I agree with Oliver, with the judges, with the audience about the strength of the field this season. That combination Green Mile/Top 20 Reveal show last week got me incredibly revved up for the performances this season. But it seems like an escalation in talent isn't what America is looking for this summer; ratings are way down. What's going on? And how will the lack of obvious elimination candidates in these early weeks affect matters? I get worried when the judges gush over every single dance and dancer -- even when they (mostly) deserve it -- because the dreaded Post-Cowell American Idol Effect kicks in: Without clear guidance from the judges, America doesn't know who not to vote for.
So like most of you, I began watching with no idea who's going home tonight, but let me offer an early-blog pre-viewing prediction anyway. I would actually prefer it to be Nick, since I'm not a member of the underdog-tapper fan club, but he was incredibly game and performed the crap out of that quickstep last night (the judges conveniently neglected to mention his lack of curve in the upper body and what I felt were over-exaggerated foot movements). I'll suggest that America will find it easy to eliminate elbow-injury-victim Mitchell, and will put Ryan and Ricky in the bottom as well.
To be honest, I'm looking forward to the group numbers this year even more than the partner dancing. The Top 20 reveal show last week was ridiculous in that regard. I really think you can ask this group to do just about anything, and there's nothing better than seeing a whole bunch of them doing it in unison. A terrific Sonya routine to M.I.A. starts the show, complete with a cool steampunk costume vibe.
I loved Melanie and Marko's statue number from last night just as much as the audience and judges; Travis Wall doesn't just do his signature "stasis and explosion" theme, he also creates an original interpretation of the statue idea, using slow movement that emphasizes the human figure as if in an artistic study. The sexy demons thing was my least favorite of the night; I felt I'd seen it all before, and couldn't find any personality of the dancers or choreographer in it. But Missy and Wadi are safe thanks to the judges' unaccountable praise.
My second least favorite routine was Ashley and Chris's Cee-Lo number. It was just slight, if genial, and again -- I felt I'd seen it before. (Costuming tip: If you dress the performers in backwards caps and faux sports jerseys, I will hate the performance.) The Afro-jazz that started last night was good but not overwhelming; I agree with Oliver that it wasn't stomp-y enough, lacking primal gravitas, and even the clips they show during tonight's recap highlight their synchronization problems. It surprises me a bit that they are in the bottom three because the judges didn't offer them a single bit of criticism.
I thought Melanie's number with replacement Robert was quite good, although I found it hard to watch her because Robert is so magnetic. The Broadway dance with Jess and Clarice was wonderful, mostly because of Jess's amazing smooth flow around the stage, but Jess's exaggerated face pulling during the critique was really annoying; might it have contributed to putting the couple in the bottom three? (America haaaaates that fake-y stuff, even when it's not all that fake.)
Ryan and Ricky's lyrical hip-hop suffered from the smiling issue, as has already been much discussed, but I also find this one of my least favorite styles, without the hard-hitting excitement of other street dance forms. Robert and Miranda's jive had all the excitement I was looking for, but I was surprised the judges didn't critique Robert for his lack of jive bounce -- the feet were going full blast, but the upper body was too earthbound. I liked Sasha and Alexander's contemporary routine for Sasha, whose big, violent, yet controlled and beautiful movements were so refreshing in light of the "contempo-flail" that often appears instead. When the judges criticized Alexander's emotional performance, I was surprised simply because I hadn't noticed him at all. Sasha is that magnetic.
So our bottom seven and their solos: Mitchell, cleared by the doctors to dance, is beautiful even with a stunningly uninspired song choice (John Mayer, really?). Jordan pulls out the sexy again; I'm beginning not to believe her claims that she's got other speeds. Tadd breaks to Brian Setzer, and I keep wondering where the sick tricks are that got him here; seems like every time I see him it's a good personality, but not legendary inventiveness. Clarice shows Jordan how strong-sexy ought to look; that dance didn't pander and wasn't desperate and wasn't arrogant, which makes a nice contrast. Jess does his thing; no way he's going anywhere. Miranda is magnificent (did I see a tiny bobble?), and man, I don't know how you pick among these girls on talent and skill. Robert's solo is distressingly unoriginal and straightforward ... his jive last night ought to save him, but that solo doesn't help his cause.
When it comes time to announce the judge's decision, they ask Robert and Mitchell to dance again (making me worry that the show's going to run long and my TiVo is going to cut it off -- and then Nigel insisting on talking to every single dancer, it's inevitable!).
Oh, this is a mess. Nobody's cut. Four people go home next week. Come on, people. Megan Mulally, do we have you to blame? A guest judge should not wield this power. We can't put this off on the very first week!
Wackiness B+, Doing Your Damn Job As A Reality Competition D-.
- National Dance Day is July 30. It's annual, which means it happens every year. No one has any choice in the matter, least of all Nigel.
- That picture of Nigel apparently fleeing from Lady Gaga will likely haunt my dreams tonight.
- Sorry, Oliver, it's "Lose Control" from Keri Hilson, who does buck tradition by having an all-female corps of dancers behind her.
- I am SHOCKED that the Russian folk dancing wasn't hyped as much as the Lady Gaga video. The hard-core Gopakers are going to be all over Twitter about this.
- SYTYCD takes credit for Lady Gaga's success and announces that she'll guest-judge later in the season. It's a surprise to see that the video is for "The Edge of Glory" which seems like it should have had a video for the last five months it's been all over the radio. Video concept: misty night on the streets and fire escapes of the naked city. You could call it a throwback, or you could muse on how music videos apparently don't matter anymore so it's not surprising people don't put too much effort into them.
- Is that Clarence Clemons hanging out on the stoop with Gaga, not playing his saxophone? Nigel confirms when he asks for good thoughts for him in the hospital, and calls him a "sax-AH-phunist," charmingly.
- It's not often a TV show makes its own episode title into a damnable lie, is it?