Photo credit: Adam Rose/FOX.
Season 16 on So You Think You Can Dance is coming in strong, not just because of the incredible talent, but also because of the judging panel. It's been a while since the show's panel made 100% sense, but this mix of experts in the dance industry feels like they got it right.
Ever since American Idol debuted in 2002, there has been this blueprint for what a show needs on the judging panel — a cranky judge (Simon Cowell), an industry expert (Randy Jackson) and a celebrity who will nurture the contestants (Paula Abdul). However, audiences are more sophisticated now that there has been a multitude of reality competition shows over the last 17 years.
Viewers aren't looking for the mean judge to hurl insults at contestants anymore, that was fun for a hot minute. Even Simon has softened his edge over the years on The X Factor and now, America's Got Talent. What SYTYCD has done right is bring in four judges, who are all masters in the dance industry at different stages of their career. Not only does this make sense, but it also commands respect.
Nigel Lythgoe is always needed to be the grounding force of the panel. Viewers might not always agree with his opinion, but when a dancer does get his approval, they know they pleased a tough judge.
Mary Murphy is the heart of the judging panel. In the seasons she was absent from the show, the panel didn't have the same spark. Mary cries with the contestants, she laughs with them and she hoots and hollers about getting on the Hot Tamale Train that she's driving. She brings a level of excitement that no one else can.
This year, SYTYCD brought in two dynamic additions — Dominic "D-trix" Sandoval and Laurieann Gibson. On paper, it may seem like two random choices to add to the Mary and Nigel combination, but it works.
D-trix competed in Season 3 of the show and he's been an All-Star over the years. He's also won America's Best Dance Crew twice with Quest Crew, he's been a judge on the show and he won an Emmy for Outstanding Choreography with Quest Crew for their work in Season 8.
He also helped The Lab win $1 million on Season 2 of World of Dance. D-trix's presence has the current crop of contenders excited. They grew up watching him on television and now he's here to guide them along their journey. It worked just as well when Stephen "tWitch" Boss was on the show last season. They understand the journey of SYTYCD, so they can mentor them as the weeks progress.
Laurieann Gibson adds a component to the panel that has been missing for many seasons — the industry choreographer. Laurieann has not only choreographed for superstars like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Alicia Keyes, but she also has the ability to hire some of these dancers after the season is over. She knows what the dance world currently expects of the dancers and she can help guide them with constructive criticism.
What is also incredible to see is the chemistry the group has. No one tries to outshine each other; viewers can see it's a collaborative effort. The judges need to assemble the best group of dancers to move on to the Academy for Season 16 — and it's working well.
What do you think of the judging panel on So You Think You Can Dance?
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