Kelsey McNeal/ Fox
EW Staff
October 02, 2009 AT 03:54 AM EDT

Hello, dance fans! It’s your Wednesday-night SYTYCD reporter, and I’m super excited to be here. A big shout-out to Kate Ward for so graciously sharing the week: I may not have 12 years of ballet training under my belt, but I can boast many dedicated years of studying dance on movies and TV. And, as it turns out, Kate wasn’t the only one taking a breather this Wednesday. SYTYCD executive producer and resident bad cop Nigel Lythgoe was also missing from this episode, off in jolly olde England and accepting an honorary degree from the University of Bedfordshire. Hey, didn’t he get that award last season? Oh, that’s right, he did (during a season 5 results show, when Debbie Allen and Mary Murphy assumed his duties). That would place these New Orleans auditions back in July (and would also explain the sweltering heat). In Nigel’s absence, new series regular Adam Shankman and Lil’ C joined Mary Murphy at the judges’ table. And fortunately for us, we were spared any unseemly crotch flashes.

It was a good thing the show held auditions in the Big Easy. Had they stopped somewhere else in the country, we wouldn’t have seen footage of beautiful Bourbon Street, the requisite Dixieland bands, or the Mardi Gras masks. Nor would we have been introduced to the New Orleans Bounce, as performed by Shelby ”Skip” Skipper. None of the judges admitted to knowing anything about this local style (though Mary sassed, ”I heard you learned the New Orleans Bounce last night!” to Adam – ooh, Mary!), but no primer was necessary to appreciate the opening number’s jolt of fun and excitement. The movement showed off seismic shoulder shakes and the power of ten thousand horses in Skip’s legs — and kind of reminded me of a stylized seizure, set to a bumping beat. Lil’ C even broke out his special vocabulary and called it ”buck” — the first time we’ve heard it in three audition days. (And I thought the term had gone out of style! He probably just didn’t want to dilute its power.) Though was anyone else surprised when the judges sent Skip straight through to Vegas without doing choreography? I realize this was probably a show of support both for this unique dance and the city itself, but this type of specialized dancer does not usually pass untested.

Also sent straight to Vegas: Kimalee Piedad. Now, this I can get behind. Not just because she represents another genre the show hasn’t seen before (theater arts, ballroom division), but because she’s so freaking good at those lifts. Her seemingly effortless acrobatic holds were very Cirque du Soleil, and she gets an extra shiny star for being able to maintain them for crazy-long. Plus, who knew you could ice dance without skates? Or ice? And what did Lil’ C mean when he said her routine was ”visually informative”?

And then there was Jakob Kerr, who looked like he was genetically engineered to fit the SYTYCD mold: cute, contemporary, and with amazing strength and extension. His wowza audition, with pointed-toe leaps, emotional connection, and great control, was the first in New Orleans (well, that we’ve seen) that registered some genuine excitement (and decibel levels) from our resident hot tamale Mary Murphy. And to me, Jakob’s was the first full audition we’d seen this evening that was a consummate performance. The judges fawned over young acro dancer Jonathan Litzler as well, another corn-fed contemporary wonder who was cute as a button, but I didn’t think he was as strong as Jakob. Still, Lil’ C. launched him into the fourth dimension and called him a ”perfect blend of weight, energy, space, and time,” Mary Murphy dubbed him ”another little gemeroo,” and Adam Shankman went so far as to say it was one of the best auditions he’d ever seen. I thought his tumbling passes were great, but the transitions seemed a little awkward. Ultimately, both Jakob and Jonathan were sent straight to Vegas, where they can duke it out in the next round. Who will end up in the top 20, and who will end up at Abercrombie & Fitch?

NEXT: Micah’s debut…and exit

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