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Just Dance, Again: Lady Gaga Comes Full Circle With Incredible ‘SYTYCD’ Judging Stint

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Way back in 2008, a then-unknown pop starlet named Lady Gaga historically made her U.S. television performance debut on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," singing the Season 4 theme song "Just Dance." (And she later recruited Season 4 contestant Mark Kanemura to be a principal dancer in her troupe.) While in retrospect Gaga's leotarded "SYTYCD" performance now seems incredibly tame, at the time it was the perfect springboard for her colorful and controversial career in shock-pop. One Yahoo! Music poster named "Bubbles" even remarked back then, "Lady Ga Ga???????That's a lady??? My, how times have changed. It's no wonder the 'kids' are all screwed up these days with something like that to look up to. Terrible, and she can't even sing. WEIRD. She made me want to VOMIT."

Well, now it's three years later, and I have to wonder what poor, weak-stomached Bubbles thinks of all the bloodletting, bathhouse-torching, Miracle-Whipping, meatdress-wearing, egg-hatching, caution-taping, and Yankee-offending that Gaga has accomplished since that landmark "SYTYCD" appearance. However, if Bubbles is still watching "SYTYCD," she must have been moved by Wednesday's episode, when Lady Gaga came full-circle and paid "SYTYCD" back the favor by serving as a very qualified guest judge.

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There was nothing weird or vomit-inducing, for instance, when contestant Marko Germar danced with allstar Allison Holker--in an intensely emotional routine to Jeff Buckley's cover of the Smiths' "I Know It's Over"--and Gaga reacted by breaking into sobs. As reformed bad boy Marko's long-suffering mother, who had just flown in from Guam and was proudly weeping in the studio audience, watched on, Gaga gushed through her tears: "I am just so proud of you! There were so many things I did wrong when I was younger, and I felt all of that in your [autobiographical] dance." An equally weepy Marko then proclaimed his love for his mother, and the Mother Monster teared up even more. (It's amazing how her Winehouse-esque winged eyeliner didn't smudge one bit. She must've used a Sharpie.)

Of course, the ever-quotable Gaga was her usual uncensored self Wednesday evening, coining the icky term "fashion catheter" (some sort of hot new accessory "so I don't have to get up and go to the bathroom during the show"); confessing that as a young girl she used to cut off her doll's heads; dubbing judge Nigel Lythgoe a "good queen"; and, when Nigel complained that one female dancer kept her legs too close together during a hip-hop routine, quipping, "Oh, I'm sure he'd like you to open your legs a bit!" She also paid dynamic duo Sasha Mallory and Melanie Moore the ultimate dance-community compliment--and handed them the ultimate dance trophy--by throwing her giant red platform boot at the stage. (The other shoe fell, literally, when she ceremonially tossed it to choreographer Sonya Tayeh.)

However, while Gaga is known for her wacky antics, she did take her judging job incredibly seriously when she sat on the "SYTYCD" panel alongside Nigel, Mary Murphy, and Chicago/Nine director Rob Marshall. Her appearance was so impressive, I might have considered looking into getting a fashion catheter myself, just to make sure I didn't miss a minute of her screen time. (Thank heaven for DVRs, huh?)

You see, instead of making the show all about her, Gaga kept the focus on the top eight dancers and gave them her utmost respect. She told Melanie, "I wasn't looking at the monitors, I wasn't looking at the camera, I only wanted to look at you," and glowingly told contestant Ricky Jaime, "You feel like a young, honest, modern dancer who's worked his tushy off!" Even her Yoko Ono-meets-Sigmund The Sea Monster-meets-Captain & Tennille outfit was sedate (by Gaga standards, that is). And she seemed to put much more thought into her savvy critiques than some of this season's past lip-servicing celebrity judges, which reflected her own credible dance background.

The good Lady's enthusiasm for "SYTYCD," and dance in general, was evident throughout the show. She told Broadway-inspired hoofer Jess LeProtto, "I have so much respect for you, because I went to school for theater too," and practically offered yet another "SYTYCD" contestant a job alongside Mark Kanemura, telling frontrunner Melanie: "You are my favorite, and I would hire you to dance on my tour around the world!" (Take the job, Melanie. Take it!) And when Gaga almost evangelically told contestant Tadd Gadduang, "It's such an inspiration! You don't have to be boxed into anything! You can be anything you want to be as a dancer, and it's amazing," or praised Sasha and Melanie, "I don't know what sex you are, where you're from, or how much money you have, all I know is that [routine] was the future!"...well, I put my paws up to the TV screen. Both statements were simply worded, but they were as inspirational as any speech I have ever heard from Mother Monster.

No, on "SYTYCD" Lady Gaga didn't have any God-fearing contestants kissing their crosses, and she didn't grind up on anyone from behind (stunts she pulled while respectively spooking Scotty McCreery and James Durbin as an eccentric mentor this year on "American Idol"). This time she didn't go for shock value, but something of much more value: the celebration of art. And along the way, she proved if this whole pop-superstardom thing doesn't pan out for her, she has a huge future in reality television. The "Born This Way" diva was simply born to judge.

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