Generation NEXT: SYTYCD Season 13

So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-Results-July-25-2016

 

So You Think You Can Dance has returned to the small screen for a 13th season, and this year the kids get their turn in the spotlight.

The show has revamped its entire look and contestant base, auditioning dancers between the ages of 8 to 13 and mirroring every popular social network platform with its graphics, peppy music and bright colors. They’ve even extended the youth appeal by adding a new judge to join Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason DeRulo–15 year old dancer Maddie Ziegler, made famous by her appearances on Dance Moms and countless Sia videos and performances.  Limiting their audition cities to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, the core trio of judges mines through the hundreds of pint-sized hopefuls to select a few hundred to attend The Academy, the kids’ version of the Vegas intensive. The selection has a twist, though–only ten young dancers are selected for the stage shows, and not by the three judges.  Ten All-Stars–former contestants from the previous 12 seasons–are judging at The Academy to select one dancer each to take to the Hollywood stage that they feel they best connect with and has the skills to win.

Los Angeles had a good number of surprising talents: hip-hop dancers Merrick and Kida, ballerina Avery, contemporary dancers Jordan, Sage, Ava (tallest in the auditions at 5’9″ at only 11 years old) and Sophia, tap dancer Ava (complete with embarrassing tap dad), and ballroom dancers Lev, Ivan and Camilla. One particular standout audition involved dancers Stella and Geramy, who initially got a pass from the judges before Stella pleaded their case and asked to show something different. The two did a more dramatic paso doble and Stella was passed through, though Geramy was still rejected.  However, Nigel–presumably impressed by both his performance demeanor and the 25 pound weight loss he accomplished in practicing for the auditions–convinced his fellow judges to give him the opportunity to go through to The Academy to get a feel for the amount of hard work it would take to pursue the show.  Chicago brought us the ubercuteness that was 10 year old J.T. Church, and the extremely excited Tahani, whose happiness bubbled right out of her….and onto Paula Abdul’s jacket.  Poor baby–I have never seen anyone throw up after getting a positive nod, and particularly not all over a judge.  But she and Paula took it in stride.  Other Chicago standouts included lightning-fast tapper Emma, ballerina Tia (who got to dance in front of Fabrice Chamels of the Joffrey Ballet), hip-hop dancer Alex, contemporary dancers Diana, Quinn and Enoch, jazz dancer Ainslee (who though completely adorable and energetic with her pocket-sized 8 year old self was turned down), and ballroom dancers Leana and Daniela.  11 year old Daniela had a bit of an ace up her sleeve: her mom, who teaches her, is a Latin ballroom champion.  She even got to show Nigel and Jason a few moves.  New York seemed to host the largest and most diversely interesting auditioners on the tour, from Latin dance junior champion Ruby to Kinky Boots swing Dougie, amazingly mature contemporary dancers Tate and Olivia, mini “Magic Mike” hip-hoppers R.J and Jake (who reminded me so much of Nick and Rudy from Season 11), 12 year old breaker Kai who’s so badass he rocks with an ADULT crew, ballroom dancers Valeriya, Alex, Liza and Joshua (all but Liza moved on, but I thought her personality would at least get her in the door), and 13 year old tapper Lucas, who caused a bit of discussion with the judges but was eventually sent ahead to the next round.

After arriving at The Academy, the young dancers performed their solos for the All-Star judges who would evaluate them.  The All-Stars roster for Season 13 is a pretty fair balance of all of the available genres: ballroom is represented by Paul Kamiryan, Jonathan Platero and Jenna Johnson; hip-hop is covered by Comfort Fedoke and champions Joshua Allen and DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagel; contemporary is represented by Robert Roldan, and first runners-up Kathryn McCormick and Sasha Mallory; and rounding out the numbers is reigning champion, Season 12’s tap mistress Gaby Diaz.  Each dancer gets to pick their five favorite dancers from the Academy soloists, with at least three that are not necessarily of their specific genre.  Things get interesting a few times as some of the dancers are selected by more than one All-Star, which gives the dancer the option of which team he or she wants to be on.  By the end of the rounds the five dancers are cut to two, with those two being in contention to go to the live shows.

Contemporary dancer Tate gave such a technically and emotionally compelling performance she literally propelled half of the judges from their seats, even though they were supposed to restrain their reactions. She wound up being sought after by both Kathryn and Sasha, and after hearing their say, she chose Kathryn’s team. Two other dancers, Kida and Ruby, would also be doubly selected, with Kida choosing Fik-Shun over Joshua and Ruby selecting Paul in favor of Jonathan, respectively. All of the dancers gave their absolute best, but with the choices limited to 5 dancers per team, the selected pool of about 100 hopefuls was immediately cut down to 50.  After that, three rounds of choreography–Broadway with Warren Carlyle, Hip-Hop with Nappytabs, and Contemporary with Travis Wall–honed each team of five down to two dancers, of which the given All-Star had to select one to take with them to the live shows.  The final choices came down to gut decisions, as each of the kids displayed varying degrees of technique, personality, determination and heart throughout the whole process. The 10 dancers selected are:

  • Tate McRae – Team Kathryn
  • Leon “Kida” Burns – Team Fik-Shun
  • Ruby Castro – Team Paul
  • J. T. Church – Team Robert
  • Jordan Wandick – Team Sasha
  • Jake Monreal – Team Jenna
  • Daniela Avanzini – Team Jonathan
  • Sheaden Gabriel – Team Joshua
  • Emma Hellenkamp – Team Gaby
  • Tahani Anderson – Team Comfort

Overall, I like the concept, as today’s young dancers are doing feats I couldn’t master TODAY, never mind when I was their age.  I’m trying very hard not to let my disdain for Dance Moms and my intense dislike for Abby Lee Miller to color my judgment on Maddie Ziegler’s role in the proceedings; I feel she’s overhyped and overexposed but it’s a very shrewd move to include her as the kids will definitely know HER pedigree as opposed to the adult pioneers…not to mention they’ll have the benefit of her expertise in competing in the public eye and professionalism as a child in the entertainment business.  The one outstanding fact is that these kids are phenomenally talented and have larger than life personalities–and this, above all of the other gimmicks and enticements, will make this season shine.

SYTYCD 11, Top 8–Dancing Machine

We’re closing in on the end of Season 11!

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Tonight’s guest judge is Jenna Dewan-Tatum, star of the original Step Up movie and former background dancer to the likes of Pink, Missy Elliot and Janet Jackson. This is her second stint on the competition panel, and her second appearance this year (she sat in on the Atlanta auditions).

Top 8 group
Well if anybody was going to choreograph a group number for Michael Jackson night, might as well get the man’s own choreographer Travis Payne. Very futuristic looking and probably could have jumped out of the Cirque de Soleil Xscape show.

Tonight the kids get to do their solos in addition to the All-Star duets slated.

Tanisha kicks off the solos—she throws every possible skill known to man in, with the ballroom prowess seeming almost secondary. I really wish I liked her personal solos more…I can appreciate the skill and technique but Mary has ruined me for wanting more ballroom content from ballroom contestants.

(This week gives us words from the teachers, relatives and fellow performers that most inspired and influenced the kids in their development as dancers.)

Ricky (with All-Star Jaimie Goodwin)
Contemporary—Travis Wall

Whoa—Season 11’s Ricky has Season 6’s Victor Smalley (of Dance Moms: Miami fame as well) to thank for his early dance education; Victor gave the kid a scholarship. Nice redemption for Victor, because I maintain that he got hosed during his season.

Ricky is the positive light, the best friend that can always raise your spirits. Travis is pushing Ricky beyond his technical limits to try and help him put a lock on the win.

Dancing to Michael’s cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” this routine’s Melanie/Marko “I Got You” in feeling layered on top of Robert/Allison “Fix You” in technique. And while it looks terribly simplistic, the lines and pictures the dancers produce are exquisite.

Jenna’s word of the night is “incredible”—from the technique to the partner connection and everything in between, she’s completely enamored with both this routine and with Ricky. Mary marvels at the effortlessness and high echelon of technical prowess that Ricky has continued to display week upon week. Nigel feels that Ricky has grown to the point of transcending his already incredible skill and technique and becoming the dance.

(I see they’re going to continue this “results as they go” BS….of course Ricky is safe….you expected less?)

AND as they’re announced safe, they’re immediately paired with their next All-Star…so Ricky will be doing some sort of ballroom routine with Anya “Hot Tamale Train” Garis

Zack gets to dance in his specialty tonight, and dude throws in enough slides and fast footwork–not to mention the attire–to be the tap reincarnation of Michael Jackson. Even Sandman Sims would have looked at that bit and said, “DAMN!”

Valerie (with All-Star Ryan Dilello)
Samba—Jean-Marc Genereux

Dance break with Jean-Marc first….oh, THAT’S how you spell “batucada!” Phonetics only take you so far in another language…..

(Valerie’s dance inspiration is Kathy Simpson, her teacher since she was 3 years old. Now if SHE had a show instead of Abby Lee, I’d watch that…she looks like she’s professional AND nice.)

Valerie “Wanna Be Starting Something” battling with Ryan, the Samba King.

