Time flies in the world of reality TV, doesn't it? It seems like we were just congratulating Benji Schwimmer (pictured at right) for winning Season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance, and already throngs of ballroom champs, ballerinas, pop 'n lockers, hip-hop divas, lyrical artistes, tap dancers and everyone in between are lining up for auditions. According to Fox, 1,400 people showed up for the New York auditions last week, nearly triple the number of last year's wannabes. Since there is obviously more competition than ever, TVGuide.com asked the ever-enthusiastic Mary Murphy if she has any advice for the kids who want to prove their talent to her, Nigel Lythgoe and whichever third judge of the day gets to play referee between those two. Dancers, there's still time to take in this advice and then head to the upcoming tryouts in Chicago (starting today), Los Angeles (March 22) and Atlanta (April 5). Visit Fox.com for more info.
TVGuide.com: Hi, Mary! How are the auditions going?
Mary Murphy: It's been a good first day so far. I was so excited to be in New York. I haven't been here in, like, six years!
TVGuide.com: Can you explain the audition process? I know it's much more involved than how it looks on TV.
Murphy: When we first see them, they only get 30 seconds, and it doesn't matter what kind of dancer you are — Latin dancer, ballet, tap, it won't matter — you're going to have to show us your stuff to [our chosen] music. If we like you in those first 30 seconds, then we call you back to see what you do to your own [choice of] music. The good news is [we] don't change [our] song, so the first 75 kids who are brought into the room all hear it, as we bring 10 up on the stage at a time. Sometimes people don't even make it through the first line of producers to see us. Last year, [runner-up] Travis didn't make it out of the L.A. auditions, but he flew to South Carolina because he wasn't taking no for an answer. He knew if he could get in front of us, we would see that he could dance.
TVGuide.com: That's good to know. What other advice do you have?
Murphy: The absolute biggest tip I can share is that if you have any great signature moves, don't mess about, get to it. It's too often that dancers keep padding a routine with hardly anything, and then all of a sudden they have this fabulous move towards the end. A lot of times we will cut you off, so we never even get to see that move. We usually make up our minds in less than 30 seconds about whether we want to see you come back or not.
TVGuide.com: How much depends on their physical appearance?
Murphy: If they're not well groomed, if they look a mess, it starts giving us a picture of what they really feel about themselves, so of course appearances are everything. They need to walk on that stage with all the confidence in the world, because if they don't, I'm not going to be very confident in them, either.
TVGuide.com: How do you feel about attention-grabbing gimmicks?
Murphy: Sometimes the gimmicks work. It just depends if it's being backed up with great dancing. We had people with different kinds of hats on today, and then the hats weren't even used [in the dance] at all, so what's the point? If you're going to get out on roller skates or on stilts, you better be able to get down and actually dance as well. [After we've gone] through one bad audition after another, it lights up our day if we get a gimmick, for sure. But is it going to get you all the way through? No.
TVGuide.com: As the show's popularity has grown, I understand you have a lot more people auditioning....
Murphy: Absolutely. And I feel so bad for the ones who have to stay [in line] outside. The weather hasn't been cooperative here in New York. In Chicago last year, too, they were standing outside in the snow. That's another tip: Bring a chair with you, and make sure you have the warmest clothes you possibly can. It's incredibly difficult for dancers to wait so many hours and then get up and dance. They need to try to keep their bodies warm and stay focused.
TVGuide.com: Does any style of dancer have an advantage over others?
Murphy: I don't think anyone has an advantage over anybody else. Obviously, it's difficult to be a technical dancer who dances with passion, but we've definitely had people make it all the way to the top 20 who've never had a single dance lesson in their whole life. But you could see their raw passion and the movement, so you weren't held back from saying, "Let's greenlight this person and see what they can do with a choreographer."
TVGuide.com: Are all three judges looking for different things?
Murphy: We don't always agree, that's for sure. I guess if we did, it would get kind of boring! Nigel and I already kicked into something today. I said someone was a great mover and he didn't think he was. We had our discussion on it, but that's what makes it fun. But when you see a great dancer, you see a great dancer, no matter what genre they're from.
TVGuide.com: Who's judging in New York?
Murphy: [SYTYCD choreographer] Dan Karaty and, of course, Nigel. I was just made permanent judge, as well. I will not be rotating off to choreograph. It's definitely a vote of confidence from [the producers]. Being able to sit beside Nigel every show is so much fun, and I really do have the time of my life up there.
TVGuide.com: Some of last season's castoffs complained that they never got enough screen time, since all of the audition episodes focused on the bad dancers. Do you agree?
Murphy: Of course they show more of the bad dancers [in the early episodes]. We don't want to give away all our diamonds! We're just going to give you a little glimpse.
TVGuide.com: What will be the prize this year?
Murphy: I'm not sure, other than the $100,000. They're still in the works with the second prize because the Celine Dion [Las Vegas] show is going to be ending. But last year's winner, Benji Schwimmer, didn't even want the Celine Dion show; he signed a three-project deal with Disney. He's doing great and he just came out with a whole line of videos. And Heidi, his cousin, has found [a partner] in the top 12 of the amateur ranks in the world, and she is over studying in England right now.
TVGuide.com: Who else have you kept up with?
Murphy: I know Travis and Ivan have been on a tour of their own, doing conventions and teaching. Dmitry has just recently moved out to L.A., and he's going to be part of Louis van Amstel's dance company. I think he's going to be in a movie with Brad Pitt. Could you stand that?! Him and Brad Pitt? Wooo!
For stories on American Idol, Victoria Beckham's new NBC reality series, and more, pick up the March 12 issue of TV Guide.