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EXCLUSIVE: America's Best Dance Crew 2009 Auditions (Part I)

America’s Best Dance Crew came to the East Coast to audition New York’s finest dancers for Season 3 (2009).  Thanks to MTV, Poptimal.com had backstage passes and was given exclusive access to contestants as they tried to dance their way to Hollywood.  Our writer Jaimie Campos gives a pop and lock account of the best and worst of the New York Auditions in this first part of a two part series.

What’s up, dance fans! What’d you do this weekend? Well, I took a moment out for all of you and headed to a little studio downtown where MTV held the Season Three auditions for America’s Best Dance Crew, and I’m here to bring you some highlights. Start thanking me at any time.

If you’re not a fan of the show, what’s wrong with you? Surely you’ve heard of the JabbaWockeeZ? Fanny Pak? Super Cr3w? Randy Jackson? Mario Lopez? What do you think JC Chasez is doing these days?

ABDC gathers the top crews from different regions of the country to compete in L.A. to find America’s best dance crew. Weekly, the crews must choreograph routines to assigned music while addressing the weekly challenge (musical themes, using sets and props, etc.). The judges (Chasez, Lil’ Mama, and Shane Sparks) provide criticism and feedback, and America votes. The following week, the two crews with the lowest number of votes are up for elimination, and after performing, the judges send one home. Week after week we watch as nine crews are whittled down to two, and America votes one last time. Randy Jackson magically appears to crown America’s. Best. Dance. Crew.

Auditions are held in eight cities throughout the country, and then the nine best crews are selected and brought to L.A. With no audition special this year, Poptimal.com brings you this exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the crews with the best chance to represent the East Coast.

Crews lined the quiet New York City street long before the official 9:00am start time in the cold, dawn air of a bright and sunny Saturday morning. The autumn chill does not dampen the spirits of our talented and hopeful crowd, and — oh to hell with it. Let’s get started!

First, our key players. Michelle McNulty, ABDC’s casting director, led the auditions with Howard Schwartz, the show’s creator, at her side. And it sounds like an awesome job, but keep in mind: first, there’s showing up early when all right-minded people have hangovers or are sleeping in. Second, you are solely responsible for the energy in the room and making the auditioners feel comfortable enough to give you their best, so you can then decide if they are the best. And that energy level is key. I’m not sure how McNulty did it, beyond the several cups of Starbucks and the repeated playing of TI’s Dead and Gone (ft. Justin Timberlake), which has been stuck in my head for nearly 24 hours now. But the enthusiasm never waned, and the atmosphere stayed high, even after meeting one final person…

I’m not sure how this Production Assistant got the job, but if MTV sent her, somebody should be fired. The nameless P.A. made her first impression on the Press by showing up late, and asking for her assignments while on her cell phone. Why hang up when you can make a good impression just by asking the person on the other line to hold on one second, while asking your boss for some work? Multi-tasking at its finest.

The press sits in the back of audition space, McNulty ready to bring in the first crew, only to be stopped by none other than our favorite P.A. The door opens to a loud,  “I’m looking for the Casting Director?” and there’s a moment of silent shock as everyone tries to figure out who this crazy woman is, interrupting the process and not even knowing who she’s looking for. All to take a coffee order. Brilliant.

And so we get started! We watched a number of crews perform, of varying talent and skill. Allow me to provide a generic breakdown of the most common types of crews.

1.  So, you’re sitting at home thinking, I know three guys who can dance. There’s a whole month before auditions. That’s plenty of time to pull a decent crew together. Your three friends are great dancers, and you work together a good routine. Then you read the fine print and realize that you need a minimum of five people in your crew to even compete, and the only other person you know who’s willing to put up with you, has any rhythm at all, meets the minimum age requirement of 18, and can be there that day is somebody’s cousin, Randy, so you pull the guy in and make do. And he can dance, but he can’t dance, but you give it a shot anyway.

It was a real shame watching crews like this, because they have three or four really good standouts, but the others they’ve dragged in to meet the requirements aren’t very good, and the standouts suffer. There’s no way the crew can advance, but if those three combined with three others from a similar crew, they’d be a hot mess of dance power. Unfortunately, we watched this unbalance all day.

2.  You’re not a street dancer. You’re a dancer. You come from a background of classical or ethnic training, and you want to bring something different to the stage. You’re a fan of the show, or maybe you’re not, but you want to bring a cultural edge to the masses. Is there a better opportunity than a commercial program (Randy Jackson of American Idol has his name attached, for heaven’s sake!) that reaches a young, easily influenced audience? No! So get on down here and audition!

So, listen. I’m all for a little modern or ethnic dancing in my mainstream consciousness. Don’t get me started on my dream Broadway production, which I would direct and produce and which involves all forms of dance set to opposite and clashing forms of music. There’s not enough time! But here’s the thing: you can’t change what you don’t know. So if you don’t know what kind of show you’re auditioning for, you probably shouldn’t show up. And if you do go for it and the panel indicates that they need a little something different out of you to fit you into the show’s production – and they are in all ways positive and encouraging – do not, I repeat, do not insult the producers, their process, and their tastes in music, which in turn, insults the entire show and purpose for everyone being there.  Because now you’re just wasting everybody’s time, including your own.