She was working her fanny off to nail that technique and I give her props for that—AND she got a smidgen of sexy out in her performance demeanor. However, she still needed some more oomph in her execution. I’d love to just say that she did an admirable job as a non-ballroom dancer, but considering we’re at Top 8 and shooting for a Top 6 berth it’s too late for that…it’s go big or go home time, and I fear this may hasten the latter.

Mary said, in her delightful Mary fashion, that the samba was well done and Valerie attacked every move with the exception of some hesitation on the samba runs (which I saw as well as the area of most discomfort in her); Nigel calls Valerie vivacious and says this bit of brilliance cancels out any complaints he had about the previous week, although he did express worry that if she were to depart tonight that would be why…and it would be a shame on the heels of tonight’s success. Jenna tells Valerie that her dancing gives her joy but there was an added sexiness and attitude (that’s basically the translation for “face” people) in her performance.

(Valerie, amazingly, is safe this week. And apparently Mr. Boss really needed to get out of the house this summer because after tonight he belongs to Valerie. Having already proven she can “turn up,” this should be a thrilling pair.)

Casey leaps and spins and dives his way through his solo…..we know, we know—you’re a maestro with all of it. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Rudy’s up next with a variation of Casey’s magical spinfest layered on top of the beastly style he brought to the auditions, and you can see a lot of technical improvement in him. He’s a little too happy for that now (or maybe the flash of cutie-pie I saw was just a result of him quickly dropping character at the end of the solo….Jacque might me making you a little too mellow, boo….IJS)

Casey (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke)
Hip-Hop—Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz

(Miss Terri [Schulke] and Miss Mandy [Rogers], his two dance teachers who have trained him for the past 4 years, are Casey’s inspirations…and both ladies are deeply moved by the nomination.)

OK, if Academy of Villains doesn’t get that finale berth it doesn’t really matter because Pharside and Phoenix are solidly IN as choreographers. So in honor of MJ Week they’ve created a theatrical, over-the-top routine called “8 Legged Love.” Um….yeah. Good thing I already know they do some killer work because there isn’t a side eye strong enough to give them for THAT description. Black Widow meets Fatal Attraction, or Kiss of the Hip-Hop Spider Woman, if you will. Casey has to bring out strong characterization again this week….the last effort at hip-hop landed him in the bottom. Hopefully the costume’s better this go-around.

“Xscape,” the song that titles the Cirque de Soleil show, is the tune for this piece. Casey had moments of looking tortured and seduced—good things for this particular number—and he was really working to hit those shapes and positions. Plus I imagine jumping on and off of a spiderweb-shaped cargo net dangling had to be taxing as well. Not quite the Nico benchmark from last season’s Spider Woman interpretation, but a reasonably good effort. (On another note, wardrobe let Comfort borrow Tanisha’s catsuit and seriously vamped her up with the makeup—she’s come a long way from the thunderstruck girl in a bra and beads…..

Nigel acknowledges Casey’s further growth as a performer while advising him to get more into the style, however foreign to him. Jenna admires his stage presence and his ability to perform “in the moment” and in step with Comfort. Mary admired the strength and commitment, and also recognized the increased sharpness and precision as the number built.

(Casey is in the bottom of the votes this week—not unexpected with fan favorites Ricky and Rudy as his competition. Zack, who I fully expect to be down there with him, is the sleeper contestant of this pair and may edge him out for Top 6.)

Jacque’s up with her solo and it’s very light and effortless and danced with so much joy she’s practically levitating. Whether this will aid her chances of staying remains to be seen.

Tanisha (with All-Star Nick Lazarrini)
Contemporary—Stacey Tookey

(Kelly Messerly, Tanisha’s teacher and mentor, is her dance inspiration.)

Nick’s a crooner reliving the memory of the One That Got Away (embodied by Tanisha). So I probably should have expected “She’s Out Of My Life” to be the song of choice.

I know I’m supposed to focus on the contestants, but I really have to pause and acknowledge Nick’s growth as a dancer over the years. He was neither my choice nor my expectation for SYTYCD’s first champion and I’ve watched him dance before wondering how and why that was. I’m liking what I’m seeing now. *exhale* Now, back to the task at hand: Tanisha really should consider shifting to the cabaret division if she means to stay in the ballroom world—whatever Latin training she has is nowhere near as good as the contemporary skills she’s exhibited since she’s been on the show. Very nice work from her again this evening.

Jenna is astounding by her strength and the couple’s fluidity, and called for a bit more angst to her emotional expression to enhance the feeling of the number; Mary hailed Tanisha for keeping pace with Nick and is amazed by her consistency and quality of movement; Nigel is equally impressed by her physical strength but admonishes her to tap into and release more of her vulnerable side as a counterbalance.

(Tanisha is the first girl in the bottom two this week; considering Valerie skated through this week I imagined that would be a probability as Jessica’s fan base seems incredibly strong and loyal.)

Jessica takes the “massive tricks and levels to a Celine Dion power ballad” route in her solo tonight…way too much to visually process but again….these fans are lo-yalllllllll……..

Rudy (with All-Star Allison Holker)
Contemporary—Ray Leeper

(Kevin “Tokyo” Inouye—you KNOW I’m Googling to find out if he’s any relation to the late Hawaiian senator….dude’s honest, I gotta give it to him. Not many teachers would admit on national television that their student, despite their heart and passion, was just not good at it. Of course, not many would take them under their wing anyway and try to mold something out of them, either. I think I rather like you, sir….. *side note: Google results inconclusive, particularly since there’s a professor and martial arts coach in the biz with the same name–hence, this Kevin going by “Tokyo.” If any of you readers find out, holla.)

A tale of obsession—Allison is focused on getting Rudy, but he’s taken and trying to push her away….despite the small part of him deep inside that kinda does want her. Unhealthy dysfunction at its best. Ray’s concerned about Rudy tapping into his vulnerability and letting go of some of the aggression inherent in his personal style.

I was thinking “Leave Me Alone,” but “Dirty Diana” makes much more logical sense considering the darkness of tone and the storyline itself (I don’t know HOW I forgot about that song). Rudy is fighting for his spot. I mean really, seriously, both dukes up, all guns blazing FIGHTING to get to the end—and the top—of this competition. He is determined to be standing under that confetti, and powerwise he could do it. I saw more tortured anger than vulnerability in him, but that may have been moments of “seeing him thinking.” I will say that for him to evenly match Allison Holker in a number so powerful is an impressive accomplishment, and that may just be the thing that America eats up with a spoon.

People are standing and hollering—more importantly, THESE people are standing and hollering: Ray, Mary, Nigel and Jenna. This bodes well….that and the fact that Rudy is doubled over, gasping for breath and doing that high-pitched Dino from The Flintstones babble-scream he does when he’s overexcited.

Mary is just as flushed as Rudy is, but manages to find words and breath to agree with me about the pair going in whole hog and matching each other toe to toe, dubbing them spectacular. Nigel’s only complaint was a brief lapse in character to focus on technique (during a pirouette section) that broke from the story, but otherwise commended Rudy for morphing into a completely different person. Jenna calls Rudy phenomenal and also commends him for rising to and matching Allison’s level.

(Rudy is in the bottom this week, saving Zack this time. If I know anything—and history is to be believed, Rudy’s larger than life personality will probably elevate him over Casey’s insane technique. We’ll see at the end of the show….)

Valerie taps her way out in her magic ruby slippers and has vastly improved with projecting energy from her upper body and face as her feet are going a mile a minute. She’s the better of the two tap solos this evening.

Zack (with All-Star Makenzie Dustman)
Broadway—Spencer Liff

(Mark Goodman, tap legend I’m not familiar with but I guess I’d better research….he’s danced with some legends himself: Gregory Hines, Sandman Sims, Savion Glover–very impressive.)

Naïve girl fresh off the train in the big city meets slick smooth talker Zach, who tries everything he can to tell this girl “The Way You Make Me Feel”….the boy looks like Howdy Doody meets Opie; I just can’t see him being a Lothario. Still, he and Rudy have a similar drive to prove themselves, so I know he’s gonna knock himself out trying.

Makenzie looks thick in that dress. Marilyn Monroe thick. Not a bad thing at all—in fact it transforms her character—but it just threw me off for a second to see her serving Ava Gardner realness and I know she’s barely hit adulthood yet. Zach looked more smitten than smarmy half the time but that character focus was razor sharp. He knew just when to switch his gaze from the audience to his potential conquest while executing all of his moves perfectly and in sync. The end was clunky, but that wasn’t the dancers’ fault: it was the music mix, adding an additional unnecessary beat to the end.

(Since Zack knows he’s safe, Cat reveals his partner….and just as I was saying that we were about due for a boy pairing, who does nuFik-Shun get but the original himself? I am extremely intrigued to see how that plays out.)

Nigel would have liked to see a little more groundedness from Zack, but was overall pleased….and is especially tickled like the rest of us about next week’s matchup. Jenna mused about the incredible amount of control and showmanship needed—and employed by Zack—to successfully pull off a Broadway routine; she thought he was believable and was completely sold by his performance. Mary also notes Zack’s growth, spirit and wholehearted embracing of everything he’s been given to date.

