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.

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On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

So, I really wasn’t planning to watch the Grammys this year.

I forget what award or performance snub pissed me off but I stopped watching the Grammys years ago, Googling only the categories I’m interested in to see who won. Categories, by the way, that never got a millisecond of airtime anyway, so my personal boycott was never difficult.

And then, this greeted me early on a Wednesday morning.

On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

Aw crap.

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog for any significant amount of time knows that I will move heaven, earth and maybe some smuggled body parts to watch him, as the old folks used to say, “spit across the line.” So that basically meant my Grammy boycott didn’t stand a chance. And I actually watched it live all the way through the Hamilton performance and win, and was pleased with a great deal of what I saw. I expected no less than complete awesomeness from HAMILTON, and they did not disappoint in either the performance or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s traditionally expected acceptance rap. But I was treated to some very pleasant and well-performed moments, such as the new artist duets, the Kendrick Lamar performance, and the artist tributes. I love that Lionel Richie not only received an all-star musical tribute in connection with his AmeriCares Humanitarian Award, but got to participate in it. And of the memorial performances, my absolute favorite was the collaboration of Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix saluting Maurice White; however I did appreciate the fact that Jackson Browne and The Eagles, Lady Gaga and Bonnie Raitt devoted their stage time to Glenn Frye, David Bowie and B.B. King, respectively.

But even with all of that, there’s still a lot that Grammy should have done WAY better. The sound issues, rushed thank yous, and usual snubs of certain categories in the broadcast have needed attention for years, and are probably among the reasons I stopped watching. But one in particular has folks up in arms–the paltry mention of the late Natalie Cole.

And this Mic article didn’t help the conversation progress:

 On the GRAMMYS and Inclusion: So Close and Yet So Far

Being in broadcasting and having some experience on what it takes to navigate getting a live show on and off the air in a timely manner, I can understand the choices behind some of the argued points; for example, the fact that Natalie Cole got an extended moment during the In Memoriam segment but not a musical tribute seems to be more at the discretion of the performing artists and not the Grammys executives. And as there are a lot of categories that don’t even get an on-air mention, I can understand not having a separate performance scheduled for her.

However, the protests are not entirely wrong….

Something I did not know before I clicked on the Mic article was that Natalie was the first Black artist to win the Best New Artist award. Given that place in Grammy history AND her legacy as the daughter of Nat King Cole–another musical groundbreaker–you would think that would automatically get her at least a couple of lines in the awards presentation. I’m sure Sam Smith wouldn’t have minded saying a thing or two about her in presenting the Best New Artist award, an award he himself received the previous year.

But the larger issue is that I saw VERY FEW female artist categories, more male performers spotlighted than females, and a seeming disregard for providing them any airtime at all–did you see Ed Sheeran’s female co-writer get completely cut off before being allowed to speak? Time crunch or not, that was completely unacceptable.

And this is probably why the Natalie Cole “slight” is such a big deal. People spoke up about the men who passed on. Most of the male presenters and performers got their full say. And while three of the biggest female names in current popular music got solo spots, the rest of the ladies were lumped into duets and groups–good performances, mind you, but it gives the appearance that female solo artists are undervalued. There needs to be a better balance between the big name draws and the up and comers, the male and female artists, the popular and less exposed genres, what’s expressive and what sells. Naturally, there’s no way to make everybody happy every time…but what we see is not lining up with what you’re saying. You cannot tell us you celebrate all kinds of music and feature the same artists and categories every single year. You cannot keep parading a musical sausagefest and then say how proud you are of women’s contributions to the field. That’s why people feel that Natalie Cole deserved more than she got…not only for the sake of her legacy, but for the women who stand on her shoulders.

Fatal Four-way: SYTYCD Season 12 Performance Finale

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This is it! The final new dances of the season from four ferociously fierce performers! The kids have five dances apiece tonight, so it’s definitely going to be nonstop action tonight.

(I know there was one year that time was short and they didn’t air a Top 4 group dance, but this has to be the first year I’ve seen them just not do one at all….hmmm…..)

Hailee and JaJa – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Misha Gabriel and Nick Bass (Song: Put It In The Bag, Kalenna featuring B. Simm)

A Hail-Ja reunion, with the girls as two outlaws running from the crime scene…and apparently Hailee has kicked her hip-hop game into another gear and JaJa is playing catch-up.

“My Homies Still” for 2015. JaJa was a little too in the pocket for me, but then again Hailee was trying too hard. They were both good, but I wasn’t wowed. Didn’t make me say Hail-Ja tonight.

Nigel didn’t think they were authentic robbers, but did say that they’d stolen his heart….. *groan* He did think it was a great fun routine and looked like they had fun working together. Paula thought the girls were equally matched and also noticed the complementary swagger and fun they brought to the dance. Jason was impressed and thought it was a strong performance, with Hailee playing the different personality levels and JaJa holding tight to her hard street facade–and both coming across beautifully.

Virgil and Gaby – Lyrical Hip-Hop
Choreographer Phillip Chbeeb (Song: Slip, Elliott Moss)

Before I even talk about the dance and the dancers, can I just say how much it thrills me to type the words “Choreographer Phillip Chbeeb?” I ♡ him SO much….

Gaby is embodying all of Virgil’s most beautiful memories that he has to let go of in order to move forward. Phillip is insane….don’t get me wrong, I adore his insanity, but the complexity of movement in this piece is definitely challenging.

Like most Phillip Chbeeb fans, I recognized this piece from the first move, and I purposely did not seek out his YouTube rendition until after watching the show. There’s a magic Phillip has that no one else can really capture. But I think Virgil and Gaby did a fine job of translating his vision and conveying the emotions of the piece. As expected, some of the transitions were a little bumpy, but you could get past a lot of that just by watching the pair’s connection with each other.

