On the Set: 'Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew'
It's no secret that I love dance shows so when I had the opportunity to attend the live broadcast of the casting special for America's Best Dance Crew, I jumped at the chance. What started as a one off became a season-long tradition of sorts. Read on for some highlights and to live vicariously through me.
Casting Special - Saturday, June 7
After checking in and being escorted onto the lot by one of the many lovely publicists on duty, I settled in in the Green Room. It wasn't a physical room like most are, instead a curtained off area decorated with two sets of couches arranged in a wedge facing flat screen TVs and several tables with stools in between. I sat at a chair near the edge of the carpet and soon realized I snagged a prime interview spot. Sweet.
JC Chasez was the first to face the onslaught of reporters. Though I'm a big fan of his music (Schizophrenic is an underrated album), when I heard what the other folks were asking him I decided not to pry about when his next album would drop (for the record: he has plenty of material but is waiting for the right combination of songs, though when pressed he said perhaps in the Fall). He only had a brief look at this year's auditioning crews and was looking forward to seeing what they had to offer. "I love diversity because it presents a new picture that you can get excited about. If you watch five crews and they're absolutely amazing but they all dance in the same style, they don't stand out from each other. If you see a crew that brings something different to the table, then you can get excited about it again."
The delightful Layla Kayleigh was next to face my recorder. She's not surprised at the popularity of the show since she was involved from the first season auditions and could sense something extraordinary happening. Because she gets so close to the crews, eliminations are the hardest part of the job. "I am the 'Mother Hen' because Mario's out there [hosting] and the judges can't really talk to the crews and I'm back there. I see them cry, I see them laugh, they talk to me about their boyfriends [and] girlfriends and I really feel like I get to know them. I couldn't be back there when crews would get kicked off because I'd start crying..."
Choreographer extraordinaire Shane Sparks also had confidence in the success of the show. The idea came from the International Hip Hop Championship that he judges (held this past July in Las Vegas) where the best crews from everywhere come to battle. During the exuberant eight-and-a-half minutes we spoke, we talked about his favorite dancers (which includes Michael Jackson, James Brown, Poppin' Taco, Poppin' Pete, and The Rocksteady Crew), his involvement in So You Think You Can Dance, and his new movie The Jump-Off (starring Wayne Brady and Cedric the Entertainer which he describes as a High School Musical/You Got Served hybrid).
"My choreography's always been kind of unorthodox. I've always put a little bit of sexiness in there, put a little Jazz, a little Hip Hop, I put some musical stuff in there because I watch a lot of TV so I'm evolving every day. I see something I love I'm like, 'Oh my god, that'd be a dope concept.'" He adds, "I went through a phase when I was watching all the different [old school musicals] because at one time we were trying to evolve the dance world. This was before all the TV shows came out. We were trying to get new stuff and it usually comes out of the old dance movies." Shane's also choreographing for the musical Dreamgirls. He'll be with the touring company "for two years. We'll be going to Korea, then we're doing the States."
I also got to speak with Season 1 champs the Jabbawockeez who've been super busy since their win. They're performing all over the world, making TV and movie appearances, planning to put out merchandise (including Halloween costumes and action figures), and also launched two websites for the fans to keep up with them - JabbaWockeeZ.com and JabbaTV.com. They're also dedicated to inspiring the next generation and making a difference. "It may sound kind of cliche and kind of corny," says Chris, "but we're really just trying to contribute to make the world a better place, inspiring the youth. They are the future." Rynan adds, "Basically to help the kids to have confidence in themselves as well because that's what dance did for us -- that's what hip-hop did for us. So we're trying to do that for the younger generation."
After dashing out to take some photos of the stage, I returned to the Green Room with just enough time to have an uber-quick chat with Randy Jackson. Regarding the second season popping up so quickly, he says, "I think the show is so exciting, the kids are out of school in the summer, it's an edgy show so I wanted to get it back up fast. [Plus] We had a lot of crews that were calling asking when they could dance." He has complete confidence the show will repeat it's success. "There's some amazing crews that turned out this year. Jabbawockeez took home the trophy for Season 1 but I'm telling you it's going to be blazing hot."
