Can anyone top last year's winners the Jabbawockeez? That's just one of the questions fans of "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew" will be asking when the show returns for its second season tonight at 10:00/9:00c with expanded 90-minute episodes. I had the chance to speak exclusively with judge Shane Sparks and correspondent Layla Kayleigh about the new season during Monday's taping.
Shane Sparks is notoriously passionate about his profession and it comes through the moment you meet him. Well... that and realizing the fact I will never be as cool as him. Here's what he had to say:
Brian Ford Sullivan: You seem to be on a personal mission to get people to expand their dance education beyond hip-hop. Can you talk about that a little?
Shane Sparks: Well, my thing is this - because a lot of the hip-hop dancers, they think that being a hip-hop dancer is the only way to go and you'll be successful. I think if you well round yourself out when you're younger by doing hip-hop, doing a little bit of jazz, doing a little tap, get some ballet, salsa - you will round yourself out. Then you'll get to do the movies, the TV commercials, you get to do the TV shows and you won't get eliminated. You know what I mean? I do two shows - "So You Think You Can Dance," "America's Best Dance Crew." "So You Think You Can Dance" - you would never see a Status Quo on that show because they're only hip-hop dancers. You know what I mean? But you would never see some of those dancers on our show. You know what I mean? So I just want to make that medium and let them know that if you want to be on this show or [that] show, round yourself out so you can complete with everybody and just not limit yourself to just being a certain style.
BFS: Are you looking for those aspects when you're judging or is it just an overall gut reaction based on your experience?
SS: You know what, I look for personality, I look for hunger, I look for that determination - because most dancers, you learn choreography and you're like "Oh my God, he's so amazing!" but you don't get nothing from him emotionally, you don't get no feeling from him. It's that one that comes out there that can do the simplest thing but make it look hot and sexy and you just can't stop watching her or watching him. That's what I look for because dancing is - you can just move to a beat but if there's one that make you just like go crazy, make you melt when you're watching, that's the one that I look for, that's the ones that are going to make it to the top every single time. They always got my vote.
BFS: Last season was there a point where you knew Jabbawockeez had it locked up?
SS: The first show. [Laughs.] The first show, you know what I mean? It was them and Kaba Modern but Jabbawockeez was my favorite from day one. A lot of crews, they sparked that nerve in me but they had me, they're that group. No matter what task you gave them, what you said to them, they came out and they took it to the fullest. And when they came out, you were like - "What the heck? How did they just do that?" You know what I mean? That originality, you can never beat that. Never.
BFS: So going into this year then - what have been the biggest changes?
SS: I think we got more dope crews. I think last year we had Kaba Modern, Jabbawockeez and Breaksk8te kind of, you know what I mean? This year - I don't know the names yet because I haven't got to really meet any of the crews yet - but we have six groups that are like, great. You know what I mean? So it's kind of hard to say who's going to be the number one, number two right now because like last year, you knew who number one was going to be and who number two kind of... Right now I don't know, like I'm looking at Super Cr3w because they're breakers and they've very strong and talented so I'm thinking they're a group to watch out for. And who else... I don't know the name, but it's the group... the suburban boys from Illinois, watch out for them! They're the underdogs right now. It's hard for me to say right now and I'm very glad that it's like that so now I can be on the lookout.
BFS: Were you surprised there weren't more gimmicky crews like Breaksk8te this season?
SS: Yeah I was... but you know what, there's not too many things you can bring in to this dance world like Breaksk8te did. Breaksk8te was like one in a million. So if it would have been something original like that again I would be really surprised. But I'm good, I think we got a good crew of kids, very talented, very different. We had the Fysh n Chicks, now we got the Sassy 7 you know what I mean? The Fanny Packs, like that crew right there - hmmm, I don't know what they're going to do but they did come different, they did come correct and they did bring something to the show that we didn't have last year. So I kind of watch out for them too.
In addition to giving viewers "The Feed" on G4's "Attack of the Show," Layla Kayleigh gives us the scoop from the front lines of "America's Best Dance Crew." Here's our correspondence about the new season:
Brian Ford Sullivan: How does this season feel different from the last one?
Layla Kayleigh: I think we have a lot more diversity and there's a lot more b-boy crews representing so it will be interesting to see how they do with the choreography.... because you see who grows and who kind of crumples under pressure.
BFS: I know you're not supposed to pick favorites but last year did you know it was going to be Jabbawockeez?
LK: I don't think I knew but definitely as the weeks went by, you get - especially me because I'm backstage - you get more attached to the crews. So the longer they'd stay the more attached I'd get. I think in my heart I try to be as professional as I possibly can but the Jabbawockeez were such nice guys, they were so talented, so subconsciously I was rooting for them. I think they were the champions. They deserved it.
BFS: How much time do you actually spend with the crews each week?
LK: Before the show we have rehearsals, I have lunch with them, I really try and get to know them because when they get out there with me they're so nervous, you know? Sometimes my interviews are with the bottom crews so I want them to feel as comfortable as possible with me. So definitely I get attached to them. It's a really hard part of my job because everyone else - the judges stay away from them, Mario [Lopez]'s always working and I'm kind of stuck with them backstage and it's very rewarding to see them do well and it's also very devastating when they leave. I cry more than they do I think.
BFS: There seems to be more focus on the personal side of the crews this year - is that by design?
LK: At the end of the day it's a dance competition show but people want someone to root for you know? They want to feel like they know these dancers and for a lot of them dance is like their passion, their escape. I think the reason we show their backstories is to show dance has kind of saved a lot of these crews - falling into depression, doing bad things so it's very much their salvation. Not to sound too corny, not to get all preachy but it's true.
BFS: Has watching the show made you self-conscious about your own dancing skills?
LK: Oh my god let me tell you - I love to dance and after working on this show I do not want to dance anywhere. I thought I was a good dancer before and then when I'm hanging out with these crews, I'm like my chicken dance does not compare to any of this. We went out with the Jabbawockeez to celebrate and all the dancers were there and I was standing in the back with one of my friends and they were like, "Why don't you dance?" And I'm like, "Are you kidding me? There's no way I'm going to make a fool of myself in front of these guys!" So now I just dance in the show or in front of the mirror, not in public places.
"Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew" airs Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c.