Phillip is pretty overcome though, so it’s safe to say that the choreographer thought they nailed it…..

Paula loved the complexity and texture Phillip brought to the piece, and thought Virgil and Gaby danced it brilliantly. Yummy, fun and interesting are her choice adjectives of the day. Jason appreciated the originality of the choreography and thought the two beautifully danced a great combination of the stage and street styles. Nigel was also duly impressed with the dancers and the choreographer and congratulated all on a job well done.

JaJa and Gaby – Jazz
Choreographers RJ Durell and Nick Flores (Song: Woman (Oh Mama), Joy Williams)

An expression of the duality within us all, JaJa and Gaby have flamenco-like skirts, twists, tangles and lifts to contend with in this number. (Nobody said Top 4 was gonna be easy….you gotta EARN this.) But Team Strage (really, Travis?) is coming with that power….

Loving these costumes right off the bat…they could easily bring that Top 20 Dia de Los Muertos piece on tour and segue into this one. But let me at least watch it to see if that should even be a possibility….yep. It would be an interesting musical segue, but that strong, forceful piece of music combined with these two ladies channeling their inner Frida Kahlo works very much for me. Gabi REALLY called on the ancients in her Latina blood to give the grand presence she gave in this performance, allotting the slightest of edges over JaJa. And I mean VERY slight, as JaJa was giving it her all and a couple of other people’s all in this dance as well.

Jason thought it was a strong number and said he enjoyed it “like two mojitos on a hot Labor Day.” Nigel thought the ladies matched the passion of the song and the choreography, and thought JaJa needed to relax her shoulders and be less tense in her power. But he also projected either of them to win, so…. Paula pretty much summed her critiques in this quote: “It takes an athlete to dance, but it takes an artist to be a dancer.” Great testament to how well these two strong women blend their skills and styles and create magic.

JaJa and Virgil – Contemporary
Choreographer Stacey Tookey (Song: I Love You (Acoustic), Woodkid)

A relationship that’s lost its spark, with Virgil being the one to remind JaJa of where their love began. (A little close to home right now, Stacey…..) And again, Stacey is not playing anything down…these two Team Street dancers are going to have to dig in and find some technical ease and still get the emotional punch across.

Are you serious right now? I mean, are you SERIOUS? A quick glance at the screen without the backstory would raise the question, “When did Amy Yakima go redhead?” We just watched Virgil–last week with Melanie and just a few moments ago with Gaby–so there’s not as much shock there…though I WILL say that manly presence shot up a hundredfold. But JaJa just transformed into a contemporary dancer right before our eyes. Any technical bobbles were infinitesimal because I couldn’t see them. These judges are going to have to reach to find a flaw here.

Nigel makes a small note about the lack of technique showing, but overall is so impressed by their high levels of commitment and performance he basically just gushes about their excellence. Paula is proud of their technical development and the amount of attention they’ve devoted to it, saying they’ve come leaps and bounds from where they started. Jason agrees wholeheartedly, saying many of the same things and equally expressing his pride in the two of them.

Virgil and Hailee – Broadway
Choreographer Josh Bergasse (Song: Billy-A-Dick, Bette Midler)

Quiet girl living in the city confronts noisy drumming upstairs neighbor, and mayhem ensues. Lots of character and new acrobatic moves that test the laws of physics and trust.

Now this is believable Broadway from Hailee. I still think the other genres suit her better, but she combined the moves and the character and really sold it tonight. The music wasn’t too far off from what was in After Midnight, so Virgil just landed himself in a very familiar pond and took off swimming.

Paula said they nailed the timing and the fun, and was really lighthearted. She also gave Virgil props for taking the note about getting more lift in his jumps. Jason concurs, but also comments that while Virgil nailed his character, Hailee was hit-or-miss in places, and also said while he enjoyed the number, he felt the pair had already performed better in previous numbers that evening. Nigel sees Jason’s point but did think their personalities really came out. And OH MY GOD DID HE JUST OUT THAT WOMAN’S PREGNANCY ON LIVE TV?!? Cat, I never would have guessed because that dress is amazing! Another DANCE baby!

Hailee and Gaby – Contemporary
Choreographer Travis Wall (Song: Do Not Hang Your Head, Elizabeth and the Catapult)

Well, if you’re gonna send Team Stage out on a high note, might as well put Coach Travis in the game. He’s having the girls portray the fear of not being accepted….”love has no boundaries, and we should feel the power of that.”

Right now I feel like Nigel right after Katee and Joshua did “No Air” for the first time in Season 4……that was really, really good. I noticed one slightly off moment in the synchronization but it wasn’t enough to pull my focus from the connection these ladies had. Very nice.

Jason said the girls brought life to Travis’s amazing vision. I get exactly where he’s coming from when he says “I’d pay money to see that” after a particularly effective performance–art is free but some art is just that worth it that you’re willing to give it that high a value. And I think this qualifies. Nigel acknowledged that the feelings they produced onstage were the most important thing, and thought it was beautiful to see. Paula was truly moved by the simple dignity and honesty of the routine and deemed it special…which prompted Nigel to muse about how it seems that guys are unable to achieve that same depth of comfortable connection with a number like that. Cat jumps in….and take note, Nigel–THIS is how you name check SYTYCD routines….and mentions Travis’s creation for Kent and Neil back in Season 7. Leave it to Paula, though, to bring this tangent train back to the station by expressing how nice it is to be able to manifest such concepts through dance.

A brief time-out between All-Star duets and contestant solos for the coaches to muse about their last two contestants standing….

Gaby – Magalenna, Sergio Mendes
This is NOT the song to tackle with a technical and intricately syncopated tap number. That is, unless your name is Gaby Diaz. From the moment she auditioned, got cut and determined she was hitting EVERY CITY until she walked away with a ticket to Vegas, you could see this girl was bound to do great things. There’s not one number of hers this season that has tanked–a few got some small critiques here and there but her skill has never been faulted. And of all of the contestants, she’s been the most versatile because (and I type this before her All-Star duet comes up) she is the only one who has not once danced in her own style outside of her solos and a couple of 8 counts in a Team Stage collaboration. This is her edge to win it.

Virgil (with All-Star Joshua Allen) – Hip-Hop
Choreographers Phoenix and Pharcyde (Song: Let’s Go, Trick Daddy featuring Twista and Lil Jon)

Oh shit–the dudes’ version of Run The World! This is already awesome. (Virgil, you cute and all, but step on my boo thang one mo’ gin….)

That was almost “Hello, Good Morning” worthy right there….the first solid bit of macho aggression I’ve seen out of Virgil yet. Neptune had better get with Joshua and start practicing….

Nigel has been possessed by the spirits of Mary Murphy and Ozzy Osbourne simultaneously, and is standing and yelling and clapping and throwing up old man gang signs. I’m not sure, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he liked it. I mean, he has hollered himself hoarse, y’all. Paula is calling this her favorite of all of Phoenix and Pharcyde’s pieces this season, and acknowledges the heroic, powerful tour de force that is Virgil Gadson. Jason just jumps up and gets juiced like his British homie to the left, so judging from that AND the standing ovation, I’mma say the love is unanimous for this piece.

Virgil – A Beautiful Mine, RJD2
You know, it’s such a shame this boy doesn’t have the charisma or the tenacity to survive and thrive in this business…..I’m telling you, if this boy doesn’t blow up in a major way 2 months after this tour, the casting agents just really don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Virgil’s life is going to be spent in entertainment one way or another, and we’re all going to love it.

Hailee (with All-Star Marko Germar) – Jazz
Choreographer Ray Leeper (Song: All Night (Don’t Stop), Janet Jackson)

Total jazz spotlight for Hailee….with her all up on my man again. You and Gaby are gonna make me sneak y’all…..

A couple of rough transitions, and I’d have liked to have seen her do this in those boots Gaby wore. But we all know Marko is about to teach Derek and Jim this routine for the tour.

Paula said Hailee dances with ferocity and intensity, and that’s what makes her stand out….though she thought, as difficult as the choreography was, that Hailee wasn’t as challenged in this one. Jason said she brought the power required for the dance and the music, but would have preferred more fire and grit. However, he does commend the level of excellence produced by her in the five routines performed this week. Nigel said she brought the fire and gave her 100%.

Hailee – Cold Hearted, Paula Abdul
The biggest bang you can go out with is to use a judge’s song and start your routine at the bridge of said song, throwing all that talent at America’s face like, “Let’s do this, Brutus!” Best solo I’ve seen from her yet.

JaJa (with All-Star Cyrus Spencer) – Animation
Choreographer Christopher Scott (Song: Kaolo, Yellow Claw)

The minute they said animation I dared not hope I’d see Mr. Spencer back on the stage….but he and Christopher Scott were the only logical choices for this….which makes Chris’s decision to continue the story from Cyrus’s finale duet with tWitch that much more serendipitous. Animation 3.0 coming at you…..

Cyrus is really little….he’s lost weight. That’s about all I got here because there’s no use in vomiting words over words about how JaJa MURDERED that dance and outshined Cyrus AND tWitch in the process. Nigel’s right….this fight is coming down to Gaby and JaJa, and it’s going to be a close one because JaJa is throwing haymakers.

Jason is standing, so it’s safe to assume this one wowed him. That and the stuttering. Nigel was not as wowed with the sequel as he wanted to be, saying JaJa is so proficient in her style that the inherent promise of “bigger and better” implied by the word sequel did not deliver. (I can actually see his point there–as intricate as the lab smash automation section was, it didn’t carry that same impact as that opening glass shatter of the original routine….which in turn, showed as status quo for JaJa instead of groundbreaking.) He didn’t deny, however, that JaJa was impeccable in her movement and brilliant in the routine. Paula acknowledges that the choreography plays to JaJa’s strengths, but does see Nigel’s point as well.

JaJa – Street Side, 20 Killz
JAJA. IS. BRINGING. THE. BIG. GUNS. She is not playing, y’all. She has mastered street dance and is invading the stage disciplines with all the heart that little body can muster. And while Russell Ferguson still stands as the only fully untrained dancer to win, there has yet to be a female in this rare air….until now.

Gaby (with All-Star Zach Everhart) – Tap
Choreographer Anthony Morigerato (Song: Dibidy Dop (Swing Mix), Club Des Belugas featuring Brenda Boykin)

I KNEW they weren’t going to let me down! Gaby gets a tap routine, and of course, no one else could have done it but Anthony Morigerato. And now that I see the concept, there was no other choice than Zach Everhart….he’s already tackled stairs with Valerie Rockey, so what’s a few boxes 2 feet off the ground? This is the showstopper here, and whether it was practically or strategically placed last, these next two minutes may well seal this contest for Gaby.

J. Lo, have you met Gaby? You will.

Game, set and goddamned match.

Nigel is tickled pink and bowled over by Gaby’s talent and tenacity. Paula (and I keep forgetting we have at least two tappers on the judges’ panel) throws out adjectives like relentless, magnificent and awe-inspiring. Jason (and that’s why I said at LEAST two tappers) kept it short and simple and told Gaby that he’s in love with everything she does, and proceeds to give her another standing ovation….from atop the judges’ table. High praise indeed, with absolutely no pun intended.