Ricky closes out the solos, and….hold up, pause. WTF was that, dude?!? You just did a nosebleed induced leap, landed on cotton and slid into one of the sickest, most tightly controlled straddles like you were made of melting butter….the old, fat creaky dancer in me hates you and is sobbing in the corner. And continues to do so after you laid in a straddle ON YOUR BACK and then just stepped up into a layout. Boy go sit down somewhere before I start throwing stuff at my TV……

How am I JUST noticing the Moonwalk logo on the backdrop and in the wipes tonight?

Jacque (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop—Dave Scott

(Older cousin Christianne Jordan is Jacque’s inspiration….way to go, Pookie!)

Ionkno if ballerina Jacque is gonna let street Jacque out to play—she’d better do something to hang with the Boss since Jessica’s efforts were so well received last week….

“Slave To The Rhythm” is the song of choice, and we have some post-apocalyptic, Terminator futuristic type scenery happening here, and these two look like they survived the war and are hooking back up to kick it. Jacque got looser than I gave her credit for, though she looked like her biggest struggle was controlling her face. I think I saw one smiley moment before she masked it with the hardcore, serious badass look she was supposed to be serving. Both Melissa and Eliana proved that ballerinas can get down and dirty, and Jacque’s climbing into that class. Hopefully, it’s not too little, too late….

Jenna thought Jacque did extremely well and really got into the groove of the style; Mary also felt that Jacque conquered the groove and was impressed by her growth and synchronicity; Nigel was duly impressed by her embodiment of the style and thought she and tWitch complemented each other well, even daring to use the word “swag.”

(As expected, Jacque is the second girl in the bottom two. Not positive how the decision is going to shake down between her and Tanisha….)

Jessica (with All-Star Will Wingfield)
Contemporary—Mandy Moore

(Talia Favia, Jessica’s teacher, sounds a lot like my own—always picking and pushing. In love, of course….)

Earth and mankind….Jessica is being asked to be uncomfortable in this piece, portraying someone being callous and careless with the planet.

Jessica is really trying to embrace her artistry and incorporate it with her technical abilities—there are moments when she looks like she’s mimicking Will as a young dance pupil tries to mirror their teacher. That’s a good thing, as she matches him move for move, height for height, and all other nuances in between. The lighting was inspired, and told the story as much as the two dancers illuminated by it. Characterization is hard to read on her, so I can’t be sure if she embodied everything Mandy asked of her. But it was a very good performance from her.

Standing Os from the panel, so I’m expecting a good bit….

(Jessica’s All-Star is Ade…going from one big-league dancer to another. You gotta work, honey….)

Mary feels that the stars have aligned with the perfect music, choreography and dancers, and is pleased and proud of Jessica’s growth and passion displayed; Nigel ticks off a litany of favorites in all aspects of the piece—which include the stellar presence of William Wingfield (that man is a blessing to dance in general, and I will wax poetic about him whenever I can. Deal with it.)—and is moved by her magnificence; Jenna is also duly impressed with Jessica’s incredible growth and also throws around the words “favorite” and “magnificent.”

Three weeks from the finale, and we’re presented with the third of our crews up for an encore performance on that night. Tonight it’s Control Freakz turn….and it’s worth noting that the spoken word intro sounds a lot like the voice that introduced us to Will Wingfield in Los Angeles back in Season 4….just after he’s left the stage tonight. Serendipity, perhaps?

Damn…..what? I dare anyone to ever again set their lips to say that popping and hip-hop are any lesser forms of the art of dance. Every bit of that looked almost balletic—and that smoothness and grace is hard to accomplish coming out of a back flip. I am duly impressed. And I do have to say—though in this day and age I shouldn’t have to—how beautiful it is to see some many different looks and shades of my people given the opportunity to express their artistic selves on a national stage. It might be more commonplace in this day and age, but as a young girl with aspirations of dance those images were extremely scarce…and it makes my heart smile.

(I did have to actually spoil results to go vote, but I’m still going to give my assessment as if I hadn’t.) So it’s down to Rudy, Casey, Jacque and Tanisha. If I go by past opinions and votes, Jacque has been in the bottom the most out of the four, and I don’t recall ever seeing Rudy there (though I could be wrong). Young fans might be reluctant to break up the reported lovebirds, but have also repeatedly been reluctant to send Tanisha home, as well. I’d venture based on all of that, Jacque has run out of chances…and with Rudy being the less polished of the guys, he may be leaving with her.

Of course, America seldom behaves as I’d expect—while I don’t deny Tanisha has some great ability I thought she would have gone home long before now…and tonight she’s going out with her original partner. Rudy leaving just breaks my heart…and that was BEFORE he started crying. I really saw a Benji-esque victory as a possibility with that one, but apparently the contemporary seduction continues. Zack is the last odd man standing, and as I had hoped Aaron would be the first tapper to take the crown last year, I feel compelled to throw my remaining support behind him. The girls’ diversity is still intact, just minus a ballroom specialist. So of the jazz dancer, tapper and ballerina remaining, I feel like the larger push is going to go to Jessica. However, with Jacque’s miracle save and Valerie’s sleeper performances, anything could happen there. With us back to a single winner I dare not even venture who has the best shot at that right now….but it’s gonna be a rollercoaster ride.

(The survivors get their All-Star pairings: Casey gets Makenzie and Jacque gets Will. *moment of silent praise that I get blessed with him a second week in a row*)

SYTYCD Season 10, Week 10: Tall and FAMY, For The Win! (4TW)

The Top 4 in a Mandy Moore number half the country never saw....unwise move, Nigel.....

The Top 4 in a Mandy Moore number half the country never saw….unwise move, Nigel…..

It’s the last competitive go-’round as the Final 4 take the stage to claim the ultimate prize–the “America’s Favorite Dancer” title and the trapping that go along with it.

Guest judges:
Paula Abdul returns to the judges’ panel, along with Olympic Gold medalist Gabby Douglas. While I love her and know that some dance training is needed for those floor exercises, I’m not completely sold on how solid her critical skills are. Still, she’s still better than Carly Rae Jepsen. (Yes, THAT dead horse will NEVER stop getting beat….)

Top 4 Group
Jazz – Mandy Moore

Sorry, America—I’d LOVE to tell you more about the number, but someone in broadcasting didn’t think we needed to see it. (And, from what I’m gathering, neither did most of the country.) I’m all for trimming broadcast fat but a DANCE NUMBER—particularly one featuring the top 4 FINALISTS—should not have been at the top of the list. I remember on the first watch/skim-through that it was odd that I missed the group number, but I just thought I zipped by it by accident. This might be the stupidest move since the Bottom 6/elimination announcement at the top of the show. (And NO, it will NOT make us forget about that, and YES, I meant to say stupidest. That’s how colossally asinine that decision was.)

Tonight the kids, in addition to the group number America didn’t see, get to dance partnerships with each of their competitors as well as their solos and All-Star pair-ups (the dancers got to actually pick the style of dance they performed with their All-Star).

Amy/Aaron
Jazz – Ray Leeper

Sexy with a club feel. Ray’s words.

This is where we notice the variances in height and energy—even though Aaron’s putting out just as much as Amy is, hers seems to carry across to the audience that extra bit more. I see a lot of that champion’s attitude in her performance that Melanie and Jeanine exhibited. Aaron, despite his very good efforts, looked a bit lumbering and clunky next to his tiny dynamo of a partner. He maintained his stamina and performance level quite well—but when you put a Roman candle next to a brick of C4, the differences in impact are staggering. The costumes were funky—I really dug Amy’s; Aaron’s could have done without the vest—or something different with the vest—because it took away from the designs on the tat sleeve (which was oddly only on one arm….).

Nigel loved the costumes (and took a dig at Paula in the process), saying they laid down the gauntlet in this final; Mary agreed and loved the strength, energy and attack the two lent to the number; Gabby loved the spunk and attitude of the number; Paula thought it was a nice departure from their usual styles and was duly impressed with both Amy’s center and ability and Aaron’s strength of partnering and characterization.

Jasmine/Fik-Shun
Contemporary – Travis Wall

A couple growing apart, imagined in the middle of the ocean floating away from each other.

Visually, this piece reminded me of the Viennese Waltz Twitch and Kherrington did back in Season 4, and then Jasmine throws in that Eliana Girard-worthy Bang, Bang extension. Every time she throws a leg up I die a little inside knowing the short, aging stubs I walk on will never even come close to looking so magical. I was very impressed with their unison moments and Fik-Shun’s partnering skill (to borrow Debbie Allen’s vernacular from Season 5’s critique of Evan and Kayla, he “handled his big woman”). I’m not sure exactly how long this piece was, but it was over before it began…or at least it felt like it. I wasn’t finished watching them dance and then they ran out of steps. Sigh…..

Mary was moved to stand and the Deeley chills came into view. Mary was swept away by the movement and pleasantly surprised by Fik-Shun’s success with this partnership given all of the challenges and contrasts between the pair. Gabby also admitted to goosebumps and was drawn in by the performance, noting how impressed she was with Jasmine’s lines. Paula has another Cyd Charisse apparition in watching Jasmine and is again visibly moved by Fik-Shun’s transformation as a dancer. Nigel agreed with Gabby on Jasmine’s lines and with Paula on Fik-Shun’s development.

Aaron (with All-Star Melinda Sullivan)
Tap – Anthony Morigerato

Although he lauds their abilities in the pre-package, Anthony says absolutely nothing about the story behind Aaron and Melinda’s piece. It’s a slow syncopated number to Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man, a maudlin little ditty about the regrets a man has after losing his woman….so we’ll call that the theme. Bruno’s tortured vocals over a simple piano acoustic lend the greatest musical stage a tapper can hope to have to highlight their craft, and these two use it to full advantage and impact. The piece is deceptively simple-looking, and it is to a degree—there’s no big flash or trick movement to make the crowd jump up and gasp. But the clarity of the taps, particularly in concert with the music and each other, is the star of the show here. Aaron’s emotive abilities are always clearly obvious and in this, his own style, is no exception; however, the fact that he can keep that kind of consistent characterization for emotions not usually served in this genre gives just a small peek into the genius performer that he is. Melinda herself is amazing (said as more than a rabid, biased fan and minuscule investor in GONE, her recent Broadway project) and for Aaron to match that as if they had trained together for years proved that he’s got IT. Who pulls at heartstrings with a tap number? *points two fingers at the high-yella boy on my TV screen* THIS guy.

Oh, and by the way, thank you very much for the first tap number to grace the performance finale stage.

Full standing O, and rightly so….Gabby is awed speechless; Paula is beyond excited (remember her Straight Up and The Way That You Love Me videos showcased her hoofer’s grace) and hails Aaron as the ultimate storyteller of the season; Nigel loved the conversation the two “best tap dancers of the series” had with their feet; and Mary thought they were spectacular.

Jasmine (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke)
Hip-Hop – Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo

Throwing caution to the wind, contemporary dancer Jasmine goes full 180 and picks hip-hop. She is paired with Comfort in a Nappytabs joint all about flexing the girl power. I’m not sure about the presence of the bicycles—maybe if they’d be motorbikes or some kind of harder-looking scooter, I’d buy the whole strength and empowerment thing. (Watching the clip, I kinda wanted to see her do the number with Tabitha—who I’m still rolling my eyes at for looking (and dancing) like THAT a year after squeezing a small human out of her body. Ugh!)

I’m still seeing Jasmine’s stamina flag out mid-way….and she was definitely serving it the entire dance move for move. I can’t put my finger on why I’m seeing this energy drain in the face of fantastic dancing but it’s there in every non-contemporary number I see her in. It was expertly performed, though, especially with that bike sequence—one missed count would have thrown off the equilibrium of the entire piece. And I do applaud her for stepping outside of the box to be seen as an all-around dancer. This would be a good number to have on the tour, though….maybe a match-up with Hayley?

Paula is wowed and marvels at Jasmine’s ferocity and versatility; Nigel lauded her choice to display her versatility and her fighting spirit; Mary thought Jasmine danced the piece as if she had choreographed it herself and dubbed her “badass”; Gabby put it best and succinctly: “YOU BETTER WERK!” (Whatever your closed-captions said onscreen, the above is EXACTLY how she said it.) She also called for Beyoncé to grab them up and for some assistance with her next floor routine.

Amy/Fik-Shun
Argentine Tango/Paso Doble – Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo

Power and passion.

They had my boy Fik-Shun WORKING tonight—still some posture issues but I could see him thinking and trying to apply former corrections along with the current choreography. Try as I might, Amy as smoldering temptress is a hard sell…at least from the neck up. She hit those skill moves well and exuded passion in her stance; it’s just not her fault I can’t look at her and not see Joey Potter playing dress-up. However, the chemistry manufactured between the two of them was believable.

Nigel thought Fik-Shun gave a brave attempt that fell just a bit short and that Amy displayed as much skill and strength as Jasmine displayed earlier and that both are worthy opponents and brilliant dancers. Mary loved the choreography and also noted Fik-Shun’s weak points but also praised the level of partnership, while calling Amy mind-blowing, strong and beautiful to watch. Gabby loved the chemistry and the emotion of the piece; Paula was also stunned by the choreography and thought Fik-Shun “handled his woman pretty darned well,” (I’ll get her later for stealing from my mama) while telling Amy that “it’s hard to comment on perfection.”

Jasmine

She’s way harder on herself than I could ever be. And who knew it was Cat that had to fight for Jasmine?

Y’all thought that duet flowed like water? This one really did….and I believe I saw more confidence exude from her in this piece than in any other.

Jasmine/Aaron
Samba – Dmitry Chaplin

“This samba is going to be a party starter.” The cocktail analogy was cute but y’all could have stopped at that one sentence and given the TV audience the group number instead….

Not quite Anya and Danny Girlfriend-worthy but not as strained as the Sasha/Tadd tango from Season 8. The skirt issue was well handled by Aaron but still slowed them down a bit. Jasmine stayed in vamp mode and carried it off well, and while I could have used a little more looseness and party feel from Aaron, I think with the exception of a couple of raised shoulder moments he did quite well with the forms and technique.

Mary thought while the choreography was brilliant, she didn’t feel that it was danced very well and pointed out a lot of the techniques issues I saw and more. Jasmine fared better than Aaron in the critique, but not by a whole lot. Gabby conceded to Mary’s expertise and agreed that the number wasn’t the strongest they had done tonight. Paula may have concurred with the technical assessments but chose to compliment the two on their energy and synergy both tonight and throughout the season. Nigel also wanted more and for once didn’t feel the chemistry between them, sensing discomfort instead.

Fik-Shun

It’s Fik-Shun’s world, and we’re all just puppets on the strings he’s pulling. I just LOVE him to pieces.

Gangnam Style annoys my toenails off. And yet I will watch that boy do that number ALL. DAMN. DAY. I just want a glimpse of his imagination….you know how Moses had to hide in the cracks of the cliffs covered in order to just have God’s presence pass over him? If there’s some way to get Fik-Shun’s imagination to wash over me like that, I’d be unstoppable.

Amy

The other half of the pocket duo takes the solo stage, and she makes me smile, too.

This was one of the most cohesive performances of the “same” contemporary dance she’s done yet. I really want to see her do something more light-hearted, but she’s using what works to win. And I can’t be mad at that….especially when it’s so GOOD.

Fik-Shun (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop – Luther Brown

“Dancing hip-hop with tWitch would make my life awesome.” Kid, do you have ANY idea what that’s about to do to OUR lives?!? Bring on the Swerve 500!

It must be time for Christmas dinner, ‘cause I just watched two of the biggest hams in SYTYCD history cooking. As much as I loved watching tWitch pair up with Joshua Allen and Cyrus Spencer, Fik-Shun is the perfect match to him—like someone took a rib out of tWitch and fashioned a mini-twin that came out Fik-Shun. (I don’t know WHY all these Biblical references are popping up, but I guess that’s more testament to Fik-Shun being the gospel truth.) That was fun and cheeky and popping and rough all at the same time. We’ll be seeing this in an hour. Bet on it.

Gabby was totally wowed, Paula liked watching the two talented goofballs in their hip-hop playground, Nigel even dubbed them tWitch and tWitch, Jr. and called it fantastic, and Mary even brought in Phillip “Pacman” Chbeeb as a comparison and told Fik-Shun how proud he was going to be when he watched the number on video. Not even close to as proud as the rest of us, kiddo.

Aaron

Another year of history being made with the first tapper making the finals….what a blessing in disguise a twist of fate can be.

Subtle and sophisticated syncopation—and then he hefts that big body into the air in a straddle jump. Boy…….. *throwing my OWN tap shoes at this expensive ass TV*

Amy (with All-Star Robert Roldan)
Contemporary – Stacey Tookey

Courage and bad timing—“I Got You” with a sadder ending, where the girl realizes what she could have had as the guy is letting go.

I am constantly amazed at how Amy can take her physical strength and emotional vulnerability and just combine them so beautifully and seamlessly that it looks like she’s just walking through it. I might have chosen a slower arm drop at the very end, but that’s just the nitpicky artist in me….the number was impactful regardless.

Standing O across the board—Paula is choked up and completely moved; Nigel thought they were intoxicating, stunning and breathtaking; Mary marveled at the supernatural energy Amy radiates with each movement; Gabby seemed just as choked and just as stirred by the performance.

Aaron/Fik-Shun
Broadway – Tyce Diorio

Two guys in the hustle and bustle of the rough city, complete with suits, hats, briefcases, platforms, and….was that a treadmill?!? Alrighty then….

Too much going on, Tyce—and the few novel moments on the ‘mill didn’t quite justify its presence. The boys put out their best personas, though. Aaron looked a little reserved in places and that’s either a testament to his exhaustion or the megawatt level of Fik-Shun’s onstage energy. Must be that gentle giant syndrome we saw with Amy earlier.

