Hoosiers waited a long time to see one of our own bask in the gilded rays of adulation and backlighting reserved for champions of the big reality shows, and when Josh Kaufman finally took a confetti shower on The Voice last month, it broke a dry spell that stretched all the way back to the birth of the genre. Not only is he Indiana’s first winner of a modern reality competition (so close, Rupert! So close!), he’s one of the few high-profile contestants at all. Sure, there was Heather-the-one-with-Asperger’s on America’s Next Top Model ages ago, and Trista-the-original-Bachelorette-who-went-to-IU, but by now thousands of people have mugged for popular reality-TV cameras. The number of drama-phobic Hoosiers wouldn’t even fill a Survivor jury.
All of this makes for an extended case of Kaufman withdrawal. Who knows how long it will be until millions of viewers are rooting for an undiscovered Hoosier talent again and we all get swept up in the massive current, and then join a hometown-crowd shot at Champps during a finale?
Well, it could happen again this summer. An 18-year-old named Franchesca Bass from Crown Point captivated the judges on So You Think You Can Dance last week. First with her backstory: bald from alopecia, a condition that leads to total hair loss. Then with performance: The strong, lithe contemporary dancer embraces her look and uses it to her advantage, moving with creature-like strangeness that some choreographers drool over. By now, we all know that early frontrunner status is more fleeting than The Bachelor engagements. (Marielle Sellers, anyone?) But reality shows like characters, and SYTYCD is already calling Bass “an alien.” That’s a compliment in the dance world. Look for her to make the Top 20 and gun for the $250,000 prize. (And check out her audition, above.)
Okay, SYTYCD is no The Voice—in the ratings. In talent and production quality, it’s every bit as good (Justin Bieber’s new dance-crew segment notwithstanding). The show has won 11 Emmys and was nominated for best reality competition the last three years. Its contestants are consistently some of the best-trained talent on reality TV. You’ve seen a bunch of alums in commercials, movies, and Lady Gaga concerts——you just don’t know it. They’re so good that the show doesn’t rely on rock-star judges, but the roster of guest experts is still stellar. Jesse Tyler Henderson, Anna Kendrick, and Benjamin Millepied (aka, Mr. Natalie Portman, the Black Swan choreographer) have all appeared in the last season or two.
It’ll be a few weeks before Bass returns to the screen for the next round of the audition process, but go ahead and get hooked on this little Fox gem tonight when try-outs continue. (Just fast-forward through Bieber’s parts.) There’s another Hoosier to watch, too. Fresh-faced Indy tap-dancer Valerie Rockey also earned solid screen time, and at least one tapper always makes the Top 20. Here’s Rockey’s audition: