You see them on the sideline at Cowboys’ games. You know they are called “America’s Sweethearts” and their members comprise the most prestigious dance team in professional sports. Maybe you’ve even watched every episode of the first 12 seasons of their hit television show on CMT, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.
But did you know that the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are now officially part of American history? In February, the DCC donated uniforms, boots, poms, and other memorabilia to The Smithsonian. The DCC will be part of the new sports & pop culture section that will debut soon at the National Museum American History in Washington, D.C.
How do these trailblazing women earn their boots and the blue stars on their uniforms?
As a judge for DCC auditions for the past 17 years, allow me to share some behind-the-scenes tidbits about the process. The selection process for the 2018 squad begins with Round 1 on Saturday, May 5th at AT&T Stadium. Rounds 2 and 3 follow on May 6th and May 11th, respectively. Auditions are closed to the public, but here’s a glimpse of what’s happening.
- DCC Auditions Consist of Three Rounds
Round One (Preliminaries) is a free-style dance. Contestants come to the dance floor in groups of five. Each contestant introduces herself to the judges. After each of the five have introduced themselves, a song will be played by the DJ. Contestants do not know which song will play. The song lasts 90 seconds.
Because it’s “freestyle,” there is no pre-determined choreography, so each contestant is doing their own thing. They have one and a half minutes to make a good impression and hopefully advance to Round 2.
We don’t know yet how many contestants we will have for 2018 auditions. Usually there around 400+ hopefuls at Round One each year.
- Round Two= Semifinals
There is no set number, but usually around 110 or 120 contestants will advance to Round two (Semifinals) which is the day following Prelims. Semifinals are very different from prelims. In the morning, the contestants will go down to the playing field at AT&T Stadium and will learn a choreographed routine from DCC choreographer Judy Trammell. Former DCC members will be there to help teach the routine.
The contestants have about three hours to learn/rehearse the DCC-style combo, followed by the Kick Line. In the afternoon, around 1pm, the contestants will perform their newly-learned choreographed routine, including the Kick Line. Just like prelims, the contestants come onto the dance floor in groups of 5. After re-introducing themselves to judges, the music starts and they do the routine twice (including Kick Line).
- Round Three (Finals)…Here Come the DCC Veterans!
Many Cowboys fans are surprised to learn that Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders must re-audition every year. Just because you were on the squad last season doesn’t mean you are automatically on the squad for the coming season. Returning veterans must re-audition, but they skip directly to Round Three (Finals).
- Round 3: “Solo Routines” Make Finals the Best Round!
As a judge, my favorite round of auditions is Finals (Round Three) because the morning session is “solo routines.” Each contestant performs her own choreography. She chooses the song, she chooses her costume, she chooses her routine. Maybe they choose hip-hop, maybe a Broadway show-stopper. We've had everything from ballet, to tap dancing, to singing, to lyrical, to samba...you name the style, I’ve seen it over the past 17 years!
The solos are great because each contestant can play to their strengths and show their individuality.
The afternoon session of Finals is like Round Two. Each contestant, including the returning veterans, perform the choreographed DCC-style combo, followed by the kick line.
- Everything’s Bigger in Texas…Especially on the JerryTron!
During the afternoon session of Finals, the combo/kick line are performed on the 50-yard of the football field. Meanwhile, the judges are sitting in the 200-level section of the stadium at the 50-yard line. We are watching the contestants on the huge center-hung digital board (which we jokingly call the ‘JerryTron’ in honor of team owner Jerry Jones). The screen is 60-yards wide and over 25-yards tall.
Why do we watch the Finals combo/kick line on the digital board? Because on Cowboys’ game day, the vast majority of fans at AT&T Stadium are watching the DCC on the same digital board. The folks sitting up in the 200/300/400-level seating sections are too far away to see the girls on the sideline individually. The fans are watching them on the screen. So as judges, we watch them on the screen to simulate gameday conditions.
- There’s a written test for all finalists.
Round Three includes a 100-question written test which is factored into the overall evaluation. The test is more than and X’s and O’s football quiz, it includes current events, pop culture, and Cowboys’ team history.