Nigel was reminded of Michael Kidd (no lie, even I had to look him up, and am truly ashamed I knew his work but not his name); Mary thought this was feel-good choreography that charmed the pants off of everyone; Gabby loved the energy and the stunts and lauded the pair kept up an amazing show throughout; Paula thought they were both completely in their element and called them the top showmen of the season. (Had no idea Paula gave TYCE his first break…is there anyone you haven’t mentored in some way, woman?)

Amy/Jasmine
Jazz – Mark Kanemura

“A typically straightforward jazz rehearsal.” Cat, I don’t even know how you said that with a straight face. When Mark opens with the phrase, “It’s the age old tale of Siamese twins from the fierce jungles of Saturn……” you know you’re going on a trip that even acid can’t rival. (Not that I’d know PERSONALLY, mind you….) Lip-syncing with the body….of course, Mark. And the fact that the song is The Diva Dance just adds to the overflowing bowl of quirk you’re about to serve us.

Appropriately weird, as expected. As I watched I couldn’t help but make Jasmine comparisons: Jasmine Mason was pretty equal to Amy and, in my opinion, outshone her in moments during their “Meet the Top 20” duet; Jasmine Harper, while high-energy and syncopation all the way, got smoked by The Little Dancer That Could. All of the specific and peculiar shapes Mark gave them to do should have been more sharp, angular and precise on the tall dancer with the long limbs, but it was Amy attacking those forms with perfection. You can see the marked differences in still photos, and with costumes as specifically duplicate as these variations in form are glaringly obvious. This was a fast, tough piece, though….and the divas did the damn thing.

Mary loved the “crazy, creative and quirky” offering from our budding male Sonya clone; Gabby agreed and thought the fun number was a great way to end the evening; Paula evidently found her home planet in this number (which may explain a LOT of the past few years); Nigel is completely flabbergasted by both concept and performance and puts the girls as the top two in an overall perspective, then joins Paula in a belated standing ovation (with Mary and Gabby to follow suit)—a gesture I know is not only for this pair’s performance, but for the whole Top 4 and the excellence of the entire Top 20 this year.

All I did was divide my web votes—I simply cannot choose this year. Like last year I can’t pick between any of them; unlike last year I can’t settle on an actual favorite. There has yet to be a brown-skinned female champion (love Sabra and her win—at least on MY part—was truly vicarious) and Jasmine is only the third to make it to Top 4, and fourth to make to finals if you consider Season 6 Ellenore was one of SIX finalists; seeing very few of “us” even make it to the main stage, I’m hoping for history. The same goes with Aaron, who would be the first older dancer, first tapper, and would follow in Benji Schwimmer’s footsteps by going from alternate to champion….plus the New Orleans connection keeps him my sentimental favorite. Fik-Shun might be a validation to last year’s Cyrus fans that a truly untrained dancer CAN triumph—plus he’s so dang cute and larger than life I really would like to see his star launched into the stratosphere. And Amy….the girl’s just good. Even in that slip she keeps beating herself up on, she had more grace and style than the most perfect performances. Anybody who can look that good screwing up and then bring several of the most memorable performances of the season (quite a few of which I suspect we’ll be seeing tonight) is no sleeper. I’m leaning to Team Tall but I’ll be a FAMY monster all day, too….and any combination of those will be correct, as well. This year, the answer to the question “Who is America’s Favorite Dancer?” is a resounding and unqualified YES. Whatever names are called.

SYTYCD Season 10, Week 8: Last Call

image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Into the home stretch for our dancers as they continue their quest for the title; with this being the last week the judges have any input regarding the outcome, the full weight of their fates is squarely on the viewers’ shoulders.

Top 8 group
Contemporary – Mia Michaels
This dance looked appropriately Sonya or Mia weird, so I took a stab. I was right. And either I’m really blind or Aaron didn’t dance this one….I swear I only saw three boys.

Guest judge:
Jenna Elfman – I vaguely remember her doing a stint in Chicago somewhere—but it is quite astounding to see her whole pedigree. And how smart of them to give it to Cat to read off right at the top. No ditzy Dharma here.

Bottom 4:
Fik-Shun
Jenna
Tucker
Hayley

All four get to dance for their lives, as this is the last week of the judges’ save.

Fik-Shun
Cute and playful and similar to the audition piece.

Hayley
Simple contemporary with a great display of technique. Her emotive skills seems a little forced to me, though.

Jenna
Paso solo, combined with a little cha-cha and a little samba

Tucker
The usual good—looked a lot like Hayley’s routine but with more content and natural joy.

This week’s filler focused on the dancers’ inspirations.

Aaron (with All-Star Chelsie Hightower)
Jive – Chelsie Hightower

[Aaron’s best friend Corey serves as his inspiration—the first of our tearjerker moment, as Aaron reveals that Corey died of brain injuries in a car accident. However, he carries Corey’s spirit and love for dance with him into every performance.]

50s vibe with some killer moves—with a setup that looks suspiciously like that Tiffany/Cyrus Broadway piece from last year…..

Ms. Hightower has gotten really good at assembling choreography. A small miss with one of the connections but it was pretty bouncy.

Mary was impressed with the blend of style; praised a lot but really picked at Aaron’s form; Jenna praised him on carrying through with establishing himself as “not just the tapper” and called him a money dancer, which he has been proving since Week 1; Nigel thought the style would have suited Aaron a little better than it did, but hopes America takes his whole season into account in their voting—though he did say he believed Aaron did enough to carry through to the finals.

Fik-Shun (with All-Star Allison Holker)
Contemporary – Allison Holker

[Fik-Shun credits his parents as inspirations, as they encouraged him to follow his dreams and that he could do anything.]

Apparently, Allison and Twitch aren’t going over with everyone, as Ms. Holker has seemingly channeled society’s views of interracial relationships into this piece.

That reminded me of Ivan a bit there—Fik-Shun is so joyful when he does contemporary.

Jenna tells Fik-Shun that he’s already an All-Star and that he can do no wrong (I’ll agree with that); Nigel thought it was a beautiful routine and thinks that there’s a quality about his work that cannot be ignored despite technical shortcomings; Mary agreed with all of that and thought Fik-Shun held the groundwork of the piece down very well in order to let Allison and her choreography shine.

Tucker (with All-Star Courtney Galliano)
Jazz – Courtney Galliano

[Tucker credits his very supportive dad—you don’t see a lot of dads with football and other contact sports in their histories enthusiastically front and center with their dancing sons, but Tucker’s dad clearly never gave any pause over his son’s passion.]

Romeo and Juliet? Oooookay……Ms. Galliano assures us a happy ending in this love story, though.

Nice work, Courtney–contemporary look but enough jazz choreography to distinguish it as such. Good unison this week, Tucker.

Nigel praised Tucker for battling back from the infection and dancing beautifully; Mary noted the synchronization as well; Jenna is moved. And I’m really glad I didn’t know about Courtney before the dance because I’d have had another moment like last week with Robert (who I also didn’t know about beforehand. This Twitter account is a blessing and a curse.) Battling multiple sclerosis and still pursuing a professional career in dance takes some serious courage and determination.

Paul (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke)
Hip-Hop – Comfort Fedoke

[Paul credits his ballroom coach/”twin brother” Gregory]

Graffiti artists at work. Let’s hope this number doesn’t purposely derail him.

Not quite Twilex but Paul did quite surprise me. Lost some energy toward the end but he kept hitting the moves.

Mary calls Paul one of the most versatile dancers on the show (the movement fit him like a soul glove? Oooookay….); Jenna is also impressed and inspired by his versatility; Nigel thought he danced it really well and made it tough for the voters to decide who’s sailing in to the finale.

Hayley (with All-Star Dmitry Chaplin)
Rumba – Dmitry Chaplin

Hayley credits her dance teachers. Big props for travelling 3 hours to get to class—I didn’t want to drive the 1 hour to get to work when I was up in Central Louisiana.

It’s Hayley with the open shirt (and a teeny-weeny leotard) tonight—dealing with a cheating fiancé.

Never mind—Dmitry’s chest is out after all. Hayley’s dancing flowed well but I’m on the fence about the facial expressions and the emotional projection…seemed like she’s pushing it instead of just being.

Jenna, if you’re gonna climb all over Dmitry, I’m grabbing Bodhi up, mmkay? Jenna tells Hayley she can do no wrong….but to challenge herself to let go and dance with total abandon (Nice call—I did see some reserve there and noted it in both performances); Nigel agrees and redeems Dmitry as a choreographer; Mary makes it unanimous and thought she held the technique and built up the steam.

Jenna (with All-Star Mark Kanemura)
Jazz – Mark Kanemura

[Jenna’s inspiration is her late cousin, who despite battling MD throughout her childhood was very active and outgoing.]

All about style…and might I say WAY TO BULK UP, MARK! Though somebody has spent WAY too much time with Sonya Tayeh and Lady Gaga….his special brand of strange has a whole new edge to it.

Quirky cool—though Jenna’s no match for Mr. Left of Center.

Nigel hailed it as phenomenal and quite different, and praises Jenna for her adaptability and joy of dance; Mary loved the “kitchen sink” style and the way Jenna did it; Ms. Elfman loved them both to pieces.