And if you are a fan of the show, bring a little bit of that mainstream into your routine, because it was very clear that McNulty and Schwartz were open to all types of dancers and routines. Chances are, what makes you different could help you become a serious contender when it’s time to pick the final nine crews.

3.  You’re the underdog. You have two or three people who know what the show is about. You know enough about choreography and creativity and technical skills (popping and locking, etc.), and you know a few other good dancers who are open to being taught. And these others can dance. The girls aren’t just filler to meet the minimum requirements, they bring skills. Everyone in the group works as a team and understands that the routine is about the bigger picture, not just about individuals lining up and doing a bunch of tricks.

There were a few crews like this, most notably one which included Jamal and Dwayne of Season One’s Status Quo. This mostly new crew, R2-D2 out of Boston, has been together for only two months. The most impressive thing to me was that everyone had talent, and I loved that the girls more than kept up with their male crewmates, something we did not see often. Watch out for this crew; if not this season, then in the future.

4.   You are a longstanding crew with real skill. Maybe you have real dance training, or you are self-taught. You show up to battle, to show off your tricks, and to entertain. You have danced together before and aren’t a crew just for this show. Maybe you perform around your home city, your college, or travel around the country. This isn’t just something to do on a Saturday morning, this is something you want to do for life. And here you are. Are you there, Randy Jackson? It’s me, Rhythm City.

Or The Zoo, or Round 1, or other crews who came out Saturday with a passion for what they do, beyond the joy of just dancing in a club and showing off their moves. It’s not just about the matching t-shirts or uniforms. These are crews who know what they’re doing.  The real shame of this show, like other talent productions which eliminate worthy contestants, is that not everybody who deserves to win, can win. And at this stage, not everybody who deserves even a chance will have one. Because ABDC is looking for the best. Any of these crews easily deserve a shot, and it’s hard to pick just one to move forward.

Now, there were the above types of crews, and then there was everything in between. Guys dressed in scrubs who danced a zombie-inspired routine with surprising precision and skill. Crews with people who didn’t know the routine. Crews with some great moves, and some very, very strange ones. Guys with lots of makeup and girls with lots of sparkles. A surprising number of kerchiefs and lots of zebra prints. I don’t get it, either. People who could dance well in Uggs, and people who couldn’t. Crews from Vegas, Virginia, Philly, Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn and Boston.

Through all of that, lots of missteps. Typical auditions had teams who knew the moves and could dance, but not a lot of crews came out and hit it hard. They lacked stage presence and the trick skills which could have put them over the edge and upped their entertainment value. There was a serious lack of “performance.” Though surprising, I now understand how last year’s crew selection seemed so poor against Season One’s contestants. Given the opportunity to freestyle, I was amazed by how many girls resorted to booty shaking and standing splits as “freestyle.” Or maybe that’s just the jealousy talking, as I can’t do either. Ahem.

But for all the misses, there were definitely crews I can’t wait to see make it to L.A. The Zoo is from Vegas, and as the first crew of the day, they set the bar very high. A crew that was in New York performing on Broadway, I hope to see them make ABDC, but as a crew representing their region so we can get a different East Coast crew to move forward. Round 1, Rhythm City, R2-D2 and Rock Socks were up there for entertainment value and skill. Also worthy of consideration were Fr3sh and The Truth, weird costume choices aside.

On the creative end, it was refreshing to see the panel so encouraging. McNulty gave crews chances to fix mistakes and offered notes on problems, and gave further advice to crews who maybe weren’t ready for their shot on television. Schwartz was just as genuinely interested in everyone who came in. The two clearly want only the best for the show, but not at the expense of crushing anyone’s spirit.

Now, don’t get excited. The coffee order was not the last we saw of our favorite, wayward PA. She stopped by to get the lunch order also, whispering and interrupting a few people, in a way that does not bode well for obtaining future assignments. And when she dropped the coffee off, well. Let’s just say undergarments are undergarments, ladies, and your place of business, whether it’s Wall Street or backstage, is not the place to show off thongs or derriere. It just doesn’t give off the kind of impression you think it does.  And in this case, it is definitely not jealousy talking. Ahem, indeed.

And that was it! Special thanks to Noelle Llewellyn at MTV and Winson Seto at Warner Brothers for providing Poptimal.com with this opportunity. If you haven’t watched ABDC before, viewers, set your DVR’s and TiVos now. Based on some of the crews we watched audition, we could have the hottest season yet on our hands – and now you can say you heard it here first.

Also, stay tuned to the Jone Dome for highlights from the auditions (Part II), with my appearance as a very special guest. I play myself, and early reviews declare that I am awesome. Would I lie?

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