- There’s a panel interview for all finalists.
DCC represent the Cowboys’ brand to fans, sponsors, corporate executives, military members and political leaders around the world on USO Tours. They must be articulate and knowledgeable.
On the day before the Final Round, finalists come to the stadium for the panel interview. The interviews are a level playing field because contestants don’t know the questions in advance. The judges sit across the table and the questions come rapid-fire.
It’s not a matter of asking tough questions and trying to trip-up the contestants. It’s more of a conversation. The judges want to ensure that DCC hopefuls are well-spoken and conversant. After all, they are representing our community, our team, and the DCC brand.
Panel Interviews can be make-or-break. A contestant may be an awesome dancer and gorgeous girl, but if she can’t communicate well, she probably won’t make the squad. On the other hand, we’ve had contestants who are so impressive in panel interviews -- so intelligent and warm and inspiring -- they help their prospects of making the squad because of a strong panel interview.
Like the written test, the panel interview is factored into the overall scoring/evaluation.
Remember, this whole DCC audition process is the same as a job interview. You want to make a good impression when you’re talking to the person who is hiring you during a job interview.
- Let’s Talk Numbers
How many contestants make it to Round 3/Finals? Well, of the approximately 110-120 contestants that compete in Round 2, we invite about 55-to-65 back to Finals. There is no set number, it can change by a little bit year-to-year. Those 55-to-65 (or so) will compete against the returning veterans. Usually there are approximately 25-to-30 returning veterans (it can change year-to-year).
Overall, there are around 80-to-90 Finalists. And I’m sad to say that of that number, about half will not make it through the Final Round and earn an invitation to Training Camp.
- What? You’re Still Not on the Squad After Making It Through Round 3?
That’s right, making it through auditions means you’ve been invited to DCC Training Camp. You are not a squad member…yet! Training camp candidates (there could be anywhere from 40 to 45 at the start of the summer, it’s not a specific number) still have a full summer (three months) of rehearsals before earning the right to wear the uniform and become a squad member. Several candidates will be cut during camp.
There is no set number for the full DCC squad each year, although it’s usually around 36.
The bottom line: once a DCC hopeful makes it through Prelims, Semifinals, and Finals, the real work is just beginning!
- There’s a Minimum Age Requirement, But Not a Maximum
I think fans assume there are strict guidelines and requirements for anyone who wants to audition for the DCC. Some fans presume contestants must be of certain age and/or weight requirements. But the truth is that there are very few requirements to enter the audition process. You must be at least 18 years old on Day One of auditions. That’s the minimum: 18 years old. But there is no maximum age limit. We’ve had ladies in their 50’s tryout (even a 62-year old, if I remember her age correctly). There is also no rule regarding gender. So, yes, we have had a male contestant.
In a given year, in Round One, we could have an 18-year old high school senior that auditions alongside a grandma. We may have a mom-of-three kids that is auditioning next to a nursery school teacher. We have people fly from all over the world to audition. We’ve have bioengineers auditioning alongside lawyers.
We have two current DCC veterans from foreign countries (Jinelle is from Australia, Yuko is from Japan). Of our 36 squad members from the 2017 season, we had 19 different states, two foreign countries, and 34 different universities represented. Our squad ranged in age from 18 to 29, a few were still in college. The majority of the squad are career-women. DCC is a part-time job; the squad members have full-time jobs and/or attend college full-time. Several are married, including one who is a mother of a seven-year old daughter.
It’s a diverse group of young women that come together to comprise ‘America’s Sweethearts’. And it’s an arduous process to make the team. I have said for many years, having served as both Dallas Cowboys Sideline Reporter and DCC judge, that it’s just as tough a process to make the DCC squad as it is for a rookie football player to make the Dallas Cowboys’ roster!
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these behind-the-scenes tidbits. In the next few weeks, I’ll follow-up with reports from 2018 Auditions, as well as share the criteria used by judges in each round of auditions.
Meanwhile…Go Cowboys! And cheers to each of the contestants at this year’s auditions!