No theme nights — A bad theme can ruin an entire episode. “SYTYCD” fans can rest assured that if (God forbid) “Music of the Night” pops up in a routine, it’ll be the only Andrew Lloyd Webber song they hear all night.
Wider range of music — The dance show makes its share of musical missteps (using “AI” contestants’ tracks in the name of cross promotion, allowing a certain choreographer to indulge in her baffling Celine Dion obsession, thinking that kids might better appreciate a foxtrot or jive if the Brian Setzer Orchestra is involved), but it also acknowledges artists too small for mainstream radio. Millions of people have heard tracks by Hot Chip, Junior Boys and Mirah thanks to routines on the show. On a related note, don’t get me started on the way “Idol” turns a blind eye to hip-hop.
More impressive performances — On “Idol,” country singers turn pop-song country and rock singers make country songs rock. “SYTYCD” requires its contestants to perform far outside their comfort zones. Break-dancers master the Argentinean tango, ballerinas tackle hip-hop and everyone struggles with contemporary. It’s a level playing field that leaves more room for underdogs to come out of nowhere and surprise viewers with routines they really shouldn’t be able to do.
More opportunities to show creativity — And yet, the dancers get more time to flex their creative muscles. Dancers have multiple opportunities to perform solos in their own styles and remind us of what it is they do best. How often does someone perform an original song on “Idol” once they get to the top 24?
Better host — No one likes Ryan Seacrest. Even Ryan Seacrest knows that. But the lovely, amiable and often sparkly Cat Deeley? Season-three break-dancer Dominic said it best: “White teeth, 7 feet tall with a French accent? What’s not to like?”
Better judges — They clearly know what they’re talking about, and their criticisms aren’t entirely predictable. Now if only someone could turn down Mary Murphy’s volume.
Better results shows — They’re still longer than necessary, but the filler has some actual substance. This season, the show has padded elimination episodes with performances by professional dancers. And I’m sure Poppin’ Pete from “Breakin’ ” could use the work.
Contestants aren’t pimped in commercials — Sure, it’s because they’re not popular enough to sell anything, but that doesn’t make me any less happy about not having to watch them do pirouettes around a 2009 Chevy Silverado.
Winner will never be famous — Does anyone who doesn’t watch “SYTYCD” know who Sabra Johnson, Benji Schwimmer or that guy who won season one are? No. And this might be the biggest advantage the show has. Without the promise of fame, the contestants give off the impression that they’re performing because it’s what they love to do. And unlike “Idol” singers, “SYTYCD” contestants don’t live on in news of arrests, rehab and failed careers, just a handful of perfect YouTubed performances.