Paula Abdul comes to ‘So You Think You Can Dance’

“So You Think You Can Dance” started its 12th season with a dancer who impressed the judges New judge Paula Abdul responded to the awesome performance by–well, she looked down at her notes and said, flatly, “You are a powerful dancer, you've got wonderful technique, gymnastics, displaying it all.”

After that audition, Nigel Lythgoe said to her and Jason Derulo, “Very good, huh? Interesting.” Paula was applying her lipstick.

Yes, this is how we met “So You Think You Can Dance”'s new judging panel. The show's long-running permanent judge Mary Murphy was essentially fired before this season started. Her absence is very obvious, because there's so little energy now.

During a montage of rejected dancers, Paula Abdul said to one contestant, “It wasn't exciting.” The show's other new judge, Jason Derulo, said, “It's not strong enough for the competition, man.” Longtime judge Nigel Lythgoe said the same thing: “It wasn't strong enough.”

They might as well have been talking about their own judging, because it was the weakest part of the season premiere. Just look at their rejection of that dancer: two judges said the same thing, and none of them had any emotion.

Paul Abdul is undeniably talented. She did give some specific, knowledgeable feedback about the dances, from their musicality to balance. And she was more specific than Jason Derulo. (Sample feedback: “Like, at a party, you know what I'm saying, everybody gonna be hype, with like, yo, Courtney killin' it right now. Yo, Courtney dancing again right now, ya'll come on!  But it's just not ready for this show.”)

But Paula's feedback was delivered with zero energy or emotion, especially during the first hour. “I am looking forward to seeing more of you,” she told one contestant. “It's one million percent yes for me.”

Siri would have sounded more excited.

There were moments when Paula came alive, like with returning auditioner Courtney. And the panel itself showed some hope when the show moved on to its Dallas auditions.

Toward the end, Paula lost it laughing at someone who did a combination of ballroom and hip-hop dancing, which they giggled was called “ball-hopping.” It was more life than usual at the table, but this isn't the kind of energy or enthusiasm the show needs. It's just laughing while a contestant stands there, awkwardly, thinking they're laughing about him and his dance style.

She wasn't alone in her lack of energy. “That's quite incredible, I've got to tell you,” Nigel told one person. Host Cat Deeley's arm was in a sling and it had more energy than he did. Jason Derulo's most energetic moment was when a group of kids danced on stage and he jumped up to join them and sing his own song. He can do that, but he cannot judge–which is no surprise to anyone who saw him guest judge last summer.

Most problematically, this panel shows no significant chemistry, especially when compared to the summer's other studio-based competition series, “America's Got Talent.” That show started last week with a strong episode that really showed off how well its four judges get along.

The three judges may get better, especially by the time the live shows begin. But it's difficult not to miss Mary Murphy's energy and excitement, which is really missing from “So You Think You Can Dance.” Those who weren't always thrilled with her yelling and welcoming people aboard the “hot tamale train” may now realize how much she brightened up the show.

As always, though, the dancers brought it. There's no competition series on broadcast TV that has so much undiscovered talent as “So You Think You Can Dance.” This season is dividing its cast into teams of “stage” and “street” dancers, and they'll be mentored by Travis and Twitch, two of the show's break-out contestants. So maybe “SYTYCD” doesn't need entertaining judges, as long as it has entertaining dancers.

What did you think of Paula's first night?