Season eight of SYTYCD ends with a whimper, not with a bang, at least in terms of those final “dance for your life” routines that were supposed to convince us to pick up the phone last night. It’s a shame, because this season has been a big comeback in terms of the talent, the clarity of the format (although they need to get that whole random-pick thing transparent to the audience if they’re going to insist it’s happening behind the scenes), and the quality and enthusiasm of the guests on the panel.
But like many of you, I suspect they simply overloaded the dancers with routines to learn and then saddled them with some unfortunate choreography and song choice. What a shame that the only disco routine of the season exhibited such a marked lack of joy. (And that Melanie pulled sexy faces the whole time. Melanie, all you have to do in disco is smile real big.) What a shame that the stepping routine was reduced to clomping around in rubber boots and looking really tired. If last wheeek’s whaacking routine should have taught us anything, it’s that good dancers gamely attempting a style whose entire raison d’etre is to wow us with virtuosity isn’t good enough. Nobody wants to see amateur whaackers or steppers, the same way no one wants to see amateur b-boys (and when’s the last time some contemporary dancer was asked to breakdance, huh?).
It’s also a shame that Melanie’s star picked this week to descend below the horizon, because I’ve been pulling for her for weeks. But if the vote were based on last night’s performances and justice were done, Sasha would have easily pull ahead of her. Their all-girl, '50s housewife number was a big bundle of wasted potential, I thought, and I disagreed with the judges on whether Sasha’s vamp act in the restaurant number worked (I thought she was great). She had the highest high of the female dancers with the brooding and violent Sonya number (Mark certainly helped, too).
I was surprised, though, that Nigel flatly dismissed the idea of one of the guys winning, when Marko probably had the best night of anyone last night—some lilting comic dancing in the number with Sasha in an almost Jess-like mode and some extremely strong work in the contemporary routine with Lauren that counts as the dance of the night. Yes, he was horrific in the stepping, but then so was Tadd, who also had the misfortune of getting schooled by Joshua in the hip-hop number. Tadd had my other favorite number of the night with Melanie, the comic rip-his-clothes-off thing, which I found both charming and arrestingly danced (and not just for the six-pack, ladies, I promise you). He’s my favorite of the top two guys personality-wise, but I can’t deny that Marko has more range and potential. (And sure enough, Nigel apologizes upon seeing how his bald statement plays on TV.)
At any rate, the long slog of dances we’re supposed to evaluate is over, and it’s time for the dances we’re supposed to just enjoy—finale results show group routines! These tend to be some of my favorite dances of the season, so I’m really hoping the general gloom will lift for tonight’s show.
We start with a super-energetic Sonia Tayeh routine to District 78, presenting a post-apocalyptic world in which only our four finalists have access to hair product. Cat, attired in a glittering red minidress, introduces a packed, seven-member judges’ table with nothing to judge. Mary, surprising no one, picks Sasha and Kent’s “Fool of Me” (aka “Wall Dance”) for her reprise, and if anything, the two of them dance it more violently than ever. Nigel picks Melanie and Marko’s uplifting hip-hop number “I Got You,” and I like this performance better than the first time, too (and I liked the first time a lot); it’s looser and more joyful.
On to the peripheral judges, starting with Pussycat Doll Robin Anton, who picks Tadd and Lauren’s hat routine to Queen. Three for three. This number is so much better when I’m not anxious about where Tadd’s hat went to, and now I can see the artistry and smoothness to this magnetic routine. Lil’ C chooses Miranda and Robert’s “Break Your Neck” (aka “Woodpecker”) hip-hop, which I didn’t rate very highly the first time I saw it, but despite some execution issues, I get into it much more this time around. Then, at Cat’s behest, we watch a replay of the top eight’s Tyce Diorio circus routine to the Water for Elephants soundtrack, and nope, don’t think I missed anything there. It's still much less than it ought to have been.
The first of the special original routines features the season’s two tappers, Jess and Nick, and Matt Flint in a spectacular tap explosion, which proves the point that tap suffers in the show’s restrictive solo/pair format. Then Mary’s second pick is Neil and Melanie’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (or as Nigel calls it “Bright Eyes”); the leap was longer but not as fraught with complete abandon, and the dance is still a stunner. Jesse requests a replay of Marko and Allison’s Jeff Buckley number, and Marko seemed to struggle finish some of the moves in places. When Tyce calls for Sonia’s geisha number, it’s no replay: The top 10 girls come out, stop, drop, and roll Asian style. It’s not the revelation it was in that top 20 introduction show, which in retrospect was one of the best shows of the season before tonight, but it’s still effective.
Lil’ C asks for Ashley and Chris’ “Please Mr. Jailer” routine, with the same shaky prop as last time but even more heat. And finally, my very favorite of the season, Sasha and Twitch in Chris Scott’s breakfast dance. As Cat says, “S … good.” Continuing the Chris Scott love, the top 10 guys reprise the doors number from the intro show at Sonia’s insistence; the doors seem to behave better this time around, and that neat trick where five guys back out through the door on one side and five more come marching through the door on the other came off awesomely. After a long comic monologue, Jesse throws to some tape of Caitlyn and Pasha doing the Argentinian tango from when NPH was the guest judge.
Mary’s third and final dance is the statue routine by Travis Wall, danced by Melanie and Marko in their first pairing; they forgo the body makeup, lest they be marble-colored for the rest of the show, but the big difference is in a few new camera angles that showcase lovely moments of stillness in the dance. And Nigel comes out swinging against this New York Times feature in which the city’s professional dancers denigrate the contestants on the show (and the judging). It’s by way of introducing his last pick, Melanie and Sasha’s heavy Sonia routine, which was heavier the first time they did it; honestly, these girls seem pretty wrung out by this time.
The order of eliminations is no surprise: Tadd first, then Marko, leaving Melanie and Sasha for the endgame. The two male finalists are gracious and winning in runner-up-hood. And when Cat announces that the winner got over 40 percent of the total vote, we all knew it had to be Melanie. I think Sasha outpaced her at the end, but she is a beautiful and appealing dancer with great performance skills, my favorite throughout most of the competition, and a deserving winner. Congratulations, Melanie, especially since we’re all hoping that Sasha won’t go begging for jobs either after her tour contract is up.
- Many thanks to Oliver for sharing recap duties on this show with me. Along with his dependability and sense of humor, he also brought some actual dance experience and taste that I completely lack. Kudos to you, sir!
- The judges outnumber the mics that the crew could rustle up for them. Now that’s too many judges.
- Body part Mary has decided to display for us tonight: Shoulders!
- I’m not going to the Web site to vote for my favorite Gatorade ad, but judging from the one-second glimpses we got, Sasha wins that one too.
- I’m so glad Jesse Tyler Ferguson is back. And when Nigel sits on his lap and spoons, it is much more adorable than such a blatant attention-grab has any right to be.
- In cross-promotion news, the top four are forced to feign enthusiasm for the Glee 3D concert movie.
- If it weren’t for this season of this show, I would have had about 100 percent less District 78 in my life.