By Kristyn Burtt
One of the most controversial decisions about Season 17 of So You Think You Can Dance was eliminating the TV viewers’ ability to vote for their favorite dancers. This year, it’s up to the studio audience to decide on who to keep, and then judges Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss, JoJo Siwa, and Leah Remini make the final call on who to send home that week from the bottom four dancers.
With the compressed production schedule, the pre-taped shows are several weeks ahead of what the home audience is watching, that’s why TV viewer voting isn’t possible this year. To keep things fair — and following the Federal Communications Commission rules that govern game shows and competition series — parents, guests of FOX network, judges’ guests, and the press are not allowed to vote either. It’s only the general audience who votes for their favorite male and female dancer each week.
That also puts a lot of pressure on the judges, who now have to keep the audience’s opinion in mind while still taking a look at a contestant’s overall growth, their performance the week before, and if they’ve ever been in the bottom in a prior episode. “It never gets easier. You never get used to the feeling. At the end of the day, two people have to go home,” tWitch explained to Inside Dance after taping the third episode. “That’s the hardest part about it.”
The former Season 4 contestant noted that all three judges are looking for that spark when it comes to the dancers, especially as it gets later in the season. “One thing that Leah talked about earlier tonight is about what fighters, champions do… they show up,” he said. “There’s something about artists, who really take those notes, and turn them into fuel to come back strong the next week. You have to show up with the fight every single week.”
Once the bottom four is decided by the studio audience, the three judges convene offstage in the private “Deliberation Room” to discuss who to send home. Some tapings, they come up with the names quickly. Other weeks, it can take quite a bit of time. “No matter who is in the bottom four, it’s an awful choice,” Siwa shared. “It’s only going to get harder, which is mind-blowing. It’s tricky and so challenging — and as judges, we aren’t always in agreement in who to send home.”
The 19-year-old judge joked that it feels like they “are in a courtroom at times” because they need to “come to an agreement.” She also noted, “We are an equal panel. There is no lead judge” — that means there can be some debate as they fight to keep a particular contestant.
tWitch appreciates that they don’t always see eye to eye. “We lean into [our differences] because we are not going act like we are a panel of the same expertise who look at things the same way,” he added. “We have no problem disagreeing with each other. I respect their opinions and that’s what makes us a unique panel.”
At the end of the day, though, the studio audience is making some decisions that even surprise the judging panel. They have a different perspective than what the judges are seeing. “I can’t call it. Every episode, there’s always a wild card. It’s now important to connect with the room,” tWitch wisely noted. “In past seasons, we had all of America’s vote and they have time to dial it in. As judges, we can’t disregard the studio audience’s vote if they keep sending the same person to the bottom.”