That’s the number of finalists selected by the group of 10 judges that report to Laker Girls Director Lisa Estrada in advance of individual interviews on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The first cut took the number from 500 to 140, with the remaining ladies being taught a routine to perform, leading to the next cut down to 87. Then comes another routine, after which the number was trimmed to 48. At that point, each of the 48 girls introduced themselves to the judges and subsequently performed a solo, with 34 making it through to interviews.
Still with us?
We caught up with Estrada on Tuesday afternoon to see how the process is coming along:
Q: On how things went on Saturday:
Estrada: Everything went very quickly, actually. However, I was really impressed with the talent this year. I think the caliber was higher, for whatever reason, which was great. At the end of the day I ended up with 34 finalists, all very talented young ladies. Unfortunately, I found out that two returners from last season’s squad did not make it to that point, but I think everyone understands that it’s difficult.
Q: On how no spots are guaranteed for returning dancers:
Estrada: It just depends on so many things: how the day goes; how they perform the combinations that are taught to them; and the other talent around them, the competition.
Q: On how the process goes in cutting down the spots round by round:
Estrada: It’s all up to the judges, of which I have 10 including the choreographer, who whittle the numbers down one by one. The dancers are being evaluated on general dance ability, showmanship and fitness. I tell the judges to look out for how the first combination goes, and if they mess up, they can catch back on at the next combination. Now, that next combination really has to be a “yes” or a “no”. When it’s down to 48 comes the solos, at which point the ladies introduce themselves, which is big for the judges because these women represent the Lakers in the community. It’s very important that they’re able to have a presence and carry on a conversation.
Q: On if it’s most difficult getting down to the final 34:
Estrada: It’s actually pretty clear, because we are tallying as we go, and we will look at the scores and establish a hard line. If someone is on the fence, there may be dialogue about bringing someone else to the finals, but I don’t question the judgments because I’d prefer to stay out of it. There’s a reason that I brought the judges in, even if it makes me sad to see many of the dancers go. In fact, there are a lot of participants that leave throughout the day where I say, ‘Aw, I really liked her,’ but for whatever reason she got cut – the judges didn’t vote for her. I’m OK with it because I trust the judges, but I’m sad because I would have liked to have met that individual. But by all means I can’t pull anybody through myself.
Q: On the interview process:
Estrada: Currently, as I’m conducting the interviews, I do get to have a say so. I get to learn about this person, this number, this girl who would like to be a part of the organization. I want to see if they are people persons. I want to see how they speak – they have to be articulate, intelligent, be able to carry a conversation with somebody as they will with all the events they will participate in. And it’s fun, because it’s new people and new faces, new energy. What I really like about it is that they tell you why they want to be a Laker Girl, and you just go, ‘Wow, you live in Georgia!’ It’s very flattering for the organization to reach out to other places. This year we have finalists from Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, northern California and I’m still meeting more.
Q: On the number of returners still left, and the final desired number who will actually make the team:
Estrada: We have 11 of the 13 returners who auditioned remaining, and we’ll likely shoot for 22. That’s how many we’ve had on the team in the past few seasons, but it’s not a definitive number.