I know what you're thinking and no, Randy never called me "dawg" but, as he was leaving, he gave me a fist bump while saying "Zap Zap." It took me completely off guard and was full of awesome.
As the show went on, I bonded with some of the other people who stayed to watch the show. We were all slightly perplexed by some of the choices made. The biggest shock was the inclusion of Fanny Pak. Some were skeptical but I looked forward to seeing what they could do.
Week 1 - June 16th
Though the first show and finale are live, the rest are recorded "live to tape" which can sometimes be a tedious process. Stop. Start. Re-shoot. Stop. Stop again. Start again while the crews anxiously await results. Zap2It's Korbi attended the taping so I offered to be her camera girl for the night. Unfortunately, many of my pics didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. BOOO. That's what I get for not double checking the setting on my new camera. Randy gave her a fist bump but, sadly, no "Zap Zap".
Week 2 - June 24th
I focused on the crews this week, speaking with A.S.I.I.D. first. They are fans of the show and, while they liked all the crews, KABA Modern and Fysh N Chicks were towards the top of their Season 1 list. Tristan says, "It's always a dream to be on a show like this, you know, giving dancers such a big opportunity for their talents to be showcased. To actually be here, I don't think that anyone here including ourselves really understands and grasps how big a blessing this really is."
I may have inadvertently insulted Xtreme Dance Force by bringing up the "suburban white boy crew" stigma mentioned by Lil' Mama in the casting special without acknowledging that I know they are, in fact, diverse. In an attempt to clarify my meaning, I further asked if they thought the misconception gave them an advantage. "A lot of people underestimate us by thinking we're some sort of boy band which is not even close to it. We're gonna hopefully break that in this show," says JC Renzetti. "[The number is] completely different from what we've done in the past show." Alvin Ramirez adds that they know they'll have to always be at their best. "Being surrounded by all these different crews, of course you're going to be pushed to do something that's better than the rest," he says. "The competition is really good so we'll have to step up our game."
Made up of representatives from three other crews (Knucklehead Zoo, Full Force and Battle Monkeys), the members of Super Cr3w are no strangers to battling as they've been at it for years both in the States and around the world. But ABDC brings it's own challenges. "When we compete internationally we compete against other b-boys, here we're competing against different dance styles," says Ronnie. Fortunately they've been able to shine thanks in part to the stellar Ninja-themed routine from Week 1. "We weren't sure if it was going to work because it was so different from what everyone else was doing, the concept was so out there," says Mike Murda. "We were really nervous going into the show because we weren't sure the people were going to get it because it was a different song, it wasn't a mainstream song, it was a different theme...("We looked totally different," adds Do-Knock) Luckily it paid off."
While I missed out on speaking with Supreme Soul, Boogie Bots, SassX7 and Fanny Pak, I did get to close out with Phresh Select. They are really working towards making a difference in the communities of Philadelphia and are leading by example."We all represent different crews in Philly and it's getting a little hectic between [them], so we figure we [should] all come together with all of us having the same understanding about the dance and about the love and Hip Hop in general," says Riot the Virus. Poppin' Jon adds, "This is actually our first time coming together. It's been hard, we've been clashing but we're getting things done."
Week 3 - July 1st
I got to speak with JC Chasez again. I asked him about potential front runners or if anyone of the crews have surprised him. "It's a really level playing field. I think the weak links are already gone," he says. "I think from here on out, even though there's eight groups, the decisions are going to get really tough...it's going to depend on who really breaks out. I think a couple groups have had break-through moments but I don't know if they've broken out on their own to really establish themselves as being the real leader."
Lil' Mama was kind enough to stop for a few minutes despite having little time left before being called to the set. She's not one to mince words but truly wants the crews to be the best they can be, especially after they all had such a strong showing in the Casting Special. "The first episode has shown the potential [of the] crews...and when I look at their performances [and they aren't on the same level], it's like, what are you guys doing - you could come harder, you can do so much better. Your first impression is what sticks and these guys have set a wonderful first impression, they just need to back that up every time."
While the eliminations continue to get harder to take, Layla is coping well. As she spends the most time with the crews, she offers some interesting insight on them and why some crews may stick around over others. "I could've sworn last year, if you [asked] who the finalists were going to be, I would've said Kaba Modern and JabbaWockeez. It's so tough because it really depends who's growing the most. You can be an awesome dance crew but if you're not growing week to week and America isn't seeing some struggle and growth, they're not going to vote for you...Super Cr3w is very, very solid right now but if someone's more hungry than them, they can swoop up behind them and take the lead."
