Kayla and Kupono's 'Addiction' or Mark and Courtney's 'The Garden') can make all the others that night look standard, even if they were really good.
Speaking of, it happened again in Season 9 with "Addiction." An entire episode consisted of tributes to the choreographer, and this troper honesty doesn't remember any dances besides Lindsay and Cole's rendition of "Addiction."
Plucky Girl: Many, maybe all, female contestants. They go in knowing they will eventually have to do a style they don't know in front of millions of people, and give it all they've got.
Promoted Fanboy: A phenomenon that became noticeable in Season 9 is dancers who were fans of the show as children have now become old enough to be contestants.
Retcon: Sometimes Nigel doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. He fell in love with the idea of an "untrained" dancer winning during season four, and talked as if Joshua was this, even though it was pretty clear that Joshua had had a lot of training. (And certainly the judges would have known for sure.) This was especially galling since Joshua already had a heartwarming, inspiring, and truthful story (namely, his perseverence in dance despite growing up in football-crazed Texas).
In season 6, a big deal was made about the tap dancers who made the finals as being the "first" when they definitely weren't (Sandra Colton from season 1 was a tap dancer).
A bit of word trickery on Nigel's part:He was typically careful to say "the first tappers in the Top 20." Season 1 started as a Top 16.
Lil C seems to have toned it down so far in season 8. He still goes on long, Cloud Cuckoo Lander speeches sometimes, but he's stopped trying to use as many big words.
Shirtless Scene: The guys aren't scantily clad quite as often as the women, but there's hardly a shortage of skin. Guys who know they're Mr. Fanservice are guaranteed to do it in their solos.
Some dancers (Brandon, Will, etc) don't seem to ever actually wear a shirt.
Dmitry from season 2 was famous for soloing shirtless.
Nigel likes to lampshade the lack of shirts worn by the men on the show and/or the skimpy dresses worn by the women, joking that if they show had a bigger budget, they'd be able to afford complete costumes for the girls or buttons/a shirt for the boys.
In Season 4's Top 16 episode, Nigel said after the first latin routine, "I'm glad the costuming department could only affort half a dress this week," and then after the second one, to Katee, "I'm so pleased you've found the other half of Courtney's dress!" Made all the more funny when you realize that Courtney's and Katee's dresses actually cover opposite sides of the body!
Played straight in Season 2, when judges' favorite Allison was eliminated from the top 8.
In fact, every season there is a somewhat shocking elimination at top 8. In season 3 it was b-girl Sara, season 4 it was judges' favourite Will, season 5 it was current front runner Janette, and season 7 Alex Wong had to withdraw at top 8 due to an injury.
Inverted in seasons seven and eight with a shocking lack of elimination.
When Season 10's Malece didn't make the "All Star Cut" it actually broke the base; see YMMV for details.
Also when Serge and Carly (and to a lesser extent, Teddy) didn't make it to the top ten, it also broke the base. See YMMV for details.
When Tanisha and Rudy were cut in Season 11, the studio audience could be heard gasping in shock.
Take That: There have been so many dancers from this show who have gone on to be featured in Dancing With the Stars that Nigel remarked that the show should be renamed Dancing With the Stars of "So You Think You Can Dance"
Finally, finally averted in Season 9, where the male finalists came down to Chehon (technician) and Cyrus (performer). Everyone was sure Cyrus was going to win, but then Chehon did.
Averted, inverted, and played straight in Season 2, all by Travis Wall and Benji Schwimmer.
Averted in that both dancers were highly trained and experienced in their own styles (Contemporary Ballet for Travis and West Coast Swing/Latin Ballroom for Benji).
Inverted in that Travis was better at getting into the required attitude for a given dance where Benji had difficulty shedding his usual happy personality, especially when a given dance would require a more sensual mien. Benji, on the other hand, was more consistently able to pick up straight choreography in multiple styles, including Broadway, Jazz, and Hip-Hop, while Travis struggled, particularly with learning ballroom dances.
Played straight in their respective solos, with Travis' solos being primarily raw technical power with minimal emotional performance, where Benji's mostly relied on fun, lighthearted performance and audience connection, to make up for not having a partner.
It's also what can make or break dances, and in more than one way. A couple who dance without putting any energy or personality into it won't get much applause and will get panned by the judges. A couple who put the wrong kind of personality into it will also get panned by the judges (for example, a hip hop routine where the couple are cute instead of badass, or a Broadway routine where the woman is tame instead of sexy).
Averted in Season 10: Male finalists Fik-shun and Aaron were heavily critcized by the judges for their shortcomings in technique, while female finalists Jasmine and Amy were constantly praised for both their technical skills and personalitiy.
True Companions: For the most part, every season's Top 10(ish) apparently become this during and after the season. Most of the show's alumni come off as pretty close as a whole as well, especially on Twitter.
Many of the dancers continue to be associated with the show. Two will often be brought in to teach the choreography in the initial auditions, and during the competition choreographers will often bring people back to help them teach.
Though there are some jarring omissions. Main one this troper can think of is season 3 winner Sabra, who has yet to return, even in the audience
Note also that many contestants across the seasons will often end up working on dance projects together once they've finished the show. Many of them also end up dancing on Glee at some point or other, so contestants from previous seasons who had never met more recent contestants now get to work with them.
Season 3 as a whole was allegedly marred by a lot of backstage drama between the dancers, being a notable exception to this trope for the series.
Season 4 contestants flashed their camaraderie with the phrase "IV Real" (for real).
Season 10 showed their camaraderie by making an X (Roman numeral 10) with their arms.
Underdogs Never Lose: When the final two get down to the technically brilliant (and in all but one season) contemporary guy and the other dancer, often with less formal training (if any) but a beaming personality, guess who wins.
Season 9 had the technical ballet boy Chehon winning as opposed to the popular animator Cyrus. YMMV as to which boy you believe was more the underdog that season.
Not really the case in Season 2; Benji and Travis were both highly trained and technically skilled, but in different styles (Benji in West Coast Swing and Latin Ballroom and Travis in Contemporary).