Take a look at Dance Showdown, the first original show created for the YouTube channel DanceOn. This is reality-style, competition dance crossing easily to an online format — and doing it better than network television, frankly.
It's pretty hilarious.
Launched in April, Dance Showdown is a cross between So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, with a little Charlie's Angels thrown in (the Charlie character being the show's host, hip-hop crew star D-trix). Individual episodes have topped more than 500,000 views, with series' totals of more than 6 million.
The show pairs YouTube “stars” with a slate of “superstar” choreographers — best to ignore the hyperbole because there is a lot of youth and inexperience here. But that is part of the charm. You, dear Internet voters, are the judges, and you will determine the final winner of the $25,000 prize, to be announced on May 31.
It's halfway through the first season, and the 12 YouTube contestants have been whittled down to four: Stanford alumna and accidental YouTube content producer Elle Walker of WhatsUpElle; serious and nerdy video gamer Adam Montoya, known as Seananners; another video gamer and father-of-two Matt Woodworth, aka WoodysGamerTag; and Missouri-born ItsKingsleyBitch, whose profanity-laced, pop-culture rants have won his channel more than 1 million video views (he's keeping it clean for this show).
Their choreographer-coaches are Bryan Tanaka, Beyoncé's lead dancer; So You Think You Can Dance winner Lauren Froderman; and Kherington Payne of E's The Dance Scene (who coaches both Woody and Kingsley).
The beauty of it is its unpretentious goofiness — which, of course, is what we like about YouTube. You believe the YouTubers are genuinely thrilled to take part, and the choreographers aren't so jaded that they seem phony. The choreography is basic but entertaining. The sets and costumes are professional but not over the top. And there are two, sometimes three cameras, recording the routines, so the dancing — warts and all — is visible. No aerial shots; no dizzying edits. You can see the dancing, and it's not always pretty. Rather than being off-putting, it works.
“When you don't overproduce dance, it can be more effective,” says DanceOn CEO and founder Amanda Taylor. Launched in November 2010, DanceOn lists Madonna as one of its partners; it's one of YouTube's nearly 100 “original” channels, which are run by established producers and which the site hopes will create premium content. Taylor has worked as a talent manager, in digital marketing and with Broadway megahit producer Richard Frankel (Hairspray, The Producers and others).
“We're kind of walking that line between premium [channel] and user-generated content,” she adds. “And we want to take it to a level of … attracting really great talent. We want to embrace the YouTube community.”
The YouTube community wants to hug back. Walker, one of the contestants, stumbled into being a YouTube mini-celebrity when, at loose ends careerwise, she began her self-produced channel. She has attracted a manager and sponsors, even with only 2,000 subscribers. Now Walker, the mother of a 6-month-old baby girl, is making a part-time living, and traffic to her site has increased since Dance Showdown began, she says.
“Being on the show has been awesome in every way possible,” says Walker, who lives in Westwood with her fiancé. “I think this is the direction that YouTube should be heading, leveraging the talent and creating content that is interactive and collaborative.”
And watch out — she wants to win. She admitted that she and Tanaka have been rehearsing an extra eight hours per week off-camera, so she can execute the routines like a pro.
“I practice any moment that I can. I put Presley [her baby] to bed and go into the guest room and take my laptop for three hours and rehearse.
“I'm taking this very seriously. I don't know if the other people are taking it as seriously. You guys don't know how much I'm practicing!”
The first new episode of the Final Four will be up on Thursday. May the best dancer — and not the one with the most subscriber-fans — win.