Why, after eight seasons, does Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance continue to take a backseat to ABC’s increasingly ingratiating Dancing With The Stars remains a mystery to me. Is it because it’s a summer show, scheduled during a season that’s still considered a desolate programming wasteland (for the networks anyway)? Is it because the general perception is that it’s mainly “for kids”? Or is it because there’s nary a promise of a “star” despite the impressive revolving door of celebrity judges who are now popping in for appearances?

SYTYCD‘s ratings are frustratingly measly compared to those of the cruise-ship-variety-show standards seen on Stars. Whereas DWTS seems to revel in sensationalistic cheese, SYTYCD celebrates true artistry. While I do acknowledge how much blood, sweat, and tears all of those reality stars, football players, and Tinseltown burnouts go through on DWTS, I can’t help but scoff at their efforts…because there seems to underlie a narcissism that fuels them to go on, stumble across the stage, and soak up a spotlight they hope will shine long after they’re voted off. And here’s a little-known fact: they get paid handsome salaries per episode, none of it going to charity. For those of you who tuned into The View last week, you may have seen former contestant Margaret Cho unabashedly admit that she made a cool $200,000 by slipping into a couple of unflattering ballroom gowns and hamming it up for the camera during her short stint. If that little revelation doesn’t make you think twice about the integrity of the show or completely turn you off, then by all means, continue watching.

It’s a shame, because you’ll be missing something as epic and powerful as this (my favorite moment comes in at 1:15):


Meanwhile, over at SYTYCD, there are young artists who are simply chasing a dream and exposing themselves on the dance floor through refreshingly diverse dance numbers that range from Bollywood flamboyancy and elegant Ballroom to emotional Contemporary and bumpin’ Hip-Hop (the weekly theme-driven costuming and make-up is an extraordinary achievement as well). The show succeeds in making the ambition — and desire to express oneself — feel palpable. You can sense the exhaustion and taste the sheer determination and undeniable passion.

And just because SYTYCD doesn’t have any “Stars” in its title, it doesn’t mean no famous faces grace the studio every week. Last season the show welcomed guest judges who, for the most part, offered very helpful feedback. Audiences were treated to delicious soundbites from Kristin Chenowith, Debbie Reynolds, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Neil Patrick Harris, Rob Marshall, and Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga. Most surprising was the way their special appearances didn’t feel stunty or forced. I’m sure each had something to promote, but they were also there because they wanted to be there. They too are genuine fans of the competition who admire what the show does for dance (and the arts in general) and are constantly wowed by the physics-defying movements made by these fiercely talented individuals week after week.

Case in point – the jaw-dropping performance from one of my personal favorites, contestant Melanie Moore (I dare you not to gasp at 1:16):


What I also love about this show is its dynamic use of music and its way of turning its “cast” of choreographers into celebrities. I’ve been introduced to amazing songs I wouldn’t have known about had it not been for the wise selections made by supercouple Tabitha and Napoleon (Nappy Tabs) and the fabulously freaky Sonya Tayeh (thanks, girl, for letting me know about District 78’s “Game On”). These fast-working men and women have rightfully been given a spotlight, becoming near-household names for their crafty contributions (Hell, they even took Season 2 runner-up Travis Wall and made him a regular choreographer…and now he’s got his own show on Oxygen (All the Right Moves)! Incorporating actual tracks from the actual artists sure beats the orchestra/big band they got over at Stars, which only degrades popular songs and transforms them into theme park, karaoke-level covers.

Then there’s SYTYCD‘s wonderful host, the delightful Cat Deeley. The British glamazon has proven to be more than just a pretty, blond bobblehead who can read a Teleprompter. Over the years, she has established her connection to the contestants. Always attentive, she has physically supported them whenever one of them appears a little weak in the knees after a particularly tough performance. She embraces them — sweat and all — and acts as their den mother. She’s like that hot BFF you can never hate because she’s genuinely sweet (maybe it’s the accent) and looks out for your well-being, even in stilettos! As for DTWS‘s Tom Bergeron, he does an admirable job acting as a liaison between the performers and the judges, keeping the audience tuned in, but after several sessions, his persona comes off slightly hollow, and I feel strangely compelled to purchase a dishwasher…or a brand new car.

Needless to say, for me, SYTYCD will always stand above DWTS in terms of resonating substance and genuine entertainment. I am a proud fan through and through (Don’t even get me started on how I nearly lost my shit when I spotted choreographers Mia Michaels and Tyce Diorio lunching at Houston’s in Century City the other day).

Tune in, people.

Season 9 of SYTYCD has just begun.

– Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)

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