Sorry, 'Dancing With the Stars.' TV's Best Dance Show Is 'So You Think You Can Dance.'

By Kurt Soller

For five seasons, So You Think You Can Dance has been ruling the summer airwaves, playing pinch hitter while most of the other reality-television competitions are on hiatus. But, due to what Fox calls "audience demand," the dance competition will be running its first fall season starting Wednesday. It's a risky gamble: do you mess with a good thing in a relatively safe spot, or do you let the rising star out to play with the Yankees? Either way, So You Think You Can Dance is going to need some major support to compete against the prime-time bullies. Last season's premiere (in the summer) had just under 8.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen. To raise those numbers, I'm here to tell you why everything you think you know about So You Think You Can Dance is wrong. Ready? Here goes:

So you think the music's gonna be lame?
In the summer of 2008, before anyone was groaning about Lady Gaga, she was just that strange, androgynous woman who performed her single, "Just Dance," on some bizarre reality dance show known as So You Think You Can Dance. "Wait, who's that?" many viewers wondered─and the blogosphere has gone crazy when, season after season, SYTYCD has used musicians who aren't overplayed (hello, American Idol) but, rather, are just at the cusp of stardom. Sure, many of the dances are to songs by Roisin Murphy or Metronomy that hipsters love and the general public hates, but you have to give the producers credit for recognizing radio's breakout jams─like "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls, which was used in the first season─before the albums even hit the stores.

So you think it's just like American Idol?

American Idol has certainly changed the way we all watch (or avoid?) reality competitions─and it's true that AI and SYTYCD share the same multi-night formula, likely because they share the genius of Simon Fuller, who created both shows. But the difference here is simple: contestants on American Idol remaster subpar versions of songs that are already great (enough Whitney, OK?). But on So You Think You Can Dance, a canon of America's best choreographers (like Wade Robson and Mia Michaels) are charged with creating dances─pieces of work you'd pay to see at Lincoln Center─that have never been shown before. To me, that's the difference between watching your friends perform drunken karaoke and spending a (free) night at one of America's most interesting cultural events.

So you think you're gonna have to deal with some cheesy host?

... which Cat Deeley is not. She may be chirpy sometimes, yes, but she also has a great way of towering over contestants while looking incredible─and she's willing to make fun of the judges without it seeming like some campy Ryan Seacrest radio act. It also helps that she's tall, beautiful, and genuinely compassionate─or at least good at acting it when contestants get voted off.

So you think dancing is awkward?

And we'll give you some credit there: Dancing With the Stars can be cringe-worthy; America's Best Dance Crew seems too focused on Randy Jackson. Previous dance shows have been all boy-band, or all jazz hands. No thanks there. The real joy of So You Think You Can Dance comes from the variety: in one episode you'll watch a ballroom dancer do a contemporary routine, a Latin dancer do a waltz, or some hip-hopper try to tango. In a world where it's hard enough for dancers to get work (especially outside of Broadway), it's good to see that there are people so talented at their craft that they can both pop-lock-it and pas de deux (that's ballet, for the uninitiated). Because of this, the show has won three Emmys for outstanding choreography─but it's the viewers who really benefit from the talent on display.

So you think I'm lying? Well, watch tonight, and come back here to tell us what you thought.