By:  KRISTI SCALES; Sideline Reporter, Dallas Cowboys Radio Network 

Hard to believe it’s already that time of year, but Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ auditions are close at hand. Known as “America’s Sweethearts,” the DCC are world famous and the audition process attracts contestants from literally around the globe. Last year there were hopefuls from 37 of the 50 states as well as 5 different countries, including spots as far away as Japan and Australia. The 2016 auditions begin May 14th (Round 1 – Prelims) and continue May 15th (Round 2- Semifinals). If a hopeful makes it past the first two rounds, she’ll return the following weekend for Round 3 (Finals) on May 21st. The auditions are closed to the public, but if you want to know some of the behind-the-scenes happenings, keep reading. This will be my 15th year as a judge for auditions, so I’m happy to shed a little light on the entire audition process.

There’s so much more to being a DCC than a pretty face and fancy dance moves. Did you know that in addition to the 3 Rounds on the dance floor, there’s also a written test and panel interview?  Hey, the DCC slogan is “often imitated, never equaled.” There is a high standard to maintain, so the auditions are really more of a long, drawn-out job interview. A girl has to be smart, be able to think on her feet, be able to dazzle on the dance floor, and carry herself as a DCC. After all, she’s not only representing the team that plays in Arlington, she’s representing the entire Cowboys’ organization as well as our community.

A lot of Cowboys fans are surprised to learn about the written test which is comprised of multiple choice questions about history, current events, football X’s and O’s, and Cowboys’ team history.

And most fans don’t know about the panel interview in which the questions could also be about history (e.g. “Who is the current U.S. secretary of state?” or “How many branches are there in the U.S. government?”) or current events (e.g. “Name the two Democratic presidential candidates,” “Name a Republican candidate that recently dropped out of the presidential race”) or Cowboys history (“Who is the leading rusher in NFL history?”… “Who is the Cowboys owner and general manager?”) or football (e.g. “How many yards for a false start penalty?”).

Fans are also surprised to learn that veterans must re-audition every year. No returning veteran has a guaranteed spot on the squad; they must earn their spot every year.

The difference for returning veterans is that they automatically skip to Round 3 (Finals). That’s good news for the veterans, but it’s sometimes intimidating for the first-time hopefuls who may make it through Rounds 1 & 2, only to face the toughest competition in Round 3 when they see the veterans for the first time!

Before getting into specifics about each of the 3 Rounds, let’s go over requirements.

According to the DCC’s Web site, all audition contestants:

*Must be at least 18 years of age at the time of preliminary auditions

*Must be a high school graduate (or graduating Spring 2015) or have a G.E.D.

*Must be able to attend all rehearsals and other related activities.

*International Applicants:  When applying for any type of visa, please keep in mind that the Dallas Cowboys do not “sponsor” international candidates. Please work through the US consulate/embassy in your home country to obtain the proper visa for audition travel, and be mindful of extended timeline should you be selected as a Dallas Cowboy’s Cheerleader.

Do you see any requirements that involve an age maximum?
No. We’ve had ladies ranging in age in their 50’s and 60’s audition. And, yes, we get a few dozen 18-year olds every year.  Last year I recall that we saw a high school girl from Michigan whose dad drove her 18 hours to Arlington so she could tryout. Many of the 18 year olds are skipping their proms or their graduations to attend auditions. We also have several college seniors who are missing their college graduations.

Also, please notice that there is no requirement or specification regarding gender. Which begs the question:  Have you ever had a man tryout?  Yes, I can recall one time, about 10 years ago (I can’t remember the exact year) we had a guy tryout. He was a dance instructor and was a very good dancer. But he didn’t make it to Finals.

So who actually auditions?
Last year we had over 300 contestants, plus the returning veterans. They contestants are a diverse group with impressive careers and/or educational backgrounds.

One of our returning veterans in 2016 just graduated college with her mechanical engineering degree. She’s interning at a children’s hospital, helping design medical instruments for doctors as well as assisting with research projects.  Come to think of it, she’s the second engineer on the current squad who works in the medical field. One of our two-year veterans has a biomedical engineering degree from the University of Missouri.

