"It became more than just a movie -- it became a part of culture," Omarion tells Billboard about the 2004 dance film.
Before there was the "Step Up" franchise, or "So You Think You Can Dance," or "Dancing With The Stars," there were a few suckers, and they were getting served.
Of course, there had been hit dance films released before "You Got Served" opened in U.S. theaters on Jan. 30, 2004; "Footloose," "Dirty Dancing" and "Save The Last Dance" should not be glossed-over, and a lot of "Served's" DNA can be found in the 2000 cheerleading-rivalry staple "Bring It On." But "You Got Served" -- a lovably corny, thoroughly entertaining showcase of dance crews and the larger-than-life stakes attached to their battles -- was instrumental in speeding up the influx of street dance films and reality TV franchises that would pop up in the following years.
The reviews for "You Got Served" were anemic (16 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes!), and the film's worldwide gross of $48 million isn't exactly bank-breaking. But the movie's two stars, Omarion and Marques Houston, both acknowledge the small but fascinating impact "You Got Served" achieved upon its release, and has since sustained through countless TV re-airings.
"I remember, in the first week that it came out, we got reports that people were actually battling in the theaters," says Omarion, who has since signed with Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group imprint and will release a new album this summer. "It became more than just a movie -- it became a part of culture. And that's like… you can't ask for anything more. People always ask me if I'm going to do another dance movie, and it's hard to say if I would ever do another dance movie, because, really, that was like the top of the top for me."
According to Houston -- a longtime R&B artist who released a new album, "Famous," last year -- the script to "You Got Served," which centers on the dance crew of best friends David (Omarion) and Elgin (Houston) and their struggles to topple the villainous Wade's Crew, was written by director Chris Stokes about six years before the project was set into motion. Stokes had guided the careers of R&B boy bands B2K and Immature as a producer and manager, and when he brought the script to Sony's Screen Gems production company, former Immature member Houston and three members of B2K (Omarion, Jarell "J-Boog" Houston and De'Mario "Raz-B" Thornton) signed on to act in the project.
"I jumped at the opportunity to go for it," says Houston. "I said, 'It's right up my alley. I'm a dancer, I'm a performer -- it's what I love to do."
"You Got Served" paired the lock-step choreography found in the waning quantity of boy band music videos in 2004 with behind-the-dancing drama; Elgin and David lead battles in a warehouse run by Mr. Rad (Steve Harvey) for cash, and when they fall out of the good graces of a drug dealer, their wins become more crucial. The setting needed to be grittier than the music videos of B2K and Immature, which meant sneaking into underground dance battles around Los Angeles before filming began.
"All the actors, the director, the producers -- we all went and did our research," says Houston. A grueling rehearsal schedule began soon after: four and a half weeks for the dance sequences, and two weeks for the acting scenes. "We trained for it like a sport, and learned so much from the b-boys and other dancers," he says.
Omarion, who was a huge fan of the 1984 dance classic "Breakin'" growing up, says that one of the highlights of filming "You Got Served" in downtown Los Angeles was working alongside choreography maestros like Dave Scott, Columbus Short and Shane Sparks. "A lot of those dancers went on to dance with Michael [Jackson], and with Janet and Madonna," he notes. "That was the great part of filming it -- there was this real undertone of not wanting to lose. It was written in the script for us to lose [a dance battle], so we're actually upset, because we're professional dancers and we really don't want to lose!
"Some of the scenes got carried away because people would just get into it," Omarion continues. "A lot of the footage was spontaneous and in-the-moment. When I back-flipped off of Columbus Short's chest in the opening scene, it wasn't in the script. It wasn't like, 'You're going to do this move and everyone's going to go "Ohhh!"' That actually happened."
Houston says that "You Got Served" tested well with audiences before its wide release, but that few attached to the project expected it to be more than a modest hit. The film snagged a surprising No. 1 spot at the box office in its opening weekend with $16 million grossed -- a little over double its production budget. Then, the parodies began: first on an April 2004 episode of "South Park" titled "You Got F'd in the A," and later in the 2009 Wayans Brothers film "Dance Flick." More dance-battle movies came too, including "Stomp The Yard," "Battle of the Year" and four "Step Up" films.
"That 'South Park' was pretty funny," says Omarion with a laugh. The singer still gets asked about the movie, with fans often recalling the character of Lil Saint, the slain child to whom David and Elgin's crew dedicate their film's final dance battle. "There's this picture I saw on Instagram of me, and I'm kind of frowning, and I have glasses on, and then I'm crying, and there's this poster in the back that says 'Do It For Lil Saint!' Every time I see it, it's so funny for me."
Both Omarion and Houston profess that "You Got Served's" final dance sequence, the 'Big Bounce' free-for-all soundtracked to Joe Budden's "Pump It Up," is their favorite scene in the film. And Houston says that it hasn't been too long since he's watched his character getting served -- and, eventually, serving.
"I watch it all the time -- every time it comes on TV," he says. "Not only was I part of the movie, I like the movie, too! I'm glued to the TV like I never saw it before, every time."