Frank Micelotta, Fox
"So You Think You Can Dance" judges Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe answer questions on Monday.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — There aren't a lot of people who don't have an opinion about "So You Think You Can Dance" judge Mary Murphy.

Her ear-splitting, screaming enthusiasm has some viewers screaming in approval while others scream in horror. Which, according to judge/executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, is a good thing.

"I like the polarizing side of it," he said. "I think there's too many bland people on television. So somebody you either really like or really hate is important."

According to Murphy, what we see on the show is not an act.

"I'm pretty much like you see me. I don't go around screaming every single day, but for dancers I've always had enthusiasm," she said.

And she employs that overwhelming enthusiasm when she's teaching, too.

"Everybody has their method of teaching. That was always mine," Murphy said. "I would be jumping up and down like a 'Saturday Night Live' skit during a lesson, even with professional dancers while I teach them. It cracks them up, it makes them kind of take a second or two off of what I'm trying to get them to do and then back in on the lesson."

And, she said, nothing we see on the air is an affectation.

"I've been like this my whole life," Murphy said. "Plus, my laugh has been like this my whole life. It doesn't get any louder. It's real kind of toned down, actually, on the show compared to my mother and how we used to laugh."

As for her catchphrase — delivered at extremely high volume — Murphy said, "It just flew out of my mouth one day."

"There was no real thought process in it. When Anya danced, it just like welled up into me. I just said, 'Well, the train just pulled in. Special delivery. Off came Anya.' I said, 'You just hopped off. You get two tickets on the Hot Tamale Train.'

"What that really represents to me is a really unbelievable performance. It's usually with the hot and fiery dances. ... When there's a dance that is absolutely moving me, it's very difficult for me to go, 'Oh, you're on the Hot Tamale Train,' because I'm really touched and usually just about in tears, so a lot of the performances deserve to be on the Hot Tamale Train, because that represents going to the finals for me or at least into the top 10.

"If you get two first-class tickets, I'm telling them I think that you're going to be going into the finale and be one of the top four."

And the dancers are actually anxious to have Murphy scream at them.

"I actually have never had a Mary scream before, but I bet it's pretty awesome. I'm still waiting for that moment," Utahn Chelsie Hightower said.

But, according to Murphy, there's more to it than that.

"It's usually with the hot and fiery dances. If you notice, that's when I usually say it," she said.

And that scream can be hard on the ears.

"They actually came in with a machine and measured how loud my scream can be at full tilt." Murphy said. "And I am here to inform you today that I am louder than a vacuum cleaner, a rock band and a small jet engine."

"This ear's totally deaf," Lythgoe said.

The Utah Contingent on "So You Think You Can Dance" has been cut in half in the past couple of weeks — Hightower and Gev Manoukian remain in the running; Matt Dorame and Thayne Jasperson were both eliminated.

"It was hard when they had to leave, but it's competition," Manoukian said.

(Two more contestants will be eliminated in tonight's episode at 8 p.m. on Ch. 13.)

"It's sad when you're done because you feel like you're missing out," Jasperson said. "You feel like you want to go and do all these dance opportunities."

Both he and Dorame say they're grateful for the opportunity they had to be on the show. Their only regret is that they're no longer part of it.

"You just wish that you could be there learning the dances," Dorame said. "You don't want to be there for the competition part. I'm glad that's over. But you want to be there working with the choreographers and working with all of them."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com