*Throughout this current season of “So You Think You Can Dance,” the consensus among viewers in the blogosphere is that judge Mia Michaels has reserved her harshest criticism for African American contestant AdéChiké Torbert.
But many fans thought she took it to a blatantly racist level during one particular episode last month.
Show favorite Alex Wong had dominated the competition until he was injured and had to leave. He was supposed to be partnered with AdéChiké for a Bollywood dance, but a replacement dancer was brought in midway through rehearsals, forcing AdeChike to adapt to a new partner within days of the performance show.
After his live performance, Michaels critiqued AdéChiké’s Bollywood dance as coming across “too African.” [Watch below.]
The choreographer of the above routine, Nakul Dev Mahajan, had been trained in African tribal dance, and some bloggers argued that they, too, thought the dance incorporated traditional African moves. But Michaels’ critique of AdéChiké didn’t stop there.
She went on to say that throughout his entire performance, she was just sitting there wishing she was watching Alex instead.
Also, judge Nigel Lythgoe had just finished telling AdéChiké that his Bollywood performance lacked the proper technique. Host Cat Deeley stepped in to defend AdéChiké by pointing out that another less talented dancer, breakdancer Jose, was also lacking in technique during his Bollywood dance on a previous show, but he was praised for bringing his own flavor to it. Nigel admitted to the double standard, but Michaels said, “Well, at least Jose has personality.”
She went on to tell AdéChiké – in this same Bollywood critique – that he didn’t have enough “heart” and that his eyes were “vacant.” Fans of the show are aware that Michaels has been particularly tough on AdéChiké since day one, with many calling it unfair and over-the-top.
An “I hate Mia Michaels” campaign formed within hours on Facebook, while Twitter and the SYTYCD fan page immediately lit up with people angrily commenting on Mia’s attitude toward AdéChiké. [See below.]
The racism accusations against Michaels first surfaced in Season 5 with what appeared to be an unjustified dislike of Brandon.
As blogger Southern Fried Gamer put it in his July 9 post: “No one with eyes could deny the brilliant skill of Brandon, except for maybe Mia. Mary Murphy openly disagreed with Mia on the subject, as did all of America. And we here at SFG are not saying that we thought AdéChiké was great, but he definitely was something, not nothing as Mia Michaels had stated in this weeks performance episode.”
Well, Ms. Michaels has finally fired back against the racism allegations.
“It’s just ridiculous, honestly. I actually Twittered because there was so much negativity coming at me, because they think I was coming at [AdéChiké] for really stupid reasons,” she tells PopEater. “I had to make clear that I as a judge, as a person, don’t care what somebody looks like. I could care less what color their skin is, or how big they are, what their weight is. I look at their performance. I look at their integrity as an artist. I look at their technicality. I look strictly at that. People are trying to find something that isn’t there. They’re digging into the wrong areas.”
Michaels admits that such comments have made her feel “kind of angry because like, I want to tell them, ‘You don’t know me. You don’t know me at all.’ I mean, without getting, you know — it’s just, my friends, my boyfriends, my dancers. Some of the finest dancers that have worked for me are black men and my assistants are black men. People are trying to grab at anything to make a reason why I’m critiquing him as harsh as I do and, it’s — I keep getting this rap, I don’t like black male dancers, and anybody who knows me knows that’s just hilarious. We crack up.”
She mentioned boyfriends. So Michaels has dated black men?
“Yes, I mean, years ago I was engaged to an African American, actually, a Cuban guy,” she replies. “I’m open to people. I’m looking for the spirit. I’m looking for the art. I don’t care if they’re purple green with polka dots. I’m so much deeper than that.”
The Emmy-winning choreographer, who has worked with such stars as Madonna, Prince, Celine Dion and Ricky Martin, says of herself, Nigel Lithgoe and Adam Shankman, “As judges, clearly — clearly — we’ve been doing this so long. I started dancing when I was three, started choreographing when I was 15. I’ve been doing this my entire life and I know what I’m looking at. And what I say, it’s an opinion; people can take it or leave it. It’s not the bible of dance. For me, AdéChiké was not one of the stronger dancers from the get-go. I honestly don’t think he would have been around as long as he was if we hadn’t had all the injuries we had this season.”
Nevertheless, she stresses that she believes he’s a good dancer “and a great young man. He’s very strong, an athlete, but he needs a lot of work in the fluidity department and style. He needs to tap into the artistry and the style of dancing.”
Michaels, who wants to continue in her role as judge on the hugely-popular Fox show — which has its season finale episodes Wednesday and Thursday this week — says, “I’ve learned a lot, too.
“I’ve learned that words are very, very important and you have to choose wisely. That’s something I’ve learned this season — I need to be careful how I deliver my thoughts on a performance and a person. I would by no means ever want to hurt somebody just for the sake of hurting somebody. I would never, ever want that. So when I had come across very harsh on AdéChiké one week, I really took a step back. That was a real learning curve for me and I needed to apologize to him, and I did. I said, ‘I’m really sorry if I hurt you or offended you in any way. That was not my intention.'”
Michaels also spoke to AdéChiké after his elimination last week, she says, and, as anyone would expect, he was disappointed not to make the finale. “But I also told him that he should be very happy, that he should be celebrating that he had gone so far. He’s going to do great.”
A blogger for writingjunkie.net, who defended Michaels’ critique of AdeChike, offered the following:
Would people be calling her reference to African dance evidence of racism if the dancer, AdéChiké, were not black? Is it Michaels who can’t separate dance critique from race or is it the audience who can’t do so?
As I’ve already told one commenter, the knee-jerk reaction to call it “racist” when someone is rude or highly critical of a black person along with the weeping need to shield a black person from brutal criticism is paternalistic racism, the assumption that black people are like children who must be protected from everything. Mia Michaels is not a racist; she’s an equal opportunity offender.
AdeChike was voted out of the competition last week, leaving finalists Robert, Lauren and Kent to perform for the “SYTYCD” crown Wednesday night.