Press Tour ’12: ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ judges talk new format, changes

Things got animated at the Fox TCA panel for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Cat Deeley emerged from backstage to introduce a special performance by current competitors Brandon, Cole and animator Cyrus. It’s a high energy start to a somewhat groggy Monday morning, and while judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy and choreographers Spencer Liff, Christopher Scott and Stacey Tookey aren’t quite as much fun, they still addressed some of the more nagging questions about the recent changes to the show.

When asked why this season both a male and female winner will be chosen, Lythgoe said, “Going down to one night a week, we wanted to make some changes as well. I have no idea why we didn’t do that in the first place. Guys do dance more athletically than girls. Having said that, the girls nowadays are… warriors, beasts.” We might as well make it official and do it that way.”

Another change viewers may have already noticed is how dancers pick genres each week. “We put up a list of dances, then they choose numbers out of a hat, so if they get number one, they get to choose first,” Lythgoe said. “They have a little bit of input what they get to pick and not pulling randomly out of a hat.”

The most significant alteration, however, has been how dancers were chosen for the top twenty. Narrowly focused dancers like animator Cyrus and martial arts/hip hopper Cole may not have been chosen in seasons past. “I think we became very brave this year,” Lythgoe said. “We said okay, we’re not just going to take dancers that we think can take everything we throw at them… It’s a bit like following ‘Idol.’ If they’re a country idol, they can just do country and stick within their own genre. They’ve got to be outstanding at what they do. It’s given us a lot more diversity and made it a lot more interesting for us.”

And just as the judges have been brave, so have the dancers. “Cyrus, the animator, when he could choose from eight genres, he chose Broadway. There’s this atmosphere that they want to soak things up like a sponge.”

Choreographer Scott was also pleased to see a dancer like Cyrus on his docket. “It was like heaven for me,” he admitted. “I animate myself.”

Lythgoe also addressed the issue of fan reaction to the now one-day-a-week “SYTYCD,” which combines performances with eliminations. “A lot of people said, they don’t do solos. That didn’t happen this week… We have to ask, have we made our minds up, or do we need more guidance? And we were coming off the back of seeing them in Vegas, so we didn’t need it this week. That may change next week. We didn’t have time to do packages at the end. The main criticism I got was that there were no packages and it felt rushed. Well, it was. But other than that, I thought it went well. We got little screens that said shut up, shut up. Because we are live, things happen. Like Adam Shankman kissing me. He hadn’t even bought be a drink.”

While the panel also discussed the short lives of dancers (Lythgoe noted that female dancers he works with are now being encouraged to transition into other work at 29) and the growing number of opportunities for the show’s alumni (as Liff mentioned, “Because of this show, there are jobs for dancers”), Lythgoe did take a moment to address an off-topic question: how the musical chairs were currently taking position at his other job, “American Idol.” “I can’t make any comment about my future. We’re in negotiations there,” he said. “I was very sad about Steven leaving us and the possibility of Jennifer leaving us. She did say 99 percent. Strange thing to say. I’m thinking that 99 percent may mean she’s not leaving.” Leave it to Lythgoe to save an intriguing cliffhanger for the end of the panel.