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Series / So You Think You Can Dance

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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 wasn't the pervasive cultural juggernaut that Idol became, it became a significant success in its own right.

The show, at least in the beginning, adhered pretty closely to the Idol format 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. This is followed by Hollywood Week, a boot camp where all the dancers are tested in ballroom, contemporary, and hip-hop styles (as well as a few other challenges depending on the season ) to prove their worth and earn a spot on the live show. 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 "All-stars": 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 All-stars were brought back. The judges now continue to make decisions beyond the top 10. In season 9 and 10, a Favorite Boy and Favorite Girl were crowned winners, but season 11 returned to a single winner.

Season 12 made a considerable departure from previous seasons' formats. The season was referred to as "Stage vs. Street", and instead of a Top 20 of even girls and boys, they were split into the 10 members of Team Street and Team Stage. Team Street, led by tWitch, had dancers representing various hip-hop genres (krump, breakdance, animation, etc.); Team Stage, led by Travis Wall, was made of dancers representing contemporary, ballet, tap, etc. The bottom three of each genre were announced at the beginning of the episode, and those watching the show's live broadcast (in US Eastern and Central Time Zones), had the ability to save a dancer from elimination by way of voting on Twitter. The show's judges then could save one of the other bottom three, resulting in one member of each Team, regardless of gender, being eliminated.

Season 13 returned to a Top 10, and also had the subtitle "The Next Generation", and had young dancers aged 8 to 13, each of whom was partnered with an All-star to be mentored by and dance with throughout the season. Though season 14 returned to the original age range, the format of having the same All-star partner throughout the season stayed in place. Season 15 returned to the rotating All-star model, which stayed in season 16.

Season 17 was announced after a three-year hiatus brought on due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, with an extended age rage (up to 32, when previous seasons went up to 30) and a Hollywood studio to hold all auditions, and a Top 12 instead of 10 or 20.

Like American Idol, the shows judges gained popularity - but notably, many seats on the panel rotated between the show's choreographers, sharing their own insights on weeks when they were not presenting numbers of their own (usually). Those in bold are the current permanent judges.

  • Nigel Lythgoe (Season 1-16), the producer and was the sole regular judge for the first couple of seasons until he was joined by Mary. While often critical in comparison to the others, he's nowhere near as acerbic (anymore) as Simon Cowell.
  • Mary Murphy (Season 3-11, 14-16), a histrionics-prone ballroom choreographer, effectively a louder version of Paula Abdul to Nigel's Simon. She's notable for screaming about any number that made her excited, and declaring especially skilled (or sexy) dancers as boarding "The Hot Tamale Train".
  • Adam Shankman (Season 6-7), a choreographer and director notable for Hairspray (2007) and Rock of Ages.
  • Mia Michaels (Season 7), who had already done contemporary choreography for the show and had a reputation for her numbers being difficult to pull off but especially powerful when done right.
  • Jason Derulo (Season 12-13), pop and r&b singer, songwriter, and dancer.
  • Paula Abdul (Season 12-13), famous pop star most notable for her former Idol judging stint for it's first decade.
  • Maddie Ziegler (Season 13), a young dancer who achieved fame for her collaborations with Sia. She was brought on to help judge the child-focused season 13.
  • Vanessa Hudgens (Season 14-15), singer, dancer, and High School Musical star.
  • Stephen "tWitch" Boss (Season 15-Present), runner-up in season 4 and Team Street captain in season 12.
  • Laurieann Gibson (Season 16), a Canadian choreographer who's worked with Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé.
  • Dominic "D-Trix" Sandoval (Season 16), former contestant from season 3.
  • Jojo Siwa (Season 17), teen singer, dancer, and YouTuber.
  • Matthew Morrison (Season 17), former Broadway and Glee star. Was removed from the show between Callbacks and Top 12 after sexually harassing a female contestant.
  • Leah Remini (Season 17), actress and competitor in season 17 of Dancing with the Stars, where she placed 5th.

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. A number of spin-off shows in other nations were spawned; unfortunately most were cancelled after a few seasons, though standouts like Turkey and Ukraine lasted a good while and the Polish version is the only one still ongoing alongside the American.

So You Think You Can Trope:

  • 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.
    • Season 10 partners Amy and Fik-Shun.
  • Ass Kicks You: Katee.
    Nigel: That is a dangerous weapon, you should be on the next James Bond movie doing that!
  • Author Appeal: Mandy Moore (no, not that Mandy Moore) sure does love her some 80s music.
    • 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."
  • Berserk Button: The judges, and especially Nigel, don't tend to like it when someone screws up and they were dancing in their style.
    • Often this can be the response to any abysmally bad dance, especially the closer they are to the finale.
    • This is the typical response to an arrogant auditioner.
  • Catchphrase: Mary Murphy's over-the-top "Hot Tamale Train" holler ("WOOOO-HOOOO!") for dances she really likes.
    • Lil C's "That was bucc!"
    • Lampshaded in Season 8 with the battle of the catchphrases between Robert, with his signature: "Wooooooooo!" and The Professor, with his "Indubitably."
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Some of Mia Michaels' critiques can get a little odd.
    • According to Nigel, the same can be said for her choreography.
    • Wade Robson, with his pieces about a hummingbird and a flower, and a mother and daughter fox, being some of the best examples.
    • Season 10 guest choreographer (and All-Star) Mark Kanemura is rapidly earning a reputation as one.
      • One routine cast the dancers as "Siamese twins from the jungles of Saturn."
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Mary, by a mile. She's almost always screaming and has a very annoying laugh.
  • Darker and Edgier: Sonya Tayeh's signature choreography style. Wade Robson, Mia Michaels and Travis Wall also dabble on this side from time to time.
    • Season 9's Cole was concerned about being typecast as this.
  • Determinator: It seems like every season features someone who has overcome serious injury to keep dancing.
    • Season 8 contestant Marko went the entire season with a bullet lodged in his shoulder.
  • Dirty Old Man: Nigel. Just Nigel. He always has some comment to make, pervy or not, when ladies are scantily clad or routines become... suggestive.
    • Adam Shankman isn't much better.
      • Nigel is at least peripherally aware of this reputation, as of season 8. He even refused to comment on one dancer's sexiness "lest [he] be seen as a Dirty Old Man"
  • Don't Try This at Home: Will's last comment to the camera before his and Katee's pas de deux. The routine is, shall we say, strenuous in the flexibility department.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: Occasionally, dances will be panned by the judges for not being challenging. Quite often, they're Broadway routines, which often rely more on personality than ability.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Cat Deeley.
  • 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.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Sasha.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: Every season, including four (so far) appearances by a gawky fellow insisting he be addressed by the stage name "Sex."
    • The number of bad auditions shown in their entirety have reduced drastically in recent seasons.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The Canadian version has been noted serveral times as having far more sexual dances, season 2's Kim and Emanuel's Love Sex Magic stand out in particular.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Mary can act pretty over-the-top, especially when she screams.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: From judge Dan Karaty after Jimmy and Shauna's Broadway routine.
    Dan: Jimmy, I'm shocked! I'm shocked!
    Cat: In a good way?
    Dan: You outperformed her!
    Jimmy and Shauna: Whoa!
    Dan: You outperformed her, and I didn't think you had a chance!
  • Manly Tears: Pretty much any father of a female dancer.
  • Most Common Superpower: Season 5, Top 6, girls' superheroine-themed group dance. Blatantly Lampshaded.
    Cat: She's got a superpower all her own!
    Nigel: You can't tie down talent, can you?
    Nigel: ...What?
  • Mr. Fanservice: The list might very well be long, but there are many.
    • Most of the guys don't tend to wear shirts very often. Nobody's complaining, though...
  • Ms. Fanservice: Many.
    • For a specific contestant, Season 10's Haley comes to mind. She attracted a large fandom of teenage boys as a result.
  • Murderous Thighs: This is why you don't want an acrobatic dancer as a deranged girlfriend.
  • 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'.)
  • No Indoor Voice: Oh boy, Mary sure likes to scream a lot. They don't call her the "Queen of Scream" for nothing.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Music of choice for the solos of Season 5 runner-up, Brandon Bryant.
    • 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 only season in the first eight 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.
    • There were several choreographers/other non-competitors called Heather, and season 2 also had Heather Morris.
  • 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.
    • 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 one 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 beginning in Season 9 is that dancers who were fans of the show as children have now become old enough to be contestants.
  • Rated M for Manly: What happens when you have a Paso Doble with two men.
  • 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, with choreographers going as far to assign him triple pirouettes, hopping renversés, hopping pirouettes and fouettées-a-la-seconde that would never be given to other strictly hip-hop dancers. (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).
    • Russell Ferguson got the exact same treatment in season six. He admitted in his audition to having some degree of formal training in African, modern, ballet and tap, but due to his focus and specialty in krump, was regarded only as untrained.
    • To a lesser extent, Sarah Von Gillern in Season 3 suffered from this. She trained in all styles of dance including ballet from a young age and competed as a figure skater in her teens. Those with keen dance eyes may have noticed that Sarah was given just as challenging of choreography as her jazz-trained partner Jésus, but she was still billed as a street-trained hip-hop dancer. This may have worked out in her favour, however, since other strong female contemporary dancers that season such as Lauren and Sabra would have likely overshadowed her if she were billed as the same kind of dancer.
    • 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.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lil C has a rather impressive command of the English language. Doubles as Sophisticated as Hell, as he'll sometimes just follow a highly erudite and eloquent sentence with "that was bucc."
    • As seen here, where it also counts as a Funny Moment.
    • 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!
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Entire routines can be ruined by this alone.
  • Special Effects Evolution: Once tap dancers broke the glass ceiling (During the Season 6 finals), the production team figured out how to make their shoes audible during intros.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Among others, Season 10's Makenzie Dustman and Season 9's Witney Carson.
  • Stripperiffic: Many of the female dancers' outfits. Justified, as it makes movement easier.
  • 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".
  • Technician Versus Performer: All the time. Also, see Underdogs Never Lose.
    • 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 (somewhat) straight in their respective solos, with Travis' solos focusing on raw technical power with more restrained emotional performance, where Benji's mostly relied on fun, lighthearted performance and audience connection, to compensate for the absence of a partner limiting his more impressive technical options.
    • 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.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: It's called Trepak; it forms the basis of a duel between Joshua and Twitch.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: The BBC did the UK version, which was also hosted by the original show's presenter Cat Deeley.
  • 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 one 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).