Can So You Think You Can Dance's fancy footwork deliver another solid season?
The reality dance competition show returns for its 11th season Wednesday (8/7c, Fox) amidst a glut of reality shows that are all struggling to retain the audiences that once turned up in droves. "Like most shows, we've been losing viewers and the viewing figures have been going down," executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe told reporters on a call last week. "I would certainly like to bolster them up, if not keep them the same as last year."
Summer TV: Must-see new shows
But don't expect any drastic changes to draw in viewers. Perhaps SYTYCD learned its lesson from last season's excruciatingly failed attempt at voting someone off at the top of the episode, after which the eliminees then had to cheerfully dance their rehearsed routines through the rest of the program. Instead, the show will stick to its tried-and-true formula. "We're not putting celebrities in it. When it comes to the competition, it isn't like Dancing with the Stars that you can watch for various reasons," Lythgoe said. "We're just deeply focused on dance, the different styles, the different genres. And we haven't got anybody saying, 'Pack your suitcase; you're going home next week.' We're saying, 'Point your toes. Straighten your leg,' which of course doesn't appeal to everybody. So we know what we are, and we've always said we're the little program that could."
Here are a few tweaks, new faces and familiar formats that are coming to Season 11:
1. Justin Bieber Relax, Dance fans! Although the initial announcement that the pop icon would appear on the show this season elicited backlash from non-Beliebers, his involvement on the show is minimal at best. His portion will amount to a handful of pre-taped introductions for the two dance crews who will go head-to-head in each of the four audition episodes to try to win votes via Twitter. The winner for each of those match-ups will perform live on the show, and the crew with the most Twitter votes overall will perform on the finale. "We've known a long time that [Bieber is] a fan, but we've never been able to do anything with him. He's always been so busy," Lythgoe explained. "So we found out where he was, asked him to do it. He was thrilled to do it. We shot it in Cannes."
2. Only one episode a week SYTYCD will stick to its once-a-week format, which means that once the live performances begin, eliminations will again take place at the end of the episode. It's not ideal, but Lythgoe has made his peace with the necessity. "It's really difficult in the one show, to show people off, to then say they're in the Bottom 3 and then cut them when they've performed brilliantly in that show," he said. "I'd much prefer a second night ... I don't like it. I've never liked it, but I totally understand again if we're not getting the viewers for that show why they would cut it. You've always got to put yourself in the place of the people making those decisions and then figure out if it makes sense or not. Unfortunately, I think it does make sense to put it as one night."
3. There can be only one Unlike most recent seasons in which viewers could vote for one each of their favorite male and female dancers, this season will revert to the original formula of just one ultimate champ. "We're going back to the individual winner," Lythgoe clarified. "We've been quite lenient in the past and said, 'Which is your favorite male? Which is your favorite female?' but we're going to make America choose." That winner could possibly get a bigger prize than usual this year. "I'm going to be part of the team that's producing An American in Paris early next year," he added. "We're opening in Paris in November/December, and hopefully the winner of So You Think You Can Dance will be offered a part in An American in Paris as well."
PHOTOS: Summer TV eye candy
4. Superstar judges The revolving judges seat will once again bring in some big names from the entertainment, dance and even Olympic worlds. Following her popular commentary at the Sochi Winter Games, figure skater Tara Lipinski will join Adam Shankman, Stephen "tWitch" Boss and Irina Dvorovenko to help judge the callbacks in Los Angeles. "Tara Lipinski, your Olympic gold medalist, was absolutely terrific as a judge," Lythgoe said. "Irina Dvorovenko was a very interesting ballerina who was very honest, a very interesting character. [She would say,] 'You have good feet. Your face is ugly.' What she actually meant was that the lady in question wasn't performing, but had an interesting way of announcing that." Throughout the audition rounds, the guest judges will be Wayne Brady (New Orleans), actress Jenna Elfman and 6-foot-5 ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels (Chicago), Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Atlanta), Kinky Boots' Billy Porter and ballerina Misty Copeland (Philadelphia), and Christina Applegate (Los Angeles).
5. Innovative dance forms Although not every new dance form will make it to their own competitive routines like Bollywood did, they could show up in the auditions or as part of showcase dances. "There's an awful lot of sort of underground dance, like jitting and bopping. Oakland's got turfing. Memphis has got jookin," Lythgoe said. "So we want to try and show these different sort of urban folk dances that are happening now, and they all go under the banner of hip-hop, but there are many more sort of divisions of it. So there are some really good exponents of these styles."
6. Familiar faces Fans of the show will be happy to hear that a few standout favorites who never went far enough in the competition will return for another shot. In particular, the quirky-dorky bowtie-wearing Caleb Brauner, who danced with his father last year, will be back with some surprising news and a renewed determination. Oh, and there may be tears involved.
What are you looking forward to the most this season?
So You Think You Can Dance kicks off with a two-hour season premiere Wednesday at 8/7c on Fox. Check out a sneak peek here.
Watch This Tonight: So You Think You Can Dance — find out why it's today's editor's pick: