More than her dancing skills, playful banter with fellow judge Nigel Lythgoe and kooky catchphrases, Mary Murphy is known for her high-pitched, high-octane scream — a trademark of So You Think You Can Dance since Season 1.
Unfortunately, when Murphy returned to the judges table earlier this year, her calling card was nowhere to be heard, the sad result of undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer.
"At certain times during the audition trail, I was unable to even give a shout-out. One time, I tried to reach over to Nigel and say, 'Give that kid a ticket,' and it didn't come out," Murphy, 53, told reporters last week about her health struggles. "It broke my heart that the kids couldn't hear the excitement that I had for them."
Luckily, her road to recovery is getting easier. Murphy is now cancer-free after undergoing surgery in December of 2010. The procedure could have very well left her permanently without vocal chords, but for now, she says she is simply speaking at a "lower level" while easing back into her old habits.
"At least I can yell now. I'm so thrilled that I do have a voice. The fact that I can hear myself laugh — I laugh every single day of my life — so the fact that that's back, I'm overwhelmed," she said. "I hope by the time we go live it will be back and I won't have to deal with that because it really did hurt me emotionally."
Other than her voice, it's back to business as usual for Murphy, who made two appearances on the show last year after her Season 6 exit. "When I walked on the set, it was just me and Nigel like an old married couple. We've been together for so long," she said. "It was really heartwarming that the entire cast and the crew down to the security, the lighting, made their way down to me on my first day back and told me how much I was missed."
The biggest change ahead will be on the dance floor, as the series returns to its original format with 20 dancers returning instead of just 10. Murphy says this year will also feature a much wider range of dance styles, in comparison to last year when seven out of the 10 finalists were all contemporary dancers.
"We have invested a lot in hip-hop and street dancers so we have a lot of that," she said.
Dancers will also continually have to reach outside of their comfort zone and specialties. After the first week — when each dancer performs their own style — everyone will be forced to try a new genre and must also work with a partner who may or may not know the same styles.
"For me, that was really exciting because when somebody pulls off the dance when neither one of them knew the dance five-and-a-half hours [earlier], that gets the judges genuinely fired up," she said. "It may not be at a professional level, but what they can do is just incredible."
Murphy said Season 8 is all about pushing the dancers to their best, which is why the all-stars will not be selected until the top 10. "We're going to pick the all-stars to complement them. This season we want to make sure that they're the same size and that the personalities are going to get along," she said. "We want to do everything we can to make sure that the dancing is going to be produced at the highest level like it never has before."
So You Think You Can Dance airs Thursday at 8/7c on Fox.