Monday night marked the 16th season premiere of dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance. The unlikely veteran of FOX's reality lineup (that it outlasted American Idol on the network is a testament to a kind of tortoise-and-hare dynamic that the two friendly rival shows shared), So You Think has enjoyed a modest but loyal audience that at times has required the show to shuffle its dynamics to stay afloat. Over the years, that's meant All-Star seasons, a hip-hop-versus-contemporary season (sorry, ballroom), and a juniors season. After having re-settled on a more classic format over the last couple seasons, the panel of judges (or as host Cat Deeley puts it in her peppy English accent, "jidges") have come in for a revamp.
Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe of course remains, and thankfully Mary Murphy is back as well, but two-year veteran Vanessa Hudgens is out. After a decently insightful start, Hudgens had downshifted into a human pep squad, and on a panel that already trends solidly supportive, that wasn't great. In Hudgens's place, So You Think welcomes back two faces from the show's past, albeit ones the audience hasn't seen in a while: Dominic Sandoval finished in the top 8 in Season 3, showing off his tricky hip-hop and breakdancing abilities, and riding his boisterous personality through unfamiliar dance styles. Sandoval's schoolboy crush on dance partner Sabra helped define both two dancers and pushed her to the season win. Dominic and Sabra were the recipients of judge Debbie Allen's legendary "CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT, HONEY" critique.
After Season 3, Dominic — or "D-Trix" as he would become known — teamed up with his Quest Crew dance crew and won Season 3 of America's Best Dance Crew and then went on to judge ABDC for two seasons. So the jidging experience is there!
Sandoval returned to So You Think in Season 7 for the show's first all-star season — long enough to bust out a pretty rad sword-in-the-stone piece with Robert Roldan — but as the show has begun leaning more and more on the all-stars for mentoring and partnering the young dancers in recent seasons, he hasn't been around.
LaurieAnn Gibson was a name herself by the time she arrived as a So You Think choreographer in Season 5. The Alvin Ailey-trained dancer was in-house choreographer for Bad Boy records and was a big part of Diddy's Making the Band as a result. She also served as choreographer and creative director for Lady Gaga until they ended their professional relationship in 2011. Most importantly, Gibson was the inspiration for the main character in a little movie called Honey with Jessica Alba (!), for which she did choreography and also played Honey's dance nemesis Katrina (!!).
Gibson only made a handful of appearances as a choreographer on the show, but in that short time she managed to establish herself as what the best SYTYCD choreographers are: beautiful oddballs. Gibson's intensity and penchant for screaming made her memorable, as did routines like this pop-jazz number for Brandon Bryant and eventual winner Jeanine Mason:
Neither one of our new judges has the star power of a Vanessa Hudgens or a Jason Derulo, but that's arguably good thing. Both Dominic and LaurieAnn bring complementary areas of dance expertise to the panel (where Mary Murphy already holds it down for ballroom), harkening back to the golden age of So You Think, when those third and fourth spots were occupied by a rotating group of choreographers rather than celebrities.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.