SYTYCD Season 9 wrap-up

The ninth season of So You Think You Can Dance is in the history books and showcased some amazing talent. The truncated season coupled with the two-week break during the Olympics forced two double eliminations this year. As usual, the choreography was very contemporary heavy with spots of jazz, hip-hop and Broadway, and a sprinkling of ballroom and Bollywood–plus the obligatory classical pas de deux for our ballet finalists.

This season by the numbers:

–Sonya Tayeh choreographed the most numbers this season (11)–10 individual numbers and the Top 20 collaboration with Christopher Scott, who comes in second with 9 individual numbers (10). Tyce Diorio is the official third place holder with 7, although Mia Michaels rings in with 10 if the 7 recreations are counted. The remaining choreographers, including 3 SYTYCD alumni, are as follows:

Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo (Nappytabs) – 6
Travis Wall – 5
Stacey Tookey – 4
Jason Gilkison – 4
Mandy Moore – 4
Mia Michaels – 3 (+ 7 revisits)
Sean Cheesman – 3
Ray Leeper – 3
Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo – 2
Melanie LaPatin and Tony Meredith – 2
Nakul Dev Mahajan – 2
Dmitry Chaplin – 2
Jean-Marc Genereaux – 2
Spencer Liff – 2
Dave Scott – 2
Desmond Richardson/Dwight Rhoden – 1
Doriana Sanchez – 1
Liz Lira – 1
Tessandra Chavez – 1
Dee Caspary – 1
Louis van Amstel – 1
Jonathan Roberts – 1
Pasha Kovalev – 1
Marat Daukayev – 1
Peter Chu – 1
Luther Brown – 1

Season 9 rookies: Marat Daurayev, Peter Chu, and Luther Brown (a SYTYCD Canada import)

Choreography MVPs for the season:

Stacey Tookey–only 4 numbers in the season but all four were solid work, moving performances and Emmy caliber

Christopher Scott–one of the busiest choreographers this season and one of the highest success ratios

Guest judges for the competition this year were Zooey Deschanel, Kenny Ortega, Adam Shankman, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Christina Applegate, The Ballet Boys (Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt), Benjamin Millipied and Rob Marshall, with Lil C, Debbie Allen and Tyce Diorio with Adam, Mary and Nigel on the finale panel. Jesse and Christina hold the distinction this season of sitting on the judging panel twice.

Twitch was the All-Star MVP this season with 4 pairings (Audrey, Witney, Eliana and Cyrus) as well as that finale quartet, which gave him 3 runs on the finale stage. Second was Alex Wong with 3 appearances, and tied at third are Allison Holker, Anya Garis, Lauren Gottlieb, Kathryn Mccormick and Melanie Moore with 2 appearances (not counting the combination finale from Nappytabs). Rounding out the All-Star roster was Brandon Bryant, Nick Lazzarini, Jakob Kerr, Jaimie Goodwin, Ryan Di Lello, Ade Obayami, Benji Schwimmer, Marko Germar, Comfort Fedoke and William Wingfield.

My season superlatives:
Most overrated contestants – Alexa Anderson and Nick Bloxsom-Carter
Alexa was highlighted from the beginning, having been the last contestant cut from the previous season. And she’s certainly a talented dancer, but I think the overabundance of hype and hypercriticism from the judges just wore on the public and dimmed her focus. Nick, bless his heart—I think the crying did him in. I couldn’t imagine the gamut of emotions I’d have on the verge of being selected for a major, nationally televised dance competition, but it did not do a whole lot for his persona as a strong leading man—particularly since he didn’t have much camera time going into Green Mile. None of his dance numbers did anything to make him stand out from the crowd, and the only one that stood a chance—the Argentine tango—was not only too little, too late, but was cursed by the ill-fitting suit they put him in.

Contestants who got the biggest shaft – Daniel Baker and Amber Jackson
Amber, like Alexa, had been cut from the show before—in fact, a few more times than Alexa had. Daniel was considered by the judges to be consistently strong as a dancer and performer. Both were paired with the previous two dancers, respectively. But to be fair, Daniel was riding a little close to the middle of the pack as well, not to mention the pure performance nature of his two duets with Alexa. The viewing public tends to emotionally connect better with dances that have high drama or a compelling storyline attached to them, and Daniel’s numbers were abstract at best. The technique displayed came across as subtle despite the amount of skill needed to pull off the difficult moves. Amber got one more weeks’ worth out of the competition, which led to that incredible Ray Leeper jazz with Brandon Mitchell; however, she fell victim to the season’s format. Had the public been allowed to vote on that performance before her elimination was called, there may have been an entirely different outcome.

Most underestimated contestants (at the beginning): Will Thomas, Cole Horibe, Lindsay Arnold and Tiffany Maher
I was iffy on Cole and extremely hard on the other three. On paper, we had a martial artist/dancer, a really big, really tall guy, a tall, leggy ballroom expert and one of the Invisible Triplets. This competition is about getting noticed immediately, and Cole did the best job of the four on the Meet the Top 20 show. Tiffany danced well next to a virtual clone of herself, so she had the extra task of making a name for herself as well as dancing beyond her potential. Lindsay’s exactness read stiff (especially anytime she was next to energy magnet Witney) and Will’s non-traditional build required him to “dance down” to his fellow competitors—a note actually given to him on that first show. Will’s embracing that and Cole’s uncanny acting skills jumped them into the spotlight immediately, while it took later performances from Tiffany (foxtrot) and Lindsay (shadow contemporary) to break out as potential stars. Not to mention my total underestimation of Tiffany’s fan base…I’d have to go back and do some major research, but I don’t ever recall a contestant with such little feature time from auditions to the stage show go through the entire competition without ever being in the bottom of the vote numbers. Maybe Sabra and Jeanine, but both of them had to dance for their lives at least once.

Best numbers of the season
I had quite a few, but grudgingly narrowed it down to 20…in no particular order:

Meet the top 20 ballet trio
Meet the Top 20 hip-hop fusion trio

The two numbers of that program that I repeatedly re-watched…and cheered for each time.

Lindsay/Cole paso doble
Dynamic, and the first big gauntlet throw for Cole. Again, I can’t say it was the best ever paso doble in nine seasons, but I’d gladly put it up in my Top 5 AND qualify it again as the best first effort from any guy, ballroom or not.

Amelia/Will character pop
Yes, it’s scenery and prop dependent. Yes, it’s corny. But damned if doesn’t make me smile. And even though Amelia’s kitty was that star of this piece, I found myself watching Will more, and appreciating both his skill and his persona.

Tiffany/George foxtrot
Elegant and beautiful and practically plucked right out of that era—and from two contemporary dancers to boot.

Witney/Chehon Bollywood
Athletic and energetic and brilliant from our ballet boy and ballroom beauty.

Amber/Brandon jazz
Amber’s star turn of the night, which in any other season would have propelled her into the next week.

Witney/Chehon “Calling You” contemporary
Possibly the truest re-creation of those presented that evening, with Witney showing none of the reticence and reserve that blocked Heidi’s performance.

Lindsay/Cole “Gravity” contemporary
The only one of the repeats to completely blow up the original and establish itself as an entirely new number, and when you have an audience completely sold on one version of a dance visibly moved by a newer one, that’s saying A LOT.

Lindsay/Jakob Broadway
Will/Lauren hip-hop

Two examples of seamless tandem performances—Lindsay got perfect sync with a screen in between. And I mean PERFECT sync—Jakob really could have been Lindsay’s shadow. And Will—unless he sprouted eyes in the back of his head, the boy danced in sync BLIND. And was damn good at it.

Chehon/Anya Argentine tango
Where most of his other dances showed his vulnerability, this one displayed his strength and machismo. The first successful turn at a ballroom dance he had for the season, this number was impressive enough to gain a spot in the judges’ favorites for the finale.

Chehon/Allison contemporary
ONE HAND. I could leave it at that and it would be enough, but the fact of the matter is that once Chehon broke through whatever emotional performance wall was blocking his success he kept getting progressively better at it until in this number he simply became the story. The performance ended at least 30 seconds after the music did.

