Season 12 of the Emmy-winning TV competition show So You Think You Can Dance just kicked things off on Fox.
It features open auditions around the United States, then more testing rounds eventually leading to finalists. A variety of dance styles are usually featured but this season there's a twist, with two teams of stage versus street. One contestant will be eliminated each week from each team until the finale. The top-rated show is hosted by Cat Deeley and veteran judge Nigel Lythgoeand they're joined this season by Jason Derulo and Paula Abdul.
Abdul was a judge on So You Think You Can Dance Australia last season. She brings tons of experience to the table, including past competition shows like Live to Dance, X Factor and, of course, American Idol. Also, she choreographed films such as American Beauty, Jerry Maguire and Coming to America. She has sold more than 60 million records worldwide, with hits such as "Forever Your Girl" and "Straight Up."
Abdul talked with Windy City Times and other publications recently about the new season of You Think You Can Dance.
Q: Start off talking about your background with studio training as a kid.
Paula Abdul: Well, it all started when I was 4 years old, when I first watched Singing in the Rain with my family. I fell in love with Gene Kelly. My parents said that I stood up and proclaimed that I'm going to be an entertainer and, honestly, I never stopped. I never looked back. I started at 7 1/2, which is considered kind of late because kids today, when we're auditioning them, say like 2 1/2, 3 years old.
So, I fell in love with dancing, and I did training in some ballet, tap, jazz, modern and musical theater.
I just knew from an early age that I would be a choreographer.
My first audition was a Laker girl. That was my first job. I took that seriously and transformed the Laker girls into a legitimate dance team. That's where I got my break, and I was discovered by The Jacksons. That was my first tour; I went on when I was a teenager, still choreographed my very first film, which was with Mr. McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey. I did Can't Buy Me Love, and went on to do Bull Durham and Coming to America, I did the big African dance scene, and Jerry Maguire, The Doors, so on and so forth. I did tours from The Jacksons to Janet Jackson, ZZ Top and George Michael. I've had a wonderful experience and went on to choreograph the Academy Awards while I was doing my pop music as well.
Q: How different is judging singing as opposed to dancing?
PA: Well, I've been very fortunate to have an extremely successful career as a choreographer, and the spirit and psyche of dancers are unlike any other performer I've ever witnessed. Because of my success as a choreographer, my perspective looking at this show and judging the talent on this show comes from a background that actually started my whole career as an entertainer, and I see the finished product of the raw, untapped talent that we get, and I can see what their experience through the show will bebut I was always considered a ball-buster as a choreographer. I'm a stickler for cleanliness and people really stretching their boundaries and getting outside their comfort zone.
Q: How different is judging American Idol from You Think You Can Dance?
PA: I'm not discounting the panel that I loved so much on American Idol; it's just completely different, a different set of skill sets and backgrounds as we have on So You Think You Can Dance. That's what I love about this business is that I don't try to find or re-create an experience I had. I always welcome the new experience, and the chemistry is fantastic on this panel, just as it was on American Idolbut it's just completely different.
Q: Did you previously know Nigel Lythgoe or Jason Derulo?
PA: Well, I feel like Nigel is part of like my family. Nigel is one of the executive producers of American Idol, so I've been working with Fox and with Nigel Lythgoe for [more than] a decade. I've known him for quite some time and I'm enjoying immensely working with him and loving the fact that Jason Derulo is part of the panel.
Jason, I'm a huge fan of. He has a background that totally exemplifies, as a young kid, wanting to be a performer. He went to a performing-arts school. He has a lot to offer. He's an incredible songwriter. He has the element of currently being out there performing as an artist.
We all get along extremely well and are having maybe a little bit too much fun at times.
Q: What do you learn about yourself from different judging styles?
PA: For me, this is part of my DNA. I've been searching, scouting and finding and mentoring raw talent for decades, and I've been very fortunate to have an astounding career as a choreographer in the dance industry. I just let things happen the way they happen and I'm always pleasantly surprised to see amazing talent emerge and start setting new bars for excellence, and as far as finding out more about myself as a judge, I find myself to be more patient I suppose with the process.
Q: Is there anything during the audition process that sets apart one dancer from another?
PA: Absolutely, and it's that inner confidencethat belief to go out there and just do their best. One of the things that I really thrive on is telling these dancers to be bold; be daring and show your unique ability. Because of the show doing so well, you see all these dance conventions and all these kids who come into audition, they're merely imitating the standards of what So You Think You Can Dance has set as the bar. Unless you're going to do it better or a different twist, don't do it because we've seen it all.
Show us something that makes you stand out completely as a unique ability that we're going to be able to remember that move and can't wait to see it again because that's what's going to set you apart.
It's the same thing as a judge when I was on American Idol. I wanted to see unique ability because, again, we already have the superstars like Gaga or Mariah or anyone who can achieve those amazing vocal licks and things like that.
It's the same thing with dancing. If you have the ability, technical ability to whip up the 12 pirouettes or the grand jetes, what are you going to do that just flips everything on its side or shifts the paradigm to make us go, "Wow?" That's what I look for.
Q: With this season being street versus stage, does one side have an advantage?
PA: I'm really excited about the new twist of format because we have team captains. Twitch [is] the team captain of the street side, and Travis [Wall] is the team captain of the stage side. This time it's not about the top 20. It's the 10 best on the street side, 10 best on stage, and it's not necessarily about equal female to maleit's whoever the best is. I think with the two team captains, there's going to be a competitive edge that we haven't seen on this show in addition to the contestants competing. I don't think one is more advantageous. I think you're going to see a tremendous amount of competition on both sides. It's going to be fun.
Q: I write for an LGBT publication, so how is the diversity on the show? Do you have some gays auditioning?
PA: We absolutely do. We have tremendous diversity and very colorful, wonderful, extremely talented dancers. It's been an amazing showing of just all different culture and backgrounds, diversity, styleseverything. It's a wonderful season.
Q: Do you plan on dancing onstage this season?
PA: Nothing planned and concrete, but you never know what happens, especially when it comes to dancing. I can't contain myself. Sometimes I just have to dance with them!
Watch who dances away with the prize Mondays on Fox.