That’s a wrap to the night and the season, folks! Just a short wait to see who lands in the champion’s circle this year….four very worthy opponents have thrown their gauntlets and shattered every TV screen in America from the inside. Let’s see who’s standing at the top.

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SYTYCD 11 Finale–Victor Victorious: The Ricky Redemption

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

It’s the finale of Season 11 and the results are in!

As has been standard over the past few seasons, several dances from the season are revisited based on judges’ choices, finalists’ faves and a fan pick based on social media vote…with all of the choices being likely fodder for the upcoming concert tour.

Tonight’s judging panel, along with stalwarts Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy, include early judges Tara Lipinski and Jenna Dewan-Tatum, and in their first panel appearances this season, legends Adam Shankman and Debbie Allen.

Mary Murphy is up first and picks Casey and Jessica’s Week 5 breakout contemporary, Travis Wall’s “Like Real People Do.” It lost some of the first time organics but it’s still a good piece, and they naturally nailed it technically, as usual.  They’ll get it hammered out for the Tour….Debbie Allen makes her first appearance this season and picks Valerie and Ricky’s hip-hop duo courtesy of Pharside and Phoenix.  The minute I heard “Turn Down For What” start I knew this was destined for heavy repetition.  Considering it actually made me like the song, that’s a pretty good thing.  Nigel’s choice was a nice little brag session, picking Rudy’s duet with FORMER All-Star Allison Holker–now a cast member and the latest SYTYCD alum on Dancing With The Stars–in the Ray Leeper “Dirty Diana” jazz from Michael Jackson Week. Nice cross plugs, Nigel…but how you mentioned everybody BUT Chelsie Hightower in that list is unfathomable.  For shame!  Jenna loves her some Rudy as well, as her selection is the Sonya Tayeh jazz piece “What You Need” performed with Tanisha in Top 20 week 2.  That was a good piece and an excellent showcase for Tanisha’s abilities. Adam Shankman, also in the studio for the first time this season, gives the best intro EVER: “I want to let those two kings know that THIS queen is a fan!”  Naturally, he’s referring to the fresh from last week Pharside and Phoenix hip-hop number “The Antidote,” given to Zack and Ricky, and I have to say those boys were just as filthy (Adam’s words) this week as they were last week.  Tara brings back the Nappytabs hip-hop “Get Low,” performed by my boo Emilio Dosal and All-Star and Degree pitchwoman Jasmine Harper, which is lucky for them as you’ll see a few paragraphs down.

Blessedly, there was no official ranking this year, but we were still treated to memorable moments from the auditions.  Most were expected–Courtney “How you doing?” Barnes, Jerrod “Hey Ms. Mary!” Swain and the 18 1/2 year old J4–but also included, and greatly appreciated, was Dani Platz, a young lady re-entering the dance world after a stint in recovery for an eating disorder.  Her emotive expression of her experience through her dancing, and judge Christina Applegate’s recognition of her voice in that piece, was touching and inspiring, and I applaud the producers for including it.

The top four kids also get to pick their favorites:

Zack goes with his breakthrough contemporary, Sonya Tayeh’s “Europe After the Rain” with All-Star Amy Yakima; Valerie sticks to her roots and picks the “Sing” tap Anthony Morigerato created for her and fellow finalist Zach Everhart; Jessica reprised the “When I Go” contemporary from the previous week, choreographed by Stacey Tookey and performed with All-Star Robert Roldan; and Ricky went all the way back to the first performance show and pulled his “Vow” contemporary from Sonya Tayeh, that he performed with fellow finalist Jessica Richens.

The evening would not be complete with an over-the-top foray from Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who not only “attempts” some Travis Wall choreography onstage but whips out his own ticket to Vegas for next season…who’s gonna tell him they’re back in Pasadena now?

Since we’re back to a single champion, we get that dramatic drawn-out results reveal, and the 4th place contestant is announced–Zack Everhart.  (Objectively, I have to finish this piece, but know that I call complete and total bullshit on America’s vote.  At the very least I think he should have been Top 2 for the astronomical growth he’s had this year.)

The audience got to select from three hip-hop numbers in the course of the season: the snake piece from Emilio and All-Star Jasmine Harper (#SYTYCDgetlow), the skeleton piece from Serge and Carly (#SYTYCDskeleton), and the piece from Week 4 with Casey and Brooklyn (#SYTYCDhustle). In a move that once again proves I TOTALLY cannot read the America audience, the popular vote went to #SYTYCDskeleton, the piece “Senile” with Carly and Serge.  Whaddayaknow, the audience can appreciate subtle skill after all. (However, I was partially correct in my surety that we’d be seeing “Get Low,” since as mentioned above it wound up being Tara Lipinski’s choice for an encore.)

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Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Also on tap were the clear and overwhelming winners of the Crew contest–The Wanted Ashiqz.  All four crews were great and had their own something special, but there was that extra edge from Wanted Ashiqz that gave me the feeling that they would wind up on the finale….and they did not disappoint.  The hip-hop/Bollywood fusion group has an incredibly high production value with moves and precision to match.

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

Alright, it needs to be said–Sonya Tayeh and Christopher Scott, just get married already and have a SYTYCD baby!  The Top 10 + 10 get blessed by the Miracle Duo’s latest concept piece, which is basically just  people helping people and being kind whenever you can.  I sure hope they can make this work with 13 people, because this not being on the Tour would be criminal.

Even Cat gets in a pick, and as it happens, it’s a duet from what is determined as the top two finalists–Ricky and Valerie reprising their very first partnership, the contemporary “Oh Darling” from Travis Wall.  Which, of course, means that Jessica falls short of the title in 3rd place…and, like Zack before her, is eliminated immediately after her last performance of the night.  Something tells me more people knew the results beforehand than have let on….