Jasmine (with All-Star tWitch)
Hip-Hop – Stephen “tWitch” Boss

[Jasmine’s inspiration is her mom. Not many single moms would not only nurture and support their child’s artistry but also pick up and move the entire family to another city to help further it in lieu of college. Big ups to her for that.]

Battles of the Streets – I should have known he’d play the superhero angle. The two “alter egos” jockey over who gets to save the day.

You’re such a nerd—damn you, Allison for snatching him up! Clearly, Twitch and tall, leggy contemporary dancers work—Jasmine did really well and kept up with him.

Mary said Jasmine conquered the routine; Jenna loved the sense of humor in the routine and that Jasmine owned it; Nigel agreed and thought she gave a really good go at out-Twitching tWitch.

Amy (with All-Star Travis Wall)
Contemporary – Travis Wall

[Amy’s Rockette cousin is her muse—either Amy’s taller than I thought or they’re taking shorter Rockettes now. I miss out on EVERYTHING…… :-(]

Travis as a player—and DANCING in it! THANK YOU GOD!

Yeah. Tour, Shaping Sound—we’re seeing this again. Eight seasons later and even with more bulk on him, Travis is still magic in motion. Yes, I’m well aware I said nothing about Amy…I’d just be repeating everything I’ve said in every other review.

Jenna thought she combined technique and passion brilliantly; Nigel thought it was beautiful and just confirmed Travis’s genius; Mary agreed and thought Amy’s sophistication and maturity in her dancing was mind-blowing.

It’s Team Tuna out to sea tonight, and I kind of saw that coming….Nigel looks like he’s giving Fik-Shun the same opportunity he gave Cyrus, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, because the boy’s really got something. I’m really afraid that the Karmaniacs are going to force a split vote between Aaron and Fik-Shun, and my prediction will fall just short of the Top 4 I pitched at the top of the season. (Although just like last season, the Top 3 boys are so evenly matched performers I really can’t be mad about whoever makes it to the end.) With everyone being solid tonight, I can all but guarantee for the girls that the finals will be the Jasmine and Amy show, with Hayley coming just short of making the Top 4. But who knows how the votes will go?

SYTYCD Season 10, Week 7: DANCE is a Battlefield

image courtesy of 19 Productions and Dick Clark Entertainment

image courtesy of 19 Productions and Dick Clark Entertainment

The Tour is set and the talent is fierce. Now it’s time to duke it out for the title.

Top 10 Group
Contemporary – Christopher Scott

Wow–the top 10 are candidates for the nursing home already….either that or Christopher Scott has got some interesting ideas about the kids’ futures.

Guest judge:
Debbie Allen, world-renowned dancer/choreographer/actress/director/singer/producer/living legend. It’s a little known fact that Debbie Allen is my adoptive mother. Well, OK, she doesn’t know about it either, but don’t say anything to her about it, alright?

Top 10 come out as soloists for the first time, and Tucker looks like he’s in tip-top shape. Hopefully his work tonight will keep him safe.

Bottom 4 this week:
Tucker
Makenzie
Nico
Jenna

I actually expected Jasmine over Jenna, but that hip-hop last week must have gone full-throttle past the paso doble. Nigel dismissed seeing the solos tonight based on the magnificence of the dancers thus far, and so on with the competition we go.

Amy (with All-Star Brandon Bryant)
Disco – Doriana Sanchez

OK, is Brandon the designated disco boy? I bet when he lied about his age in Season 1 he never expected to go from a contemporary dancer to a disco don….Doriana gives a nice shout-out to Whitney Houston on what would have been her 50th birthday week. Busy and energetic as usual, and the “Disco Location” (was that the attitude pot stirrers or that last drop lift?)?!? The usual glittery, death-defying cardio sprint Doriana is famous for creating. Amy reminded me of the number he did with Tiffany last year.

Mary, don’t make me shank you in your sleep behind Whitney Houston—you could put a Russian folk beat behind I Will Always Love You and it’ll still be fly. But she definitely loved the number and Amy in it. Debbie thought they were well paired in energy, size, dynamic and spirit, and thought Amy was dynamite. Nigel called her vivacious and said the energy she radiated made it appear as if she were dancing on ice. And then he had to go and steal her breath and make her cry by comparing her to Melanie Moore, and said that she is growing into a high-caliber All-Star in her own right.

Aaron (with All-Star Kathryn McCormick)
Contemporary – Stacey Tookey

Stacey channels her love for her husband and gives us this piece celebrating unconditional love.

Damn, boy…just damn. I need to schedule him a screen test, like, RIGHT NOW. I’m almost at Anna Kendrick stage talking about how good this tapper is at contemporary. I’m not gonna say a word—I’ll just let the judges’ standing O and Stacey looking like she’s about to cry from the sheer beauty of it say everything for me.

Debbie was having some moments during the dance—Aaron gets the Dominic Sandoval “Call the fire department” kudos and the pair is praised as a magical couple, saying that Aaron’s performance and his growth over the weeks has raised the bar for the evening and the competition. And she’s ready to go buy her Tour ticket right now….if you can just wire me the money for my seat, Mom, that’d be great. Nigel also give praises and states that the highest praise he can give is noticing the look of pride and happiness in Kathryn’s eyes after the performance (and tears, according to Kathryn), knowing they had danced a winner. Mary adds to the Aaron Adoration Club and agrees with all previous stated accolades and thinks Aaron is inspirational in his growth as well. Poor Aaron looks like he got the same speck in his eye that Amy did because he’s so amazed by what he just accomplished that he’s overwhelmed by it all. Greater things are coming, sweets—buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Fik-Shun (with All-Star Melanie Moore)
Jazz – Mandy Moore

And speaking of our Season 8 champion, here she is with her heir-apparent Amy’s former partner. Melanie and Fik-Shun take on this steamy jazz piece where Melanie’s a performer whose ex-lover come to town and heats things up. Mandy is really pushing Fik-Shun’s dance boundaries—let’s see how well he stepped it up.

Get yo swag on, lil daddy! I still see cutie-pie written all over you but that’s because you’re barely legal; however I could see you smoldering and cranking up the machismo while hitting all those moves. A little more muscle on you and I can see Joshua Allen in you. Well done!

Well, MANDY’S certainly “feeling good”…as is the once again standing panel of judges. Nigel is proud of Fik-Shun’s growth and the improvement of technique, as is Mary, whose also happy with his focus on and improving of his lines, carriage and technique. And the Debbie Allen quote of the night? “Honey, they can say your name is Fik-Shun, but that was real what we saw tonight…..that was the truth.”

Paul (with All-Star Witney Carson)
Cha-Cha – Jean-Marc Genereux

Fresh from the DWTS troupe, Miss Carson is back to create some cha-cha chemistry with Paul. Why Jean-Marc is standing in the middle of rehearsal in a Thomas Dolby-style labcoat and goggles is beyond me….Ballroom Chehon—I mean Paul is in his element here. I mean, since last season and all throughout this past season of Dancing With The Stars I have NEVER seen anybody outdance Witney…until now. THIS is what we should have seen on the Meet the Top 20 show. Paul’s got all cylinders firing now, and he’s fighting for his US crown.

The set design budget is going to be well-extended, because clearly nobody is using those chairs tonight. Mary is trying to downplay again but nobody’s buying it—just tell us what we already know, that he’s dancing his patootie off. She does, and also says that his volume in his dancing has increased—I guess that’s her way of saying that his personality is projecting to the rafters now. Either way, the pair is riding the Hot Tamale Train tonight. Debbie’s having hot flashes again (and, she surmises, so is her husband Norm Nixon and the rest of his NBA buddies over that almost dress Witney has on), and is impressed by the way Paul seamlessly handled the intricate and difficult choreography. Nigel says the two were born to partner each other (He’s got the Chehon vibe and Chehon’s partner….no surprises there), and that with Paul’s skill and personality he is going to make a very, very interesting challenge to win the competition. Happy birthday to PAUL!

Hayley (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop – Christopher Scott

Twitch is trying to get a loan from hard-nosed banking agent Hayley, and turns on whatever charms he can to get it.

It was pretty smooth as cute hip-hop goes, and she carried the character well. I was just a little biased, though—in the “corporate dance” world, the table AND the floor still belong to Sabra Johnson.

Debbie thought the piece was theatrical—props, table, hair toss, etc.—and with that, Twitch stole some of the initial focus from Hayley. But she did think Hayley turned on the character a lot more after the hair came down, and it was a great routine. Nigel waxed nostalgic about Twitch’s journey to commercial success and loved that Hayley got a funkier, fun piece of hip-hop to tackle. He classed her as a dark horse in the competition and lauded her ability to be a dance chameleon—that is, to be able to adapt to each choreographer’s vision and give them exactly what they’re asking form. Nigel thinks that may be enough for her to stay in the game. Mary also thinks that even though she’s sailing under the radar, she’s on the rise to excel in the competition and in her future career. On a side note (since Mary threw it out there), Mary’s face looks a bit thinner. I guess that no-carb, no pancake diet is the culprit…though she’s sounding a bit testy from the lack of them. I’m just sayin’….

