Nearly a year and a half since she left her post on the "American Idol" judges' panel, Paula Abdul returned to television on Tuesday night with her reality dance competition, "Live to Dance." The choreographer-turned-pop-star was joined by former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt and longtime Michael Jackson choreographer Travis Payne on the new panel for the CBS show that takes from the playbook of other talent competitions like "Idol," "America's Got Talent" and "So You Think You Can Dance."
"Live to Dance" begins with a large pool of contestants competing for a $500,000 prize. They are to be narrowed down by the judges and then voted on by the American public. There is also a plucky Australian host, Andrew Gunsberg, who seems to be channeling a mix of "SYTYCD" host Cat Deeley and "Idol" superstar Ryan Seacrest.
Tuesday's two-hour premiere kicked off with audition rounds in Los Angeles and New York, where the judges watched hopefuls of all ages, shapes and sizes. Abdul said she's looking for the best new dance act in America — specifically bold, daring dancers who are "willing to break barriers."
Whether any barriers were broken is yet to be determined. In order for a dancer or group to move past the audition round into the semi-finals, they had to receive two out of three stars from the illustrious panel. If an act was especially convincing or received support from the audience after receiving only one of three stars, the judges had the option of changing their initial judgment in order to move that act through to the next round.
Highlights included the first contestant of the evening, 9-year-old hip-hop dancer Jalen, whose energetic performance wowed the judges and made his dad cry.
"You have so much joy that comes out of that face of yours," Abdul told the little dancer. "I just want to squeeze it!"
Other memorable acts were senior dancers Bev, 83, and Hap, 68, who surprised the audience with a funk/jazz routine and celebrated their three gold stars from the judges by doing victory pushups right on the stage.
The last acts from the Los Angeles round that stood out were young contemporary partners Jill and Jacob, who sweetly danced around the issue of whether they were romantically linked or not. Paula Abdul superfan Stone wasn't the most talented contestant, but because he performed his "dance" to Abdul's hit "Forever Your Girl," he won the audience (and Abdul) over. Though he didn't make it, he received a hug from his idol, who told the audience that "Forever Your Girl" was a song that can only belong to one person, her father (who was shown beaming up at his daughter from the audience).
And then it was time for the New York auditions. Highlights from the Big Apple included another senior, Bonnie Buchner, a 90-year-old woman who tapped her way into the audience's heart, but not into the semi-finals. Abdul did call Buchner a "precious gift," though.
Other stand-outs were a troupe of kids dressed as creepy zombies dancing in and around a mausoleum, a contortionist who looked like he popped joints and bones out of place, a group called "Twitch" that featured a bunch of girls and one guy (Abdul told them they inspired her), and the closing act of the evening, a very young ballroom dance pair (they looked to be no more than 8 or 9 years old, if that), D'Angelo and Amanda, who admitted to "maybe" being boyfriend and girlfriend.
There were definitely memorable performances, but two hours seemed a bit lengthy. We'll have to wait and see how they continue or change the format in later episodes. And the host, if he is indeed the host, could use more to do than just chatting with contestants backstage and occasionally attempting to engage the audience.
"Idol" fans who were hoping for some signature kooky Abdul moments were probably mildly disappointed that her comments were more of the sweet-and-heartfelt variety ("You are a bright ray of sunshine!") than filled with loopy non sequiturs. But the show is young!
What did you think of Paula Abdul's "Live to Dance"? Share your reviews in the comments!