Standing for hours on a street corner in early morning January weather is really freaking cold. It’s the morning of the New York auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, and next to the long line of people waiting alongside Brendon, cars are rushing by, every now and then splashing sleet and water on an unlucky person. Brendon pulls his jacket closer around himself for what feels like the millionth time and checks his watch, wishing 8 AM would arrive faster.
When the camera crew finally arrives, the change starts at the front of the line, flowing through it like a wave of energy; in seconds, people are on their feet, jumping and smiling, showing off their best tricks and generally looking like spending the night on a frozen sidewalk is the best thing they’ve ever done. Brendon tries to think of something good to do for when the cameras reach him—something original, something people will remember him by. Before he has the chance to come up with anything, the cameras are there, techs shouting to them to amp it up, people! Show you deserve to be here!. Brendon does a triple turn and, before he can stop himself, a really embarrassingly silly face right up close to one of the lenses. It takes him half a second to realise what he’s done and then promptly wishing he could sink through the ground. He’s eighteen years old (nineteen in a couple of months), on his own in New York trying to make it as a professional dancer and barely doing well enough to keep himself off the streets some months.
Basically, he’s desperate for anything that could give him a professional break. And he just poked out his tongue to the camera crew of So You Think You Can Dance and shook his face while pulling at his ears.
Brendon really hopes that the couple of bleached-blonde girls pulling off most of their clothes a few yards behind him will be enough of a distraction for that not to end up on national TV.
Inside the theatre, everything is crowded and chaotic. Brendon is shuffled through a line to register and get a number, another to fill out a shitload of legal forms and a third to get his picture taken, before he’s left to find an empty corner to change and warm up.
He waits for what feels like ages, doing his best to keep his nervousness at bay by going over his routine in his head. He can see the show’s host a bit further away, talking to a girl who’s wearing a very small, neon pink bikini. Brendon looks down at his t-shirt and shorts and wonders if he should take them off, if dancing in just his boxers would increase his chances.
“3342, Brendon Urie!”
Brendon quickly gets to his feet, straightening his shirt self-consciously, and hurries over to the other side of the room. The woman who called his name makes a note on her clipboard and sends him through a door, and Brendon finds himself in a small screening room, cameras pointing at him from every direction.
Here goes nothing.
“Please step to the centre of the floor,” a man says. Brendon does, trying to keep his hands from moving too much as he walks to stand in front of a panel of judges.
There are four of them, none that Brendon recognises, all looking at him in a way that makes Brendon feel very exposed. He’s suddenly fiercely glad he kept his clothes on; the way two of the judges are letting their eyes wander up and down his body is downright disturbing.
“Hi.” He tries to keep his smile in check, knowing that when he’s nervous, it tends to go too wide and too manic and all over his face. The judges smile back. Brendon has a vivid flashback of the sharks in Finding Nemo.
“So, Brendon,” one of the judges says while another starts making notes beside him, “tell us about yourself.”
“How long have you been dancing?”
“Fourteen years. Almost fifteen.”
“What’s your style of dance?”
“Contemporary,” Brendon says, pressing the nervousness down. He can do this. “But I’ve done a little bit of everything. Jazz. Tap. I did hip hop for a while as well.”
“Ever done ballroom?”
“Some,” Brendon says, which is technically not a lie if you take ‘some’ to mean ‘once at my cousin’s wedding’. “Mainly the smooth dances. Not so much Latin.”
The judges nod and write more things on the sheets of paper in front of them. Brendon does his best to keep smiling.
“What’s your relationship status?”
“I'm single,” Brendon says, hoping it won’t count against him. “Not that I wouldn’t want—I mean, I’m just focusing on my dancing right now.”
“Okay. Past relationships?”
Brendon shifts uncomfortably, because there’s being fresh and innocent and then there’s being the loser virgin, and he isn’t sure how he ought to play this one. “Not really.”
The judge on the far right shares a look with the man next to her and then leans forward, reminding Brendon forcibly of one of his aunts. “See, the reason we ask you these questions, Brendon, is that Fox Network has a responsibility to the viewing demographic of its shows. So You Think You Can Dance is a family show. So, if there’s anything...?”
“Um. I don’t—Sorry?”
For some reason, stumbling on his answer seems to be the right one, because all four judges smile at him indulgently. Brendon feels increasingly uncomfortable.
“What’s your sob story?” the judge in the middle asks. She’s looking at Brendon with a friendly smile, and her voice is completely casual. Brendon falters.
“Your sob story,” the woman says, enunciating each word carefully. “Things in your current life or past that will make viewers sympathise with you.”
“Um, well, I was hoping that, you know, I could—with my dancing—”
“Listen, Brendon,” the woman says. “We are auditioning more than ten thousand dancers for this season. Most of them are contemporary dancers, many of them are just as good-looking as you. People want to see drama. So give us something. Let’s start with your family, shall we?”
“What about them?”
“Do you get along? Are they dead? Any disabled brothers or sisters that you feel that you’re dancing for?”
“What? No! They’re fine. No one’s dead. What kind of a question is that?”
“U-huh,” the woman says. “Do you live with them?”
“They’re in Vegas.”
“And you live here. By yourself?”
“See, now we’re getting somewhere. So you’re... eighteen. Why do you live on your own on the opposite end of the country from your parents?”
“I want to make it as a dancer.”
“And do they support you in that? Financially?”
“Did you run away from home?”