Jenna (with All-Star Neil Haskell)
Contemporary – Mandy Moore

Another break-up dance…Mandy is hoping this partnership with Neil forces Jenna to be more engaged with this piece. She had some pretty good moments with last week’s dance at the fountain, so….

Mark Masri—so now I know whose voice has been ringing in my head all season. You do realize how hard it is to NOT visualize those Vegas group dances, right? But oh, how I’ve missed Neil Haskell dancing. (Still kicking myself in the ass for not going to see Bring It On when I had the opportunity.) That last sequence of turns that just melted to the floor? *sigh* Breathtaking.

Nigel gets a Mary age dig in about all the candles onstage—never learned not to poke a hungry bear, did you, Nigel? The censors are going to be working overtime if you keep messing with that woman! He loved the fluidity (and also mentioned that last fluid sink to the floor), and thinks Jenna is probably one of the best all-around dancers with ballroom as a specialty, commending her on her strength in taking those opportunities at the bottom of the votes to come back blazing, strong and in control. Mary was moved by the couple’s movement together and also loved the end sequence—likening it to caramel being laid on top of her favorite ice cream. While I do agree with that visual, Mary—for the love of God, just go eat a cheeseburger! Toss the bun if you have to, mayn! Debbie just made MANDY cry by calling her one of her favorite choreographers in the business, and called Jenna a choreographer’s dream despite her continuous trips to the bottom three/bottom two. She just might have done enough to hang in one more week….we’ll have to see what Makenzie does later. Had she been head to head with Hayley, based on tonight’s performances Jenna would definitely have had the edge.

Jasmine H. (with All Star Marko Germar)
Jazz – Ray Leeper

I remember being nose to nose with Marko at the Season 8 Tour meet and greet, so unless there are lifts in his shoes, Jasmine HAD to be on a lower step going into the break. OK, I guess I’m just that short…or remembering it wrong. Anyway, a hip, cool, slick jazz routine with a little bit of arrogance involved, yet it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sounds like the dance with the bowler hats Marko did with Melanie, but I’ll watch my boy toy do anything. Oh, and I like seeing Jasmine dance, too.

Aw, $#!t—we’re blurring lines, y’all! Jas put a little too much English on her moves; while Marko had that chill, laid-back vibe happening, Jasmine had a barely restrained energy burst she was trying to contain. She reminded me of a kid with his or her mom in the supermarket checkout line who’s just seen the candy display but can’t reach it from their seat in the basket. Choreography was definitely locked down, but their energies didn’t match—one or the other should have moved to meet in the middle, and considering Marko’s already ridden in this rodeo, it should have been her.

While those chairs are gonna be like new from the lack of sitting, that “happy dance” is getting old. If you stop REMINDING Cat about it, she’s stop DOING it…smh…… Oh, brother—et tu, Jasmine? Y’all gon’ stop the madness…. Mary was more drawn to Jasmine in the number and seems to love that energy she emitted. Debbie was also drawn more to Jasmine, and offered a second apology (the first being from Mary) to Marko for virtually “ignoring” him. And Nigel just compared Jasmine to Michael Jackson and the All-Star dancers in the same breath….in his notes he wrote, “style, class, sharp, neat, fun and sassy”—and capped it off with a big ol’ FANTASTIC. Guess they liked it, huh? 😉

Makenzie (with All-Star Jakob Kerr)
Broadway – Spencer Liff

Two people meet in a crowded, smoky club, and it’s a whirlwind. So clearly, we have another fast-paced scorcher. OK…whose idea was it to put arguably the two best sets of legs and pointed feet in the history of the entire series together as partners? Whoever it was, they need a raise and a promotion YESTERDAY. They had the sync I thought Jasmine and Marko should have had, and that was seriously a Broadway revue caliber performance. Different kinds of fabulous from both her and Jenna, so it’s back to being a draw.

Debbie is wowed, literally, and saw old Hollywood starlet in Makenzie’s gait (Cyd Charisse got tossed around again, and Nigel brought out Rita Hayworth. I’m thinking more Leslie Caron. Look ‘em up, younguns.) Nigel echoed my comments about their feet, and is at the end of his rope trying to figure out America’s disconnect with Makenzie. Mary also thought they were amazing and also picked up on the perfect unison the pair danced with.

Nico (with All-Star Comfort Fedoke)
Hip-Hop – Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo

Reptiles at play, or something like that. I’m not gonna lie, I said this would be Nico’s death knell and the choice would be easy. I was ALLLLLLL kinds of wrong. Nico rode the character development wave in from last week and put it into this hip-hop—AND hit all the moves alongside one of the best (if not THE best) girl hip-hop dancers in the show’s history. Despite all of that rolling around on the ground, Nico was not taking his position lying down and went out fighting strong.

Nigel even noticed Nico embracing the quirky as well as the technical, despite the fact that he didn’t like the routine as much as the audience did. And even though I’m sure he knows what he said, Nigel was not giving the satisfaction of pun acknowledge after speaking about Nico’s ability to stay in the character’s “comfort zone.” Mary thought he pulled it off, giving a very deliberate, precise and hard-hitting routine. She, unlike Nigel, liked the “oddly freaky” routine. Debbie caught shades of Jurassic Park with the sharpness of Nico’s head isolations, and thought that amongst the tight competition, he did himself proud.

Tucker (with All-Star Robert Roldan)
Contemporary – Travis Wall

Another guys’ contemporary from Travis, this time about two brothers, one of whom has hit rock bottom and gotten a second chance, and the other who is standing by as a support system. Um, from this point forward, I’m going to need all tall contemporary male dancers to avoid cars entirely—what’s this I hear about an accident last year, Robert?!? Between you, Tucker and Marshea Mason, I just can’t wrap my mind around that kind of potential artistic loss. I’ll even hire a chauffeur for you if you need me to.

Tucker lost a few moments of sync with Robert but it’s clear to see that both of these young men just laid their lives out on the stage for everyone to see. Fix You meets When It Ends and gets a happier, more poignant ending. I’m pretty sure by the time the Tour is over, Tucker will not only have had the biggest, most public cathartic release from his haunts, but he will have developed an acumen for portraying them with powerful restraint. Almost got something in my eye, there….

Mary’s about to lose it, and if she breaks the way she usually does the guys (Travis included) are going to crack, too, and there will be tissue boxes flying left and right. Well damn—even Debbie’s got a lump in her throat…and reminded me of the brotherly bond between Travis and Danny Tidwell as the inspiration for this piece. Nigel did manage to hold it together long enough to acknowledge and praise all of the challenges and triumphs that contributed to the perfect storm that was this piece. All three judges were unanimous in pronouncing the dance amazing.

Thanks to constant interruptions from the hubby I had to break from the show and vote blind on the app to try to preserve the suspense, but I could see Tucker’s brightly illuminated face and knew Nico was on his way home. I thought just by the numbers it would be him, but nobody danced like going home was even a remote possibility—as if the potential miracle of everyone staying was possible. Makenzie’s run also comes to an end tonight, despite Nigel’s best efforts, and Team Tuna slides into the Top 8. Seems that according to the clips we’re losing the two biggest goofballs in the cast; the cuts at this point are based on popularity at this point, as there are no slouches in this Tour cast.

I think Hayley’s performance being the weakest this week (and again, because of everyone’s stellar talent, “weakest” is being used VERY loosely) may put her in danger, unless the public is really that unmoved by Jenna…though I’m hard pressed to understand how anyone could just NOT vote for that performance. I also believe Amy’s safe—who’s seriously gonna vote Joey Potter off the show?—but Jasmine has also been in the bottom, so it will be a very tough call. The boys are in a dead heat—Aaron and Tucker’s Twitter fan clubs (@aaronturnerfans and @TuckerKnoxEmOut) may keep these two off the edge, which spells trouble for my boo Fik-Shun. I don’t know exactly how rabid Paul’s fans are, but aside from Tucker none of the remaining guys has ever been in the bottom, and the law of diminishing numbers means somebody’s got to be down there. And although my main vote support is oldhead first (whoever’s closest to my age I can best live vicariously through, and given that Aaron spent some years here in New Orleans, I gotta back him first), each successive vote-off for the guys is going to break my heart. My only consolations are that I will be all up in the house in New Orleans on November 5 come hell or high water (and considering this is one of the first events back at the Saenger since that most notorious of “high waters” bullied her way through town, I might not want to say THAT too loudly), and each one of them is going to have a blazing career—and most definitely a fan in me for life.

Next week, my All-Stars are going to dip their toes in the choreography pool as well as performing—I know I’m probably not going to get a pairing of anyone with Travis Wall, but maybe if I wish it hard enough…especially since I’ve never seen Travis dance in person. (I only got to see Seasons 3, 4, 8 and 9 onstage. Season 5 is a story best left untold so I can keep my anger at missing it buried, and a new job conflicted with the Season 6/7-All Star tour. Even though I was about 5 minutes away.) Whoever comes in, I’m just so excited to see many of my favorites flexing their multi-talented dance muscles on the show that afforded them the spotlight in the first place.

