So You Think You Can Dance Gives Kids Their Chance to Shine in New Season (PHOTOS)

Michael Logan
So You Think You Can Dance?

Chuck Hodes/FOX

Time for a shake-up. So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation—the 13th season of the Fox reality hit—has dropped the age requirement and will feature only dancers who are 8 to 13 years old. Host Cat Deeley freaked when she heard about it.

“I had two immediate concerns: that our show would turn pageant-y and weird, and that the talent might not be all that great,” she says. “I didn’t want to have to tell the audience, ‘Now be nice. Remember, little Johnny is only 8.’” But, Deeley admits, “I was dead wrong. This is the best thing to happen to our show in years.”

Executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe goes one better: “Two of the young people we found are among the best dancers in the show’s history, and one young lady gave the finest audition I have ever seen—and I do mean ever,” he says. “The standards are ridiculously high.”

Expect lots of tough love from Lythgoe and fellow judges Jason Derulo and Paula Abdul. “None of us will be a Simon Cowell going, ‘You’ll never be a dancer! Go sue your dance teacher!’” says Lythgoe. “But we will be honest, and we won’t sugarcoat. Most of these kids already do competitions. They know not everybody wins.”

So You Think You Can Dance, Season Premiere, Monday, May 30, 8/7c, Fox.

So You Think You Can Dance

FOX

Maddie Ziegler, the 13-year-old fan favorite from Dance Moms, will join SYTYCD as a mentor. “She’ll be like a big sister to the kids, someone their own age they can relate to and confide in,” Deeley says. “We really need that. I’m so goofy and old, the younger ones look at me like I’m the T-Rex from Night at the Museum!”

So You Think You Can Dance

Chuck Hodes/FOX

“The best thing about these kids is that they dance for the pure joy of it,” says Deeley, talking to kids at an audition in this shot. “Unlike older dancers, they’re not desperately seeking jobs. This is not the Last Chance Saloon.”

Even disasters get a rosy spin: One girl drank too much water just before she was picked as a semifinalist and barfed on Abdul. Her explanation? “All my happiness just came up!” Alas, when the season is over, Deeley says it’s “back to the real world of chores and math homework and sharing a bedroom with your stinky older brother.”

So You Think You Can Dance

FOX

They’re small but mighty. “This season’s contestants are physically awesome [like Gavin Morales, above]—Roman gods in little packages,” Deeley says. “They know dance is more than talent and training. They have to be strong as athletes.”

And they won’t shy away from mature themes. “Some of the most memorable routines on So You Think You Can Dance have been about hard subjects like loss,” Lythgoe notes. “Many of these kids come from broken homes or families where there are drugs or alcohol issues. You’ll hear their stories. Like all great dancers, they use their art to express their pain.”

So You Think You Can Dance

Chuck Hodes/FOX

Broadway musicals featuring little stars, like Matilda and The Lion King, set big dreams in motion for young dancers, like Sasha Cochran, above. “Our show has also been a huge influence on these kids,” Lythgoe says. “But here’s what’s depressing: Most of them weren’t even born when we hit the air!”

So You Think You Can Dance

Chuck Hodes/FOX

Open auditions were held in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, with 100 kids selected to move on to the Academy, where they’ll train with acclaimed professionals and be whittled down to 10 finalists.

“It’s like superhero dance school,” Deeley says. “Each child is paired with a Yoda-type mentor—one of our So You Think You Can Dance All Stars—and will go into the competition with that mentor as their dance partner.”

Ballroom dance could pose a problem. “The height difference between our little ones and the adult All Stars can be huge,” Lythgoe says. “It’ll really put our choreographers to the test.”

< >