It's time to see just how this new competition format is going to work. You remember the changes, I'm sure: Each week there will be a shifting pool of All-Stars from which our eleven competitors will each draw their partner. The draw will also designate the style in which the couple will dance for the week. And America's votes will designate a bottom three, from which the judges will choose one competitor to leave the show each week.
And of course, as if eleven pairs weren't enough, the producers plan to pack the show with visits to the contestants' ordinary lives (more about that in the Stray Observations section). Apparently that means we have to forego the group number (boo!).
Billy and Lauren: When isn't a Tyce Broadway number "fast, fast, fast, fast"? Lauren was terrific in this routine, and Billy was appealingly outgoing. At this stage in the competition, dancers sometimes aren't on top of their performance, so I appreciate that Billy was really playing to the rafters here. Adam Shankman has excellent comments: to avoid breaking character, to keep the flow going between moves.
Cristina and Mark: Here's trouble. Mark was born to dance Sonya Tayeh jazz routines, and he even gets to wear the bright color here. Cristina looked somewhat miniature and certainly recessive here. And it highlights the problem: These are couple dances, not showcases for the contestant. There is always the risk of their being overshadowed. Poor Cristina in her muddy brown costume had no chance there.
Jose and Comfort: Jose got the better of this one because of two factors. First, he got a significant solo headspin moment. Second, he was solid as a rock during that move where Comfort leaped at him and ended up wrapped around him; it was like Newton's laws of motion had been repealed. Jose didn't extend fully during some of the moves, which is a problem, but he's still moving forward in terms of his performance, and will no doubt be safe.
Adéchiké and Kathryn: Now here's a pair that worked, at least in my opinion. Kathryn was gorgeous from head to toe and start to finish, and Adéchiké had the grace and strength and -- yes -- presence to partner her. The judges felt there wasn't any sexual chemistry -- Mia calls it "empty technique"! -- but I found their focus on his expression of desire limiting. Constructive criticism, sure, but too harsh for my taste.
Melinda and Pasha: I've been brought around on Melinda after last week's number. And she did her best with the jive performance, but she and Pasha never synced up. It's not that she was straining, exactly, but that their steps and shapes weren't matched. His ease and line contrasted at every moment with her angles and fussy details. And we see again that a comparison with the All-Star performing in their native style can be damning, but impossible to avoid because it seems to be the whole point of the format.
Alex and Allison: I can do without the quivering, but in their unison and lyrical movements, these two were perfectly matched. The judges overpraise the routine -- to a ridiculous degree, actually -- but not Alex, who was indeed brilliant in doing what he was given to do (and super goofy once it was done).
Alexie and Twitch: Charming and understated -- I loved this routine. It's got none of the outsized emotions of the Sonya routine, which I appreciated, actually. They're right in the pocket of the NapTab style at its best, which has a smooth and contained feel rather than outrageousness. I kinda felt like the judges were talking about the routine they wanted to see rather than the one that was presented to them. Did nobody notice that Twitch was also holding it in and keeping it small and light?
Lauren and Ade: The rehearsal footage emphasized Lauren's discomfort with intimacy, but she has absolutely no problem slinking around this routine, all with a smile on her face. In fact, this character could have been tailor-made for her particular brand of cheerleader-sexy. I agree with Mia that Lauren is flat as a character, and Adam is probably right, too, but what a long psychoanalysis! And who wants to listen when we're trying to watch Ade?
Kent and Anya: It's the moment we've been waiting for -- Kent doing ballroom! I didn't know I'd been waiting for it until I saw it, but darn if I didn't enjoy the heck out of Kent releasing his inner Pasha. He went for it with all guns blazing, making super ballroom faces. I confess that when the camera first caught him before the music started I had a moment of concern; he was breathing hard and I thought he was petrified. I don't think he could get any more adorable than shaking his hips with Anya. Here's a case where the All-Star format works in the contestant's favor; imagine the poor girl in the Top 20 of years past who had to try to be visible next to Kent in that routine.
Ashley and Neil: Were you aware that the greatest gift anyone can have is love? Tyce would like to remind you with this routine. Ashley certainly took her cues from Neil, opening herself up in a most affecting way. I didn't see anything particular great in the routine that made Ashley memorable; she didn't have a moment of beauty or emotional performance that hooks us in.
Robert and Courtney: ... draw the short straw in terms of genre, African jazz. I didn't think the style suited either of them particularly well, but maybe they saved this one for last simply because it's maybe the only dance in which the contestant outshone the All-Star. In the African moments, Robert's "abandon" (good word, Nigel) was striking, while Courtney seemed a bit behind and not extended enough. But the dance itself was so syncretic that it was almost a mishmash; I thought it would have been better with more African, less jazz. (But what do I know? I'm falling into the same trap that I accused the judges of in Alexi and Twitch's routine.) One judgment I'm comfortable making: Robert's got to tone it down with his over-the-top reactions to the judge's comments. It's embarrassing.
So how's this going to work? I'm concerned. The All-Stars aren't getting judged. They even walk off the stage during the judging! It's like in the auditions when a hopeful brings a non-auditioning partner, who then disappears while half of the couple goes on as if they did it all on their own. I find that bizarre, especially since the judges -- rightly -- need to talk about how the partnership worked out and how the All-Star danced. It feels ... unfair. And incomplete. We're all likely to get used to it soon, but I'm registering my complaint now.
- Billy likes power tools. It's a good way to bond with your dad when you're a contemporary dancer.
- Cristina has given up singing after failing at a Mexican TV singing competition. Meanwhile, Melinda wants to add music to her roster of talents. And Alex sings to go to his happy place.
- Jose does yoga to clear his head. There goes the last remaining shred of his street cred.
- Adéchiké went to the Fame school; we get to hear about Tyce's grades there, but not about Adéchiké's.
- I almost missed some of the "things you don't know about me" montages because I was so distracted by Cat's giant topknot.
- Alexie gets the award for best revelation about her past: cute kiddie dancing on Star Search with a strangely mustachioed Adam Shankman judging!
- Nigel makes with the sports metaphors: Melinda is as unsafe as Robert Green, Lauren is as safe as Kobe Bryant.
- Kent was the homecoming king! Awwww!
- Like Ashley, I do the Galvatron. Unlike Ashley, I haven't named it.
- Ashley thinks she's in love. Nigel was unable to ask the follow-up question we all wanted to know: "With Neil?"
- Robert likes baseball. It's a good way to bond with your dad when you're a contemporary dancer.