By Kristyn Burtt

With only 60 minutes to showcase as much dance as possible in its 17th season, So You Think You Can Dance has flirted with new elements on many different levels. Some things are working great, like bringing in fresh All-Stars and choreographers to match the veteran faces. Other components, like the head-to-head battles, fell flat because it narrowed down how the studio audience voted, which was already controversial to begin with.

Was it fair to put two ballroom dancers like Alexis Warr and Carter Williams up against each other? Why can’t two ballroom dancers make it into the semifinals? Those are the questions being asked by TV viewers, who don’t even get a say in who moves onto the next round. It’s easy just to blame producers for these impossible situations, but their backs were also up against the wall with a lower budget and a compressed production schedule — they only had so much to work with. 

These changes could have discouraged the Top 12 contestants, some of whom waited three years to audition for the show to come back due to the pandemic, but they have carried on with big hearts and good spirits. It’s something host Cat Deeley pointed out to Inside Dance with a bit of behind-the-scenes perspective on what it’s been like for all of the cast and crew.

“For me, it’s that moment where it’s just wonderful to be back. We were in the middle of pre-production on Season 17 and then COVID hit and the whole world collapsed for a little while,” she noted. “We thought we weren’t ever going to come back because we thought perhaps the show had run its course.”

Losing the show for two summers made Deeley even more nurturing toward the Season 17 cast because of what everyone had gone through — lost jobs, taking dance classes in their living rooms, and delaying their lifelong dreams. “Anna [Miller], I couldn’t even look at her when she cried because I would just lose it,” Deeley said. “Part of it is because I was so excited to be back and so happy to be a part of it, and I have babies as well — it takes on a different dynamic. You can’t take your own experience away from the experience you are having with the dancers — the hugs were extra sweet this season.”

Even though this hasn’t been the season that anyone anticipated, the dancers are grateful to be here and are extremely supportive as they compete against each other (which All-Star Lex Ishimoto praised). The criticism should be launched toward FOX for its attempt to water down a beloved show on a stricter budget, not at the dancers who have worked so hard to get here. They see the social media negativity (even when they try to avoid it), so with two weeks left, be sure to give the Top 12 contestants a little extra love for putting their hearts and soul out there during an unprecedented season.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

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