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Nigel Lythgoe hired British dancers/TV stars Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt for the new TV series "A Chance to Dance," then told them to go recruit talent.
"Nigel sent us off to Salt Lake City, which we had our doubts about," said Nunn, "because the only thing we knew about Salt Lake City was the Mormon religion. And we thought what are we going to find there?"
"Very musical," deadpanned Lythgoe, the executive producer of "So You Think You Can Dance" and "American Idol."
Along with his son, Simon, Lythgoe is executive producer of "A Chance to Dance," which debuts Friday, Aug. 17 at 8 and 9 p.m. on Ovation (a cable network on higher tiers of satellite and some local cable and systems).
Nunn and Trevitt had just four weeks to hold auditions in Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, then to create and teach the choreography, and put on a live performance.
It's not exactly a competition show, although about half the dancers who make it to "boot camp" are winnowed out before the performance.
"They're not looking for soloists, but people who work well together in a group," said dancer Eldon Johnson, associate artistic director of Odyssey Dance Theatre. He called the auditions "one of my favorite experiences I've ever had as a dancer, and I've been doing it for 15 years professionally."
Nunn and Trevitt were met at the Salt Lake airport by Utahn Allison Holker, a "SYTYCD" veteran. "She gave us the tour," Nunn said. "She sort of calmed us down and said, 'There's real, genuine talent here.'"
And Nunn and Trevitt are familiar with talent. Both were dancers at the Royal Ballet who left to form their own company, Ballet Boyz, and television stardom followed with a series of shows in the United Kingdom.
Clearly, they haven't had time to watch "SYTYCD" or they would have known that the show has come to Utah repeatedly for auditions. And that there have been many Utahns among the finalists in seven of nine seasons.
But they didn't know. So they were surprised when they got to the Pointe Performing Arts Academy in Highland.
"The talent was so good that we saw two girls that we took straight away," said Trevitt. "Without even an audition. We saw some really fantastic talent there."
Which is exactly what Lythgoe expected. He didn't simply send Nunn and Trevitt out here on a whim. He sent them for the same reason he keeps returning to SLC for "SYTYCD" auditions.
"It's this whole thing for me," Lythgoe said. "Brigham Young University really does turn out great ballroom dancers. And the Odyssey Dance Company is fantastic. Every dancer that comes from there is tremendous. We get stars from [Utah], whether it's Chelsie Hightower or Benji Schwimmer or any of the others we've had."
Scott D. Pierce covers television forThe Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.