Week 4 - July 8th
Fresh off the airing of the finale, The Bachelorette Deanna Pappas and new beau Jesse Csincsak were there to watch the taping. I didn't get to interview them because the battery on my recorder died and my replacement wasn't in my bag. I'm totally professional. Seriously. But they were very nice and seemed very happy, which is lovely to see since I'm so damn cynical sometimes.
Week 5 - July 15th
Super Cr3w and A.S.I.I.D. are in the bottom. Having talked to them both several times (though not always in an official interview capacity), I've come to not only appreciate their talents but have become very fond of them as people. Being there while watching the two battle and, ultimately, A.S.I.I.D.'s exit from the competition made me feel ill. This officially marks the last time I was present for an elimination.
Week 7 - July 29th
Didn't take any pictures but I did go to the final four crews' appearance at a Dodger baseball game. I didn't get stay for the whole thing, I did get to talk to Fanny Pak for the first time - heart them. And SuperCr3w snuck me one of their shirts. Aw yeah!
Week 8 - August 4th
Fellow Zapper Hanh Nguyen accompanied me to the taping on what was essentially "80's Night." We interviewed DJ Rashida who spins before and during the taping. "What I learned from the first episode is that there are a lot of kids [in the audience], a lot of younger people," she says. "So what I might usually play in the club [doesn't work]...you play a song and no matter how banging it is, if they don't know it or know the video it just isn't [there]."
As it was 80's night, I had to ask if she would play any Morris Day & The Time or Ready For The World but, alas, it was not to be. "That might be a little too deep [for them]," she laughs. "What I'm trying to do is incorporate those [with the newer stuff]. That's the beauty of music and Hip Hop right now. They're taking everything from back then so I'm going to take a lot of things that have been sampled and mix them so people get the lesson."
And let it be known that she does her own styling, which is fabulous. Recognize.
Week 9 - August 11th (Dance Finale)
With only two crews left, The Garage seems so very empty. I took some pics but only got to talk to SoReal Cru's Andrew (aka "GoodFoot"). With so many numbers to do, they aren't getting a lot of sleep but are proud of their sets. Though they're tight with Super Cr3w, Andrew has his eyes on the prize. "It gets really hard," he says. "Every team works really hard to be where they're at. It's strange because, as the teams...leave, the tension between the [crews] gets bigger because it's a competition. We're all still friends but we know we're here to compete."
Though they don't get out too much because of all the rehearsals, when they do go out into the world, they get a taste of how popular they are now. "It's weird because I forget I'm on TV and then thirty kids will run up to me, following me into a movie, all that stuff. It's crazy," says Andrew.
Grand Finale - August 21st
My recapping in the press tent outside the sound stage was cut short as, fifteen minutes before the end of the show, we were lined up and lead inside to a corridor behind the stage. Watching on a monitor, we saw the announcement and the eventual chaos and joy that erupted afterward. After the steady stream of confetti rained down, we were quickly lead onto the very crowded stage and stationed on the outside perimeter. All this while the audience was being ushered out and the MTV crew did their live post and all the other crews crowded the space.
I found myself smushed between two very nice camera crews, both broadcasting live. Did I mention that it was crowded chaos? Because it was. I spoke with JC, Lil' Mama, Layla, Carmit Bachar (formerly of the Pussycat Dolls, now of a "mutli-genre cabaret" called The Zodiac Show which she founded), Deanna Pappas & Jesse Csincsak, and Shane. It took a long time but I got to jump in an interview with Super Cr3w and several other reporters at the end while security desperately tried to clear the stage.
"We never thought we would be here doing this and in this position right now just because b-boys don't go to dance school or go to classes. We do it because we love it," says Do-Knock. His advice? "Never give up, follow your dreams, set them very very high so it's going to be a stress to get it and then, once you get it, just hold it tight and never let go."
A special thanks to Anastasia, Winson, Natalia and all the other folks at MTV and Warner Bros. Publicity that made my attendance possible. I had a great time!