Pretty cool, huh?  I know most fans think these girls are just pretty girls with pom pons, but all the ladies on the squad are smart and poised and accomplished. Several are still in college, but others are already settled into the respective career fields.

As a judge, I can assure you that the competition level is fierce. This is an elite group, and the level of competition continues to rise each year.

We’ll have a few hundred contestants in Round 1 for the freestyle dance. The contestants come onto the dance floor in groups of 5. After introducing themselves to the judges, they’ll take their spots on the dance floor. The music will begin (there will be a rotation of several dance tunes; the contestants don’t know what the song will be) and the hopefuls have 90 seconds to impress us. It is freestyle dance (no choreography…you do whatever you want to do). Then they’re done after 90 seconds. That’s it.  We turn in our judge’s scoring sheets after each group of 5.

What do the judges use as criteria in Round 1?

* “BEAUTY”   (do you think she’s pretty?)

* “APPEARANCE”  (how do you think she’ll look in a DCC uniform?   This criterion is more about body/figure while ‘beauty’ is more about her face)

* “SHOWMANSHIP”  (do you enjoy watching her dance/perform, does she catch your eye?)

As a judge, I make notes in the columns that correspond to each criterion. And at the end of the page, next to each contestant’s number, I simply write “Yes,” “Maybe” or “No.”  Do I think she could be a DCC and should advance to the next round?  If I think she’s good enough, I write “yes!”  If not, I write “no.” And if I can’t make up my mind, I write “maybe.” If a contestant earns enough “Yes” and “Maybe” votes, she’ll advance to the next round.

Approximately 100 contestants (there is not a set number) will be invited back for Round 2 (Semifinals) the next day. They will learn choreography that morning, a jazz combo routine. It’s usually about eight 8-counts. They also will perform the DCC’s internationally famous kick line.  They have about 3 hours to learn the routines. They will compete in front of the judges during the afternoon.

What are the judges’ criteria for Round 2?
In addition to “Beauty,” “Appearance” and “Showmanship,” we judge them on “ability to learn” (can they perform the choreography, or do they get totally lost?) as well as “kicks and splits.” As in Round 1, the contestants come onto the dance floor in groups of 5. Again, at the end of our judge’s sheet, we simply write “Yes,” “No” or “Maybe” for each contestant.

Anywhere from 65-80 contestants may survive Round 2 and be invited back for Round 3. Again, there is no set number (it also depends on how many veterans are competing again this year, how many veterans are retiring?).

The following Saturday, we’ll see the returning veterans and well as the contestants who survived Rounds 1 & 2.  The morning session for Round 3 (Finals) is a solo routine. The girls pick their own music and choreography and costume. It’s the best part of auditions, in my opinion, because you get to see the creativity and originality of each contestant. The afternoon is the similar to Round 2…each contestant performs the jazz combo as well as the kick line (the returning veterans are taught this year’s dance combo on the Wednesday before Round 3). Judges’ criteria is the same for the session, except the contestants perform on the stadium’s playing field and we watch from the seats (the first two rounds and the morning solo routines take place in one of the stadium’s club levels on a dance floor).

Basically, the afternoon session of Round 3 – because it is held on the field – replicates what fans see on game day during Cowboys’ season.

By the end of the third (Final) round last year, judges selected 43 candidates to go to DCC training camp. Again, it’s not a set number. This year it could be 45, or maybe it could be 41. But when you consider that you start each audition process with a few hundred contestants, only about 1-in-7, maybe 1-in-8 contestants, will be invited to DCC training camp.

Please note that important sentence:  “will be invited to training camp.” Just because a contestant makes it past the judges, she’s still not a DCC. She has three months of summer training camp before she earns the right to wear the uniform and become a squad member.

If you’ve seen the popular CMT (Country Music Television) show “DCC:  Making the Team,” you know that the summer training camp is tough!  Camp includes rehearsals every weeknight, learning a few new routines each night.

Check back on this site following the opening weekend of 2016 Auditions. I look forward to telling you about some of this year’s awesome DCC hopefuls!