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Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

So it’s down to another couple, and America’s vote goes exactly where I thought it would (despite my hopes for a surprise win from a tap dancer): Ricky Ubeda.  Honestly, I really have nothing against the kid other than it’s yet another contemporary dancer taking the title.  But that’s not really fair to let my hang-ups and wishes color his victory.  In truth, any of the four finalists possess a level of technique and passion that was worthy of a win.  But you could definitely see something extra special in Ricky.  On top of that absolutely insane level of technique embedded in his muscle memory, the high degree of passion displayed every time he stepped onto the stage essentially cemented America’s choice.  Nigel called him a magician of dance very early on, and I have to admit that he’s right.  The combination of skill and joy is entrancing, and what makes the experience even more profound is watching Ricky AFTER performing.  The boy was literally spent and either near or in tears after every single performance–I honestly believe we as an audience felt a mere fraction of everything he put into his routines, which were often superhuman but looked as natural as breathing.

So Ricky is the latest So You Think dance ambassador, and he definitely earned it.  As a former teacher myself–and as a big fan of Ricky’s teacher, Season 6 contestant Victor Smalley–there’s a certain feeling of pride and joy when you see one of your students excel at pursuing their dreams…and when those dreams just happen to be ones you yourself reached for and just missed, that extra vicarious thrill of victory has got to feel incredible.  I imagine both of these Miami boys are over the moon right now, with no signs of coming down anytime soon.

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Miami boys represent!

UPDATE: I am ashamed to say that in my haste to publish on time I missed a few things. Enrique’s performance was lovely (and why is he doing the one name thing? SMH), but I was focused on the dancing. And I have to go watch again and fully appreciate the Les Twins performance. But it is absolutely shameful that I did not even mention Michael Demecki, winner of So You Think You Can Dance Australia….where do I even begin? That boy has moves Blake McGrath can only dream of….and I LOVE me some Blake McGrath. AND he danced to Cole and Lindsay’s paso song? Let’s just say it’s a good thing Ricky wasn’t competing there. Bravo, young man.

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Image courtesy of 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions

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SYTYCD 11, Top 4–Gimme the 4-11

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This is it–the last competitive performance show of the season! The top 4 dance in as many incarnations as can be thought of…group, duets, All-Stars and solos.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson makes his first appearance of the season on the judges’ panel, thus a guarantee that hilarity will ensue over the course of this evening….

Top 4 group
Contemporary–Travis Wall

A piece essentially about equality, the four dance to “Wind Beneath My Wings” in a physical personification of their dance journeys to this point. I’m not sure what’s with this trend of the all white color scheme on the final four group number…probably just coincidence, but you know I notice stuff like that….

Along with pairing configurations, we also have every conceivable dance style in existence represented this evening…observe:

Valerie/Ricky
African Jazz–Sean Cheesman

“Survival of the Fittest”–the kids are racing to get to the finish.

They got the mechanics but not the organics; the athleticism was high level, though.

Nigel was breathless watching and thought stamina was high; Mary marveled about their athleticism and energy and called the number animalistic and uninhibited; Jesse was just thrilled to see them and thought they were already at at high level coming into the competition.

Jessica/Zack
Broadway–Spencer Liff

Two lovers at their secret rendezvous, complete with 1940s noir feel and a staircase as a prop.

Jessica had some Cyd Charisse vamp happening (Jessica Rabbit had to have SOME inspiration), and Zack is very engaging and personable with flashes of technical brilliance. I can’t quite figure out who he reminds me of–perhaps a bit of a Tommy Tune vibe because of his build, but there’s an extra something I can’t yet place.

Mary said it was sexy, sensational and stunning stair work, and gave kudos to Zack’s legs, too, stating they were just as noticeable and impressive as Jessica’s; Jesse thinks Zack and Jessica could hit the Broadway stage tomorrow with no problem; Nigel commended both of their growth, calling Zack gifted and Jessica a standout.

Viewers’ choice this year is between three average hip-hop numbers: the snake piece from Emilio and All-Star Jasmine Harper (#SYTYCDgetlow), the skeleton piece from Serge and Carly (#SYTYCDskeleton), and the piece from Week 4 with Casey and Brooklyn (#SYTYCDhustle). The Casey/Brooklyn piece is off my radar mainly because of that unfortunate costume choice, and that skeleton piece was underappreciated, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jazzy and my boo take the stage tonight.

Valerie/Zack
Contemporary–Tyce Diorio

Yes darlings, you read that right–the two tappers left standing are paired in a contemporary piece. This will be the defining, game-changing number of the evening, having them dance against type and dig deep into their emotional wellsprings. Tyce has them portraying lovers overcoming an obstacle…the obstacle being the woman’s blindness and physical limitations.

The choreography itself is nothing above ordinary; what transforms it is the characterization these two moving actors bring to it.

And Cat says the same….

Jesse: commended Valerie on her characterization and ability to connect with Zack while keeping her “handicap” in place; Nigel called it a remarkable blend of artistry and tough subject matter; Mary proclaimed that it’s no longer a surprise why they’re top 4, and found the honesty of their portrayals moving.

Jessica/Ricky
Jazz–Ray Leeper

No concept, just a push for excellence. The best they have to offer.

Great work from them. Technically solid.

Nigel: Loves the two as a couple since the first Top 20 show, perfect fit; Mary: clean, concise, full of power; Jesse: adorable little sprockets and topped even his own fanboy levels to take a selfie with the kids from his seat.

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Jason Mraz music break….I’m not NOT a fan, but I wanna see the kids dance.

