After two successful summer runs, Lopez is launching her series earlier this season, and that's not the only thing different about it. Gone is two-time host Jenna Dewan, replaced by "Access" correspondent Scott Evans ... who we literally saw for two seconds at the top of the show.
Jenna has an extensive dance background, allowing her to connect with the dancers and even provide mentorship through their time on the show. So it'll be interesting to see what fresh, new dynamic Scott brings to the show, if he's actually allowed to be on the show. Maybe going with a non-dancer just shows that a host is totally unnecessary.
The judging panel, however, remains the same with J.Lo flanked on either said by Ne-Yo and Derek Hough. And they were fired up already in this premiere, with one routine getting shoes thrown at them from J.Lo and Derek, and Derek absolutely having to get out there and partner with one surprising salsa contestant.
Dancers are divided into four categories: Junior (17 & Under, 1-4 Dancers) and Upper (18 & Older, 1-4 Dancers). First up it's the Qualifiers, a free-for-all round, with no head-to-head competitions. This season, acts need to score 85 points out of a possible 100 to advance to the next round (it was 80 in previous seasons). Each act is judged 0-20 points in each of five categories for a possible total of 100 points.
A quick reminder about me: I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer, all for this moment: armchair judging a dance competition. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult, physically demanding sports on the planet.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez, and Derek Hough. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
(Upper Team) These guys are already champions, taking "India's Got Talent" in its third season, but this is a whole other beast; a dance competition where they are scored meticulously in various categories. It's easy to see why they won, though, as they brought some astonishing tricks to this stage. The pictures they painted were truly mind-blowing a times, and their acrobatics and precision work just through the roof. On top of that, they hit these formations fast and perfectly in sync. They got the panel so excited both J.Lo and Derek threw their shoes at them and ours totally bounced off the TV (note to self: do not do that again).
(Upper) This urban contemporary duo from LA has a surprise in their makeup, as Aiden was actually a member of last season's hip-hop group Poreotics. So he was definitely looking to showcase a whole different side to his talents. The challenge is that this pair only met and have been performing together a few months ago, so can they be tight and connected enough? There were some timing issues, but they really have the makings of a special partnership there, and that connection through love of dance is evident.
(Junior) An adorable Canadian duo, these best friends bring all of their silly chemistry into their performances. Their style is certainly quirky and fun, but not necessarily up to the caliber of a competition such as this. You'd think they'd play more with their striking height differences or interact more in the choreography, but it was more like something you'd see be a huge hit at a dance party. They've got all the potential to be a really fun and great group, but it doesn't seem like they're quite there yet.
(Junior Team) These girls are just way too tiny to be that adorable, that sweet and that damned good to boot. Their piece was dedicated to one of their members who struggles with anxiety and selective mutism and it was absolutely gorgeous. The precision in their turns and leg lifts was just amazing, and their chemistry together. While their moves got a little repetitive toward the end, there's just no denying that this is an incredibly talented group of little girls.
(Upper) A same-sex salsa duo, this pair is already breaking ground in Latin dance just by doing what they're doing. We're not quite sure that last lift came out properly, but there was some solid and impressive partnering and dance in there. They need to work on their synchronicity during tandem dancing, and making sure Jorge still dances like a man throughout. For the most part, he did look like a man even as he was doing the "follower" role, but it slipped a few times late in the routine and came across as inconsistent. And it was so much more dynamic when both were masculine in their overall presentation. Derek couldn't resist the chance to partner Jorge, either, and really brought a lot more energy to that partnership.
(Junior) This was the first routine we weren't ready to see end. These teens really know how to paint pictures, and the playfulness of the choreography as one movement impacts the other dancer's movements were so intricately and played with perfect precision. There was creativity oozing off of that stage. They had a lot of confidence heading out to perform, but it's pretty well earned. These are two special dancers who actually displayed solid chemistry together as well. This is a pairing to watch in the Junior division, for sure.
(Upper Team) This crew got a dude who spent the majority of the dance not only upside down, but constantly moving upside down. This was b-boy street dancing in style for the most part, but there was an elegant fluidity to the movements that made them transcendent somehow in a way we've certainly not seen before. The pictures they painted, the power they possessed and their partnership as a group was unsurpassed so far tonight. They are truly bringing a whole new approach to classic b-boy style. It's always been one of the tougher styles to give a lyrical element to, but these guys figured it out.
(Junior Team) These kids are cute and they clearly love what they're doing, but they are definitely not nearly ready for this stage. They were out of sync on their popping and everything else. The choreography was rudimentary and as far as locking goes, they weren't nearly precise enough. The "Poltergeist" girl who appears to be their leader is the strongest of the bunch, but her crew just isn't there yet.
(Upper) At 34, John considers himself a dinosaur in this competition, and he's not wrong. The world of dance is highly competitive and most dancers age out of it very quickly. His style, however, is more forgiving on the body allowing for longevity. And that longevity has allowed him to hone and master his craft until it is a weapon of precision. But is it dynamic or exciting enough to win on this show? He's very good at what he does, but it does feel like others have taken the craft and pushed it to the next level beyond what he brought tonight.
(Junior) These young sisters proved that even though contemporary has crazy kicks and jumps and leg extensions, those can be done in perfect precision if you are matched in technique, skill level and you work really, really, really hard. These girls have clearly put in the work because their side-by-side dancing was nothing short of phenomenal. As solo dancers, each of them would have a great chance of making it, but by telling their story through dance together in this style, they become something truly special. It was emotional, raw and so genuine, you could feel the love poured into every movement.
(Upper) People always say tap can't compete on this kind of a stage, but these brothers proved it can be every bit as dynamic. To take it next level, they should consider their arms more in the choreography so they are as tightly in sync as their feet, and that would push them that much further. They are fantastic, though, with their feet. There is such precision and musicality, they truly add another level of percussion to the music. People say tap can't compete, but we think those people are wrong.
(Junior) What set Lauren apart from other contemporary dancers is how she incorporates some popping hardness into the more traditional style, and she used those moments to punctuate the beats and moments of her song choice. Her musicality was absolutely through the roof and even if she wobbled a bit here and there during those standard contemporary extensions, she more than made up for it with the passion and strength of her overall performance.
(Junior Team) This one seemed to end just as they were finding their groove and it was getting really good. There were some nice moments in this piece, but the overall crew feels just a bit better than amateur-level, based on that routine. It wasn't the kind of mind-blowing junior team routine like we got from last season's winners The Lab. But there is potential in this crew. What they should consider doing is leaning into their performance and storytelling ability and rather than try and compete with a dance jam, bring us into their world and move us through story.