So You Think You Can Dance

I hate reality television. I've been hating it for years. Pretty much anyone who has been around me as I've sat through an episode of The Biggest Loser or Top Chef or American Idol knows that I hate these shows. They've heard me ranting about and Big Brother and The Greatest Race. And don't even get me started on Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I hate these shows. I had pretty much made up my mind that this was a genre that simply had nothing to offer me except irritation and outrage. It's with that background in mind that I announce my latest guilty pleasure: Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.

I've been examining what it is about this show that I like so much, especially given how much I dislike other reality programs. There's an easy comparison to American Idol--the two competitions have a pretty similar format with auditions, judges, and eventual voting by the public--but there are differences and I think they highlight what it is I like about Dance.

The most obvious difference between the two shows is the nature of the competition--one is about singing and the other is about dance. For me, though, what makes me like one more than the other is the quality of the artists. Indeed, I have a hard time even calling most Idol contestants "artists." I know that's a terribly elitist thing to say and many of you will disagree--and, truly, if you love listening to that kind of music, that's great and that's what you should listen to. I just don't find anything interesting or innovative about the kind of music that Idol contestants and even winners produce--it's mostly sugary, overproduced, extremely commercial, and very, very safe. (And before you completely dismiss me as a snob, I should point out that there are many pop artists I like, across a variety of styles and time periods.) These singers usually have good technique, but little to no artistry. Meanwhile, the dancers that stand out on Dance, that catch both my attention and the judges', are the ones that bring more than just technique to their performances, and despite the fact that I've only seen three episodes so far--and all of them auditions--I've seen a lot of really interesting stuff on this show.

Moreover, the level of professionalism displayed by the people trying out for Dance seems to be far, far higher than what you see on Idol, especially in the audition period. By far the majority of the dancers are people that have obviously spent a lot of time training, practicing, and perfecting their craft, even the ones that end up not making the cut. What's more, the ones that are cut, while they're often upset about it, have also show a remarkably consistent grace in accepting the rejection. Now, this isn't to say that nobody on Idol is hard-working and gracious, nor that there aren't sloppy or arrogant people on Dance, but by and large I haven't seen anything like the level of self-important, entitled brattiness in the Dance auditions that are the trademark of the Idol auditions.

Finally, there are the shows themselves--Dance just isn't mean like Idol is. You know what I'm talking about. The entire audition period on Idol is pretty much a freak show with a couple of standouts thrown in just to give some continuity when the next phase starts. And so much of what people know and love about the show is the judges. Obviously, Simon Cowell's thing is being an asshole and then acting like he's doing people a favor, but even Paula has told people that they just shouldn't sing. (I didn't watch this last season of Idol, so I have no idea what the new fourth judge is like.)

Contrast that with the judges on Dance. Even when their criticisms are harsh, they're still mostly constructive. And even when the dancer is terrible, you never hear the judges discouraging them from continuing with it if that's what they love doing. And they really know what they're talking about, too--every one of the judges on Dance has been a dancer and choreographer, and it shows in the way they talk about the performances. What's more, they understand and appreciate a wide variety of styles--in three episodes I've seen Nigel speak intelligently about ballet, modern, jazz, tap, locking, and breaking. You just don't get that kind of breadth with Idol.

All of this adds up to me actually looking forward to the summer TV season for the first time in quite a while.