Valerie/Jessica
Bollywood–Nakul Dev Mahajan

“Bollywood Divas”…Feminine/classical mix–could this be the girls’ take on Robert and Billy’s routine from Season 7?

No…not as much palpable energy from the girls. But it was fun, clean and well executed.

Mary hailed them as stunning Bollywood divas and thought they did an amazing job; Jesse was impressed with the expressive joy and athleticism; Nigel stated that Bollywood was a fusion of all dancing and it makes him smile….so I’m going to assume he liked it. 😉

Zack/Ricky
Hip-Hop–Christopher Jennings and Krystal Meraz

Season 3 had the two princes; Season 11 brings you the two kings in this piece called “Crowd Favorite.” (Or is that Crown? Either works for me.) The King of Diamonds and the King of Clubs duke it out.

Of the two Zack has a slight swag edge. However, Ricky ain’t no punk…..

Jesse jokingly dubbed them the personification of Nigel and Mary’s relationship, but called the pair spectacular; Nigel stated they were the “two least likely urban, swagtastic dancing dudes ever on the show”; Mary said they were amazing with a side of scream, and that it was totally unexpected.

And now that the kids have been properly shuffled amongst each other, time for their All-Star pieces in their own style (more or less) and their final defining solos.

Valerie (with All-Star Aaron Turner)
Tap–Anthony Morigerato

Absolutely no reason not to take advantage of the show’s highest ranking tapper when there are two in the final four this year, right? Aaron returns and in his pairing with Valerie gets involved in yet another tumultuous relationship. The choreography is precise and exacting (Anthony’s words) so the two have to be clean and stylish.

This was some insane syncopation accompanying Sammy Davis Jr.’s vocals, particularly in the scat section. Heels would have been nice for the look since we kind of had that 1940s glam happening, but I know those are more difficult shoes to navigate with this kind of fast footwork. And Valerie’s trademark red shoes were really cute, so I’ll take it. Marvelous job.

Nigel thought the piece was so full of love; Mary dubbed them “perfect partners”; Jesse likened Valerie to being the “Michael Jordan” of the show, a nod to her excellence in outside style but being total magic in her own most comfortable one. I got it, Jesse…it only seemed like you were rambling aimlessly.

Ricky’s first up for retrospective and solo duty…his passion was on display for sure, but the technique is so embedded in this boy’s muscle memory that the two are indistinguishable at this point. Dance is the reason that Ricky Ubeda exists.

He has a quick change over the commercial break to go right into his All-Star duet.

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

Ricky is at rock bottom, with Kathryn acting as his angel on Earth–the force to lift him from his troubles and worries into a lighter, happier being.

So much joy expressed in movement….and Ricky’s sobbing again. I mean really–you hear people use the phrase “dance is in my DNA” but you can only have an abstract grasp on that concept until you watch Ricky. He is a literal personification of that.

Mary thought it was spectacular and breathtaking; Jesse had no other commentary outside calling it a brilliant performance and delivering a blushworthy takeoff on Toni Basil’s “Mickey” (or Weird Al’s “Ricky,” since the name fit); Nigel said Ricky is the perfect ambassador for the show.

Valerie is next, and it’s very telling that the song used for her retrospective package is titled “Unbreakable”….well dammit, if you’re gonna go out with a bang and there’s an upbeat, tappable song out there with your name literally on it, you might as well go for it, right? Using your music and your feet to remind the people what your name is–go ‘head, girl!

Zack (with All-Star Aaron Turner)
Tap–Anthony Morigerato

Boys’ duet, with Aaron as the bartender and Zack as the weary patron coming in to tip a glass and spill all his troubles. I did not notice that Zack and Aaron had crossed paths before back in Season 9’s auditions. Both were cut back then…and look at them now. Awesome.

Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” is the tune of choice for this piece, and a more appropriate song you cannot find.

OK, I’m not even gonna review this. I’m just gonna post the screenshot of the Facebook message I left on Anthony’s wall immediately after I watched them.

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Cat actually used the words spiritual and divine, and the judges gave a well-deserved standing ovation.

Jesse sat marveling at Zack’s growth, brilliance and malleability; Nigel attempted to pull a Christina Applegate and told Anthony, SHUT UP! (It’s actually “Shut your face!” Nigel but don’t worry, I said it for you); Mary saw passion from the guys from the beginning, and simply loved it.

Jessica’s solo turn brings it back to the beginning–a revisit to the audition piece that got her the ticket in the first place. It might be a man’s world in the song, but Jessica is putting y’all on notice with the rest of that lyric: “….wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.”

Jessica also has a quick change moment to prep for her duo.

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

I guess they said jazz and contemporary were close enough (unless Jessica pulled a Jasmine Harper and actually REQUESTED contemporary)….

According to Travis, the piece essentially asks this one question: “Will he miss me if I leave?” Jessica is trying as best she can to stop playing it safe with her dancing and just let loose and get involved in the character of the piece.

Jessica has gotten stronger as a moving actor; her technique was always good but she’s letting that take more of a backseat to her emotional projection.

Nigel was just as impressed with her acting improvement as well as dance ability, and dubbed her his favorite girl this season (“I love you to bits”); Mary got choked up, but used spontaneous combustion and electrifying to describe her experience of the piece; Jesse named it his favorite of the night, and hailed Travis Wall as an “unending well of creativity.”

Zack closes out the night with the evening’s final solo. This dude is too cool for school….smooth style, ridiculous rhythms and an out-of-the-box song choice. I’m rooting for you, kiddo….