Wish me luck and lots of 5-Hour Energy shots that I got some good seats for the concert!

SYTYCD Week 8, Top 6—Fighting For The Title

courtesy 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Coming to you guys a day earlier since FOX shifted the show to Tuesday to make room for Simon, LA and the teenyboppers to eviscerate a new crop of hopeful singers….

It’s coming down to the finish, with the Top 6 performing three times in addition to the opening group number–an All-Star number, a duet with one of their fellow competitors, and their solos. A return engagement for Christina Applegate tonight in the guest judge’s chair (I suspect she and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are about to get long-term contract considering how often they’ve been here lately. It’s cool, though–they actually seem to know what they’re talking about, and in some cases how to say it. *side eye at Nigel*).

Top 6 Jazz
Sonya Tayeh’s version of a courtly, S&M sort of thing….it’s like she mashed Madonna’s Human Nature video and the Vogue tour routine together.

Top 6 intro—Cute that Cx3 did each other’s styles….

Tiffany
I’m sorry—I lost ALL focus when Cat got past Jean-Marc Genereux and jumped straight to…BENJI!!!!!! About time they call my hunny back to actually dance! Tiffany could be dancing on one leg with a Carmen Miranda hat on for all I care. *sigh* I must be objective, however, and will force myself to watch her closely. (Note: the TiVo was on pause for a LONG time as I typed this.)

Mr. Schwimmer really bulked up….no, watch TIFFANY!!!! We’re jiving tonight, and Tiffany almost has some Anya going on. I’m amazed she even got any work done in a room with both Benji AND Jean-Marc. This just might replace “Boyfriend” (with the aforementioned Ms. Garis and Danny Tidwell) as my favorite jive of the series. Damn I hate it when I underestimate dancers on this show….

BTW, Mary—why in the Sam Hill didn’t this girl get a ticket on the Hot Tamale train?!?

Same type of contemporary solo as last week, same perfect technique. My 19 year old self is starting to hate you, Tiffany…..from the intricate musicality to the insane number of pirouettes on a dime—do you REALLY have to be the female Travis Wall of the series? Ugh! *pouts and stomps off to my room*

Cole
Dancing with Melanie and working with Sonya Tayeh, Cole gets to explore “his softer side” and tries to break free of an unhealthy relationship. I’m sorry, I’m TRYING to wrap my head around Melanie being mean and clingy, but, um….I’m gonna need to watch this. *1:30 later* Nope, still not buying it. But the softer side of Cole is interesting. Though I think I like the stronger personas, I was intrigued by this number. I was more distracted by Melanie lifting Cole, but having stood next to her I KNOW she’s a solid block of muscle and totally capable. And Christina can suck it about his foot in that pirouette—I slowed it down and unless there was a sickle I couldn’t see from our angle, there wasn’t a thing wrong with his foot.

Have I mentioned that I really love Cole’s mom?

Our boy almost has some real Chehon-style grace going on in that solo….nice work, Cole. I love the concept. I’m reluctant to tag this Twilight the Ballet ‘cause I’m not all that crazy about the series, but that’s about the most current reference that would be relatable to everyone. Hell, this dance might actually get me interested in it…especially with Cole in the starring role.

Eliana
So after doing Twitch’s hip-hop number for Mia week, she actually gets to dance with him this time in a Christopher Scott piece. Vamp goes after the postman—really cute. Almost the same role she played in last week’s foxtrot, but a different decade…though you gotta give girlie props for those hip-hop kick-up thingies (I could have used a less technical term, I know….but I’m a rebel).

I want to hate her too for being such a pretty dancer, but she just draws me in with her solos and makes me forget I couldn’t do what she did in that solo with all the Epsom salt and Icy Hot in the world. Okay, maybe the piqué turn and the pirouettes….but I’d still need all of the above AND some WD-40.

Chehon
Terminator 4: The Ballet. I think he might have been way more nervous than usual, because he doesn’t usually fall out of his pirouettes like that. But I love the strength and badassery—it’s a nice change from the vulnerability he does so well.

Tyce is getting deep again, pairing Chehon with Kathryn McCormick and musing on tragedy and survival. I think I got out of this what everyone else got out of the “Hallelujah” number Alex and Allison did in Season 7. Chehon is really going emotionally deep into these pieces—I love the combination of display of passion and skill that defied Danny Tidwell in Season 2. Not that Danny wasn’t multifaceted; it just never carried across to the audience. Ray Charles could see that in Chehon, and he’s blind AND dead.

Witney
Paso solo—I grudgingly admit Lindsay’s from last week had more substance. But damn if Witney isn’t captivating. I hope this doesn’t hurt her.

I still can’t get behind Marko having no hair….but I digress. Witney and the man who was supposed to take ME away with him perform a Ray Leeper lyrical jazz where my sweetie looks like he’s about to get left at the altar AGAIN. See Marko, Witney’s dad has a shotgun in the back….I TOLD you to come back for me. And Melanie’s moved on, so…oh well, Mr. Germar—that’s the way it is now. Very nice job from the pair of them, both in technique and performance. Witney really has a good grasp of technique and emotion that clearly demonstrates she was meant to be here.

And no, Christina—you did NOT invent “hairography.” It’s been rampant in dance competitions for AGES. You just brought it to a nationally televised stage.

Cyrus
OK, as much as I love my boy, I’m starting to understand why a lot of people are bristling at his longevity. Somebody knew this was coming, because introducing dubstep was NOT a coincidence. But dubstep it is, with a very girly Ms. Fedoke in tow. Christopher Scott choreographs Cyrus and Comfort in a no-holds-barred dubstep routine, which apparently is harder than just freestyling. I wish I knew more about what dubstep is, but I’ll watch it to see what variations there are from regular hip-hop. (I see our dear Comfort has gotten over her aversion to dancing in a bra and beads.) That was nice—sort of a 21st century Nasty, where the lady lures the guy into the movie with her…and leaves him there.

And anybody who can do ANY variety of hip-hop to a Sarah Brightman song has got my respect….

The kids pair with each other again for a third dance number for the evening:

Witney/Chehon: Cha-Cha
This ought to be interesting…let’s see if Chehon’s Latin ballroom hips loosened up any since his first go ‘round with Witney in the samba. Jean-Marc’s back again…and oh, the irony of dancing to Where Have You Been for the second week in a row for Little Miss Firecracker…. I’m having flashbacks of “Hip Hip Chin Chin” with Lacey and Danny right about now, and I thought Chehon was much more relaxed and enjoying himself this time around…though Mary and Nigel tore this number apart with all their technical hyperfocus. I’m with Christina—who noticed any of that?

And can someone tell me how Mary keeps mistaking Witney for Lindsay?!?

Eliana/Cole: Contemporary
An original Mia Michaels for the kids, they butt heads in a piece that could have easily turned into the Foxes routine of Season 3 (I came to appreciate it much later, but on fresh viewing it was pretty out there). Fortunately, there was enough abstraction and pure athleticism to make this accessible. The first time I’ve seen Cole thinking—it was just a split second, but once you’ve gotten used to seeing someone completely disappear into their character it’s an easy thing to spot. Eliana looked a little more pained and defeated than outright angry/hateful, but the aggression I wanted to see in Mercy was in this piece tenfold.

Tiffany/Cyrus: Broadway
The kids take on a Spencer Liff Broadway number in a 50s style “teens gone wild” thing. Didn’t we do this number with Janaya and Brandon already?

AXIS Dance Company fills the space tonight—I dig them for this innovative fusion with able-bodied and physically challenged dancers. And was the able-bodied dancer deaf? If he wasn’t just acknowledging any hearing impaired audience members with the applause sign, I’m all the more impressed.

And (drumroll please….), our Top 4 finalists competing for the twin titles are:
Tiffany (no surprise)
Eliana (it BETTER have been, but no surprise to me)
Chehon (YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!)
Cyrus (saw it coming)

So Witney and Cole get the “cruelest cut of all,” the show before the finale. No #ninjaballetfusion for me. However, I love all three of these boys, so any combo they made would’ve rocked my socks.

No phone numbers this week—which I guess explains the TWO future entries in my TiVo. A performance finale and a grand finale…which is moving a day ahead and giving me a little less time to obsess over details.

Eliana and Cyrus were my faves going in, but I have marveled so much at Chehon’s development I’m once again at a point whether I’m good with either boy winning it. I almost hope Chehon does win just to avoid the vehement backlash I know would come from Cyrus taking the title and possibly reducing fan and ratings numbers again—which is part of why we’re stuck in this format anyway. My boy Cyrus is going to have to pull something really incredible out of his earlobe to make a large faction of America accept him as America’s Favorite Dancer. Tiffany concerns me—she’s been sneaking up and is invisible no more. She is definitely a fierce contender for Eliana to take on, and I really need my girl to fire it with both barrels. It’s about time a ballerina won this thing, and if I have to fall asleep with the phone in my hand like I did with Sabra, so be it. Tiffany definitely deserves to win, no doubt—but I’m sticking with the girl I brung to this here party. We’ll see what happens.