"To be honest, there isn't any major change, it's just back and it's bigger and better, to be honest," Deeley told reporters during a conference call last week. "It's one of those things, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' From Season 1 we grew, Season 2 again, and then when we signed up for auditions this time, we found that the numbers had tripled if not quadrupled. So we must be doing something right. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, get on and do it."
Fox's American Idol-like search for the country's top dancer will premiere Thursday, May 24 at 8PM ET/PT when viewers will be introduced to potential contestants during the first of two audition episodes, and Deeley said the success of So You Think You Can Dance's first two editions paved the way for its third season to feature some undeniable talent.
"The talent that we have seen this time is just amazing. The bar has been raised even higher, because now people understand the show, they understand the concept, and they understand what we are looking for. So the dance moves have got to be even more impressive. The personalities have got to be even bigger. There is even more at stake. I think that people understand that now and they know what the show is so it's back, but bigger and better," she said. "I do think that the major thing is personality. Somebody who America is just going to fall in love with. When you say to me... What are they really looking for? It's almost like you don't know quite what it is until it walks on that stage and you go, 'I don't know how to define this person, but they have that star quality.' You can see it almost for the minute they walk on the stage, and then if they perform and their performance just blows you away as well, wow, that's a killer combination. That's what we're looking for. We're looking for a performance that can blow you away and we're looking for star quality."
Deeley said she feels personalities are just as important as the contestants' dance moves -- a fact that couldn't have been more evident than during last summer's second season finale -- which pitted swing-dancing Benji Schwimmer, the eventual winner, against graceful modern dancer Travis Wall.
"I think what we are definitely finding this year is people are bringing their personalities to the show a lot sooner," she explained. "Because I think people realized this from watching last season, when it came down to crunch time and it was between Travis and Benji. Travis was a phenomenal dancer and had a great personality, and Benji was a great dancer but had a phenomenal personality. When it comes right down to the wire like that, it was Benji that won. I think that a lot of the contestants and a lot of the people auditioning have worked that out. We are not after the best dancer -- so to speak -- we are after America's favorite dancer. And there is a difference. It's a subtle difference, but it's someone who has that certain special something, that bit of fairy dust, that X-factor that you just can't define. I think that they have realized that and they are bringing their personalities to the competition a lot earlier."
Contestants' personality is something So You Think You Can Dance hopefuls should focus on, according to Deeley, who said not only does one's character have to shine, but it should also leap from the television screen.
"I think the biggest tip you can give these people is, don't hide it. If you've got a talent, if you are charming, funny, vivacious and all those things, don't hide it," said Deeley. "Wow us! Hit us right between the eyes. Make the judges sit up and take notice. Because there are thousands of people in that line that all want it really badly, and they're all going to bring it. So that's what you have to do."
Deeley added it behooves contestants to display that individual star quality because it helps them resonate with viewers, adding those at home are aware of the personal difficulties each dancer overcomes.
"The person that is at home on their couch can understand it too. So no one is alienated," she explained. "It becomes a reality show where you are as much into the characters, the trials and tribulations and the triumphs. You become associated with that, more than it being a dance show."
Similar to Idol, Deeley said each dancer has a "specialty" and must leave that comfort zone during certain weeks of the competition when they are asked to perform routines that don't fall into the category they are trained in.
"We really are asking them to be masters of everything," she said. "A lot of the dancers that aren't trained find this incredible frustrating because the trained dancers can pick up parts. It's almost as if that little part of their brain that picks up beat and movement, if you've been trained, it's very open and in tune and you can pick up a routine in fifteen minutes. Whereas if you are not trained, it might take you a couple of hours to get it right... The dancers have to be able to pick up new choreography in a matter of minutes, because they don't get that long to rehearse with the choreographers, and every single week they have to do something different. I think we're looking for people who can be adaptable, who don't just specialize in one area, people who are up for a challenge."
If conquering new routines weren't difficult enough, Deeley said So You Think You Can Dance's third season choreographers are continuously pushing the limits to see what the contestants can do.
"I think the moves are getting even more spectacular, most definitely," she said. "Particularly for me, the breakers that perform tricks, some of the tricks are... we've had people run up walls and flip over and jump off the stage. I mean, just insane. The tricks are incredible because the bar has been raised. They've seen what other people have done and they know that if they are going to stand out from the crowd, then it has to be even more spectacular."
While the grand prize for So You Think You Can Dance's third season is not "100% definite," according to Deeley, she promised it would be "even bigger than last year," when Schwimmer received a $100,000 grand prize, a new car and a one-year contract with Celine Dion's Las Vegas show, "A New Day." With the stakes apparently higher than before and the task at hand just as difficult, Deeley said showing maturity as a dancer is the key to capturing viewers' votes as well as the competition's crown.
"There are those people who surprise you and really grow," she said. "You start off, even from the audition process, you start going, 'Oh, they could be in the top 20.' Then people come up and they surprise you and they rise to the challenge. All of the sudden, the person that you thought was the underdog has now risen so much and you suddenly go, 'Oh, I'm going to completely change my mind here and this person could win.' Which I think is why people like to watch it. It changes all of the time."
Deeley took overSo You Think You Can Dance's hosting duties from Lauren Sanchez after the series first season. After working on a variety of shows in her native U.K. for several years, she said American Idol andSo You Think You Can Dance executive producer Nigel Lythgoe contacted her and asked if she'd be interested in hosting the show since Sanchez was pregnant, according to Deeley.
"So I came over and watched the show. I got completely addicted to it straight away and was like, 'Oh my God! Yes, I totally want to be involved in this!'" said Deeley. "I knew that season one was a big success. I knew that we could build on it. It was like being given a gift. It was massive show, on Fox, and it was something that I very much wanted to be a part of. And that was really how I got involved. Then they asked me back again for season three. Hopefully, it's going to be even bigger and better this year."
Deeley described herself as a "constant" for the contestants, with their routines, choreographers and dance partners frequently changing. Because she's so close to the contestants, she said she does form a relationship with them. However other than appearing on So You Think You Can Dance together, Deeley said the similarities end there.
"They are doing something that I can't do. I don't have their talent and their dedication. It blows me away. It's not something that I can do and I have complete and utter respect for them," she said. "Last seasonâ€™s contestants were in the most lovely way the best ladies and gentlemen that you could meet. So hopefully this season it's going to be the same, and I'm meeting the people that I have met during the audition process. The people just seem so lovely. The first season that I did, I was actually really surprised. I thought that there would be a sense of rivalry and elbows would start going. And there wasn't. There was a real sense of camaraderie between them all. So to be a part of that is actually really great."