And that puts a wrap on Season 11–it’s all over but the voting results. It’s clearly no secret that of the remaining four, I’m putting all my chips on Zack. Which is not to say that any of the other three finalists are any less talented, because each one of them is stellar in their technique and specialty styles as well as being able to adapt brilliantly to all of the other styles. But after 11 seasons and 211 contestants, there have only been 8 classified tap dancers on the show, and only 3 of those have gotten to the final four. All of the other dance styles are represented somehow, and it would be nice to see either Zack or Valerie take the title. But I’m thinking of the total packages–both the prize package and what each contestant brings to the table–and with a show like On The Town, Zack has the most comprehensive skill set combined with the biggest exponential growth to flourish in that featured role. Plus, I like an underdog.

We’ll get the skinny soon enough…..

SYTYCD 11, Top 6–Boogie Nights and Technicolor Dreams

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Last show before the final choice is made!

Christina Applegate is back for another week of judging

Top 6 group–Hip-Hop

Blacklights, makeup and props…choreo looks Dave Scott but concept looks Pharside and Phoenix.  But no, it’s Nick DeMoura…the Biebs’s choreographer, “co-host” for the Crew Challenge, and purveyor of a new instructional dance video.

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All-Star pairs, contestant pairs (which by chance or choice happen to be original pairings) and solos for the crew tonight….and we start by reuniting Valerie and Ricky

Valerie/Ricky
Broadway—Spencer Liff

Spencer is choreographing a Technicolor dream….

Valerie’s in this aqua frothy dress and the kids get to play with a swing.  Spencer’s combined a little Fosse with a little Gene Kelly/Cyd Charisse (or Leslie Caron, if you prefer)—Valerie actually reminds me of Singin’ in the Rain era Debbie Reynolds…and Ricky has the physique of Bob Fosse with the technique of James Mitchell or Jacques d’Amboise.  I was quite impressed with that jump through the swing.

No they DID NOT embarrass that poor girl with rehearsal footage of her slip getting caught on the swing!

Nigel loved the feel and thought that either of them would make a welcome addition to the On The Town cast should they win, and upon him bringing up and instant replaying Ricky’s jump I’m even more impressed that it was a jeté; Christina thinks they both have That Thing to take home the win; Mary that their chemistry was honest and thought it was breezy and sweet.

Jessica and Casey are teased up to their disco finest going into the break….wonder what they’re doing….

Jessica/Casey
Disco—Doriana Sanchez

Didn’t see that one coming…. -_-

A “sexy, fun and technical” disco…do you teach any other kind, Doriana?

Casey just might give Brandon Bryant some relief as a future disco All-Star—the kid was just the right amount of clean and kitschy.  Jessica did well though some moments of hesitation were visible, particularly in landing that end pose, but she definitely threw her whole self into the experience.

Christina “ages” herself by bringing up Denny Terrio and Charo to compare the kids—she kinda has a point, which dates me too, but whatever—but she thought it was fabulous, but noticed a shade of fear in Jessica’s expression on a few moves (in a most indelicate fashion….snot, Christina? Really?); Mary was thrilled dizzy by the kids’ performance; Nigel proclaimed it tremendous and agreed that the kids did very well.

(Coming up, cooling off Nigel’s hot head and making the kids cry with family videos tonight….starting with Ricky.)

Ricky—Solo

Dude, please…shut your face.  Just shut it.  You might not be my vote but you definitely have skills and passion.

Jacque/Zack
Foxtrot—Jean-Marc Genereux

“Zack Astaire and Jacque Rogers”—seriously, J-M?  Them’s big shoes to fill.

A little rocky in spots, and Jacque REALLY has to break out of that “smiley” face and present something more genuine, but it was a very nice number.

Mary called it, too—though she called it “snazzy and jazzy” she also said it was rough around the edges, showing signs of promise in areas but clunky footwork in closed hold and tension in other areas; Nigel agrees and actually used the words “herky-jerky”—Sir Lythgoe was not impressed; Christina thought the faces were a bit disingenuous and forced, and didn’t feel the chemistry as much from them…”dance from your souls, first….”

Jessica—Solo

This solo was basically a turnfest, but it was one of the most honest performances I’ve seen from her.  I’m guessing she actually saw that package with her family before she danced….

Musical interlude IN THE MIDDLE of the show…a-ha.  I have actually heard this song by Rixton before, but I wouldn’t be able to pick these children out of a lineup if they were wearing nametags.

Valerie (with All-Star Stephen “tWitch” Boss)
Hip-Hop—Will “Willdabeast” Adams

Newlywed couple’s first dance at the reception….a) does Allison know about this? and b) that is possibly the stuffiest wedding dress I have ever seen…this is not Green Gables, folks….

Thank GOD that skirt disappeared….Valerie still has some funk to her, and plenty enough to hang with tWitch.

Nigel enjoying the fun and entertainment brought to the piece—and rightly shouting out Nappytabs’s Emmy win this past weekend—and acknowledging the entertainer’s spirit in Valerie; Christina called Valerie amazing…and I’m not sure exactly where the Diet Coke came in with the crotch roll and side of rice in this hip-hop wedding joke, but I’ll let her have her “away from the kid” fun; Mary thought it was a wedding routine to remember and dubbed Valerie “swaggerocious.”

Casey—Solo

A little more quirk with the spins tonight, and lots of emotion.

Valerie—Solo

High octane like last week, but not quite as cohesive.  It was definitely fun, though.

Jacque (with All-Star Will Wingfield)
Jazz—Sean Cheesman

The innocence of young love….with a Pilates ball.  You choreographers and your crazy, abstract concepts…. “I wish I could say we had a ball, but….” Really, Jacque? *groan*

Awwww…..that was really sweet.  Jacque got to pull from her innate innocence and make this organic.  And without seeing that rehearsal footage, you’d think that ball sequence was a breeze for the two of them….awesome work.