Eliana/Tiffany Broadway/burlesque
Hot. Hot. HOT. And that was just Tiffany—which came so far out of left field I got whiplash. But add Eliana and a pole? NUCLEAR.

Cyrus/Comfort dubstep
Cyrus/Twitch animation

It was a great benefit to Cyrus for him to get dances within his styles of expertise. Getting great choreography, great concepts and great partners was the icing on the cake.

Witney/Twitch hip-hop
And speaking of left field….who knew blonde Mormon girls could get ratchet?

Both Eliana/Alex contemporaries
I actually loved the second more than the first, but without Bang, Bang I don’t think they could have achieved that level of intimate connection to make that number unforgettably moving.

Christopher Scott hip-hop quartet
Three of the competition’s greatest performers plus one of the more innovative and versatile choreographers equals one extraordinary moment. Pun most certainly intended.

Nappytabs Top 10 + 10 African jazz/hip-hop
The truest representation of African movement to ever cross that stage. Plus, it’s Lion King. You have to work really hard to mess up that music.

My top 5 dances:
5. Witney/Chehon Bollywood
4. Eliana/Tiffany Broadway/Burlesque
3. Eliana/Chehon/Daniel Ballet

and tied for #1:
a) Cyrus/Cole/Brandon hip-hop
b) Lindsay and Cole in “Gravity”

Biggest misfires:

Janelle/Dareian lyrical hip-hop
It was slow and cute. Slow and cute tends to turn into forgettable on this show.

Audrey/Matthew “Time” contemporary
Some things can’t be re-created. Audrey and Matthew did an excellent job of dancing a story about a father and daughter meeting in heaven. The unfortunate problem for them was that Lacey and Neil did an excellent job BEING Mia and Joe.

Nick’s oversized wardrobe in his and Amber’s Argentine tango
Enough said. I had to watch this dance several more times to see the strength and power that boy put out for that number—and that would have been a much easier task if I hadn’t had to strenuously ignore that coat.

Top 10 guys’ maw-maw culottes
Some guys had the physique for that to not look totally ridiculous. It clearly wasn’t enough of them.

Cat’s “grandma” dress
UG. A. LEE.

Best guest judges
Christina Applegate and Rob Marshall; Adam Shankman gets an honorable mention just because he’s a show veteran. But both Christina and Rob had a way of praising the dancer’s effort and delivering critiques in a manner that motivated the dancers to embrace the changes rather than verbally clubbing them over the head for any shortcomings.

Best guest performances

Dragon House

    —because they’re good, and Brian Gaynor is always a good reason to tune in

AXIS

    —the things this company does with able-bodied dancers is amazing; the way they combine that with wheelchair bound dancers without watering down the choreography for lack of legs is astounding.

Ailey

    —because it’s Ailey. That explains everything.

The two greatest improvements to the show in my opinion are the “look live” pre-tapings of the group numbers and continuing structuring the Meet the Top 20 show to announce the contestants and allow them a judgment-free performance and guarantee them more than one turn on the stage. However, there are still a few things that they have to correct before the next go-round:

–the producers have to figure out how to keep the eliminations at two dancers at a time. I’m not altogether certain that this is a byproduct of the “no-vote” competition episode, but if that’s the after-effect, they need to think harder.
–AUDIO, AUDIO, AUDIO!!!! This year is the second finale in a row with all of those glaring audio misses–there were even a few episodes during the competition with some large, noticeable errors.
–there should NEVER be an elimination episode that doesn’t involve the “dance for your life” section. This is pretty much the cornerstone of the show, and skipping it just to save time and allow for special guests is not only unfair to the dancers themselves, it’s an injustice to the viewers and loyal fans of the series.

I’m looking forward to both the tour and next summer, where I hope and pray I’ll see a Season 10. It would be a shame if the network known for trying out risky concepts and giving major leeway to low-rated shows went into old-school network mode and took this fan-favored show away.

What were your most memorable moments from this season?

*all images courtesy of 19 Entertainment, Dick Clark Productions, and FOX

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