“No! Like, I didn’t leave in the middle of the night or anything. My dad even drove me to the Greyhound station. They love me, they just—Look, they wanted me to go to college, okay? I mean, what parents wouldn’t—”
“What college? Las Vegas? Were they upset you wanted to leave home?”
“BYU. And they were fine with me moving out. Said they’d arrange housing for me and everything, I—”
“Do you share your family’s religious beliefs?”
“What? How’s that—”
“If they wanted you to go to BYU, I’m assuming they’re Mormon. How’s that working out for you?”
“I'm sorry, but that’s really none of your business.”
“Okay,” the woman says, giving him a smile that Brendon supposes is meant to be reassuring, “so to sum up, you left home against your family’s wishes, sacrificing the things you’ve known and loved all your life, as well as financial security and a chance at a university diploma, to go to New York, on your own, living off nothing but your talent because of your burning love for dance. Good. Now let’s see your solo.”
Before Brendon has a chance to protest, to explain to them that, no, that’s not what he said, the music for his solo is starting up, and he has a blind flash of panic before his body decides to override his brain and move into the first figure. He can feel his legs trembling as he prepares the first turn, almost falls out of it before he can correct his balance, and his landings are shaky through the first two jumps. He takes a moment in between two turns to swallow hard, focusing on the music, and the next part goes more smoothly, transition from an arabesque into a triple turn flowing easily and giving him the momentum he needs to make the sweep into the floor work he’s been practising for more than a week. After that, it’s all instinct, Brendon’s body shaping itself to the music like it has a million times, letting the music flow through him and clean everything out.
He gets up slowly once he’s finished, concentrating on how to breathe and steeling himself for the judges’ comments. The beginning of his solo was poor, and he knows he fucked up the grand-jetté in the middle, not getting enough elevation to make the line perfectly straight. Now that he thinks back on it, he probably screwed up the floor work too, and the plié before his chassé combination could definitely have been lower, and—
Fucked. He is so fucked.
Brendon looks up, meeting the judges’ eyes. All four of them are smiling.
“Welcome to the show.”
“Numbers 2350 to 4185, please follow me!”
Brendon has been waiting for hours. He knew he would; since moving to New York, he’s learnt that auditions are frequently long and boring, and when they aren’t, it usually doesn’t mean good things for Brendon’s chances of scoring a job.
He’s ushered into a theatre along with about fifty other people. Second cut. Brendon tries not to be too obvious about checking out his competition, wondering which ones are there because they’re great, and which ones are because they’re so spectacularly not-great that they make for good reality TV.
He finds a seat in the middle of the theatre, almost at the end of a row. There’s a Latin ballroom couple to his right, talking rapidly in what Brendon thinks is Russian, so he turns to the guy to his left, figuring that he might as well be friendly.
“Hi, I’m Brendon.”
The guy looks up. He’s wearing a newsboy cap low over his face, and what is still visible is covered by elaborate make-up. His eyes are light brown, meeting Brendon’s with surprise and amusement. The over-all effect is pretty devastating.
“Have you been at one of these auditions before?” Brendon says, adding a smile in the hopes of making a good impression. “What style do you do? I’m doing contemporary. It’s my first time here so I’m kind of nervous. Do you think Nigel will be really mean if I screw up my solo?”
The guy raises an eyebrow, looking like he’s suppressing a laugh. He doesn’t reply, however, and Brendon feels himself flush and quickly turns his attention back to the stage, sinking down in his seat to make himself as invisible as possible.
He’s saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of the judges and the whirlwind of activity that follows. Dancer after dancer is called up on stage, lauded, critiqued or humiliated depending on their performance and sent back down. After twenty minutes, three contemporary dancers in his group have been given a ticket to Vegas; it makes Brendon increasingly nervous about his own chances.
“2864, Ryan Ross,” Nigel calls.
Brendon pulls himself out of his thoughts and nearly claps his hands in excitement. He knows that name; it’s been all over the modern dance scene for the past couple of years, and though he hasn’t had the opportunity to see Ross perform in a show yet, he’s heard a lot of good things. Like Ross being a Juilliard graduate who’s worked both on Broadway and for some of the more exclusive and artistic modern companies, for example. Brendon can’t wait to see him dance.
He turns back to the guy next to him on instinct, needing to share his excitement with someone, and has already started talking when he realises that the guy is getting to his feet and is heading down the side aisle. Brendon stares in shock as the guy climbs up on stage, a number tag saying ‘2864’ readily visible on his left arm.
Ryan dances to Mad World, and from the first couple of steps, he takes Brendon’s breath away. His lines are fantastic—most of the technical aspects are, as far as Brendon can see—but the true beauty of his dancing lies in the quality of movement, in the way Ryan manages to create an illusion of something broken and other-worldly moving around on stage. He’s reminding Brendon of a puppet with its strings cut off, style enhanced by Ryan’s elaborate costume of pinstriped pants, frilled shirt, vest and coat and the clown-inspired makeup that somehow manages to look organic on him. Brendon doesn’t even blink for the whole 90 seconds the music is playing.
Ryan ends his performance with a theatrical bow and smiles widely as the whole theatre (including the judges) give him a standing ovation. Brendon claps with the rest as Ryan receives his ticket to Las Vegas, following him with his eyes and trying to whistle as Ryan makes his way up the aisle.
Ryan turns his head as he passes Brendon’s row, meeting Brendon’s eyes for a split second and giving him a hint of a smile.
Brendon watches him leave, excitement making his heart beat far too hard and fast, wondering dizzily if this is what love feels like.