Christina praised Sean first for the choreography and then Jacque for rising to the occasion and bringing forth character organically; Mary described Jacque with the words “class, grace, elegance and control,” and acknowledged the difficulty of working with the ball; Nigel called it brilliant and said it wiped that foxtrot from his memory.

Zack—Solo

First of all, he’s in black, dancing against a brightly colored backdrop, to a song called “Butterfly.”  Whycome them feet are moving like a hummingbird’s wings?  He is determined to leave a fabulous impression on the audience’s minds.

Jessica (with All-Star Ade Obayomi)
Jazz—Ray Leeper

The most fabulous couple in the Tokyo club…and I see they recycled Zack and Jacque’s getups from Top 20 Week 1…..

If those costumes weren’t so godawful ugly, I’d have enjoyed the dance MUCH more.  But I managed to tune them out aurally and visually to focus on the execution of the choreography—which was well in sync and quite sassy.   Jessica really held her own with Ade.  And while my knowledge of clubs is probably just as expansive as Jessica’s, I think the pair carried the vibe pretty well.

Christina makes a bad lost cat joke (no self-respecting cat would sacrifice itself for those UG-A-LEE boots) but loved Jessica’s performance and the ponytail strut; Mary thought it was fun and crazy and envisions Cat and Nigel doing that at the club (thanks Mary—it’s gonna take me the rest of the season to unsee THAT), and manages to praise Jessica for her razor-sharp focus; Nigel wasn’t thrilled—it was just OK and didn’t connect with him, and he also takes the moment to tell Jessica not to rely on turns and beef up her solos.  I’m not the biggest Jessica fan, but that there was unfair—I don’t recall him saying that to Casey last week….

Jacque—Solo

Well, if you’re gonna do an eye-catching, Final Four worthy solo, you might as well pull out a flowing skirt and WAC hat and do a pointe solo to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”.  That was the nicest blend of classical and contemporary, reminding me of something the Joffrey might stage—much like the suite they did to Prince’s music.

Ricky (with All-Star Anya Garis)
Cha-Cha—Jean-Marc Genereux

Cha-Cha—Cuban in origin.  Ricky Ubeda—Cuban in origin.  He gets to go from cutesy to sexy in this piece, and if anybody can pull it out of him, it’s the original Hot Tamale.

Eh—lukewarm.  I can’t help but wish it was Rudy doing this one.  Still, Ricky’s technique looked really sharp….just needed way more sexy.

Nigel thought he looked like he’d been doing it for years, at least in stature and bravado; Christina bought it wholesale and said he actually drew her attention with Anya on the stage (is that SEN-sational or SIN-sational, Christina?); Mary thinks Ricky brought it, was solid on his feet and in his lead, and she totally bought it.

Casey (with All-Star Makenzie Dustman)
Contemporary—Stacey Tookey

Didn’t Makenzie already do the “little time to live” thing in her season?  We’ll see what Stacey’s take is on finding out you may have only one day left with the one you love…..though technical, Stacey hopes Casey focuses on the feeling and tells the story with his movement.

Y’all really didn’t need to put the boy in an asymmetrical mini-dress to get a nice fluid effect—his dancing was plenty.  I saw only glimpses of his expression but his movement, connection and flow were airtight.  That counterbalance move was wicked.

Christina took the Iyanla route and asked Casey how the dance made him feel—upon his not being able to describe it, she said that he’d done his job and it was wonderful; Mary really felt it and thought everything blended and smoldered and proclaimed it his best of the season; Nigel thought the piece made sense from beginning to end and dubbed it remarkable.

DAMMIT—NIGEL STOLE MY IDEA!  Or at least my prop, if someone has the unmitigated gall to challenge me….

Zack (with All-Star DuShant “Fik-Shun” Steagal)
Hip-Hop—Phillip “Pacman” Chbeeb

My boo Phillip’s choreographic debut, and he’s inspired by a Rorschach blot….well, the boy WAS studying engineering, so I’m not surprised where he can take his mind….

Fascinating bit of work….reminiscent of what he and IaMmE Crew did with their finale piece on America’s Best Dance Crew, and some of the armwork he did with Jeanine in “Mad”.  I love me some him….and them.  Though I did see some subtle differences in head movements in two different sections, I thought the boys shaped that well.

Even Cat’s impressed…..

Mary screams fabulous and loved every second of it; Nigel is impressed at tonight’s performance as well as every other dance and characterization Zack has been asked to perform over the season….then gives this backhanded wish for success and luck getting into the finale :-/ (he saved himself by amended that to being “shocked and thrilled” to see him in the finale….hmph….); Christina is proud of Zack’s ability to not only hang with Fik-Shun but to transcend any dance boxes he might have put himself into.

Now to the last elimination for the Big One:

Jessica (no surprise)
Ricky (also no surprise)
Valerie (HELL YEAH!)
Zach (F’IN RIGHT!)

Did I actually just channel Drake? Lord help me…..

Hard call if you look at tonight, but I tell you, Valerie and Zach have been proving their versatility since the ballroom round of callbacks.  I’m amazed with all of the bottom placements that Jacque got as far as she did, and there can only be one pretty boy, so poor Casey didn’t really stand that much of a chance.

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(Why does the final four lineup look like a scene out of Boogie Nights?  Some of the most unfortunate costumes to get good news in….)

Next week’s All-Stars: Kathryn (presumably for Ricky), Robert (apparently doing double duty with both Valerie and Jessica) and Aaron (with Zack, natch).  Plus, if the format holds, everybody dances duets with each other in addition to their solos….let’s make sure we don’t cut the Final Four group number this year…..

And as I really don’t remember seeing them, we should get a performance from Wanted Ashiqz before the grand finale….no mention of them but a performance from Jason Mraz?  Hmmm…..

Gonna be a packed show!

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*)

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