If I may paraphrase Adam Shankman: Nigel, thank you for taking our notes. Well, some of them anyway. Last week was a shaky start for SYTYCD, to the point where I was starting to seriously believe this was the beginning of the end. I’m still not totally sold on this iteration of the show, but you can see things starting to gel a little better this go-round. Let’s give it up for incremental improvement!
First off, the All-Star thing was handled better this week. Though it was a little jarring returning to the picking-out-of-a-hat sequence after it being gone for so long, it did help to spell out just how in the hell this whole All Star thing works: Contestants pick an All Star’s name out of the hat, then the All Star reveals the genre they’ll be dancing. And there are some wildcards in that mix, as we saw tonight with Kathryn being the Bollywood ambassador and Dominick throwing out “lyrical hip-hop” for the first time in the show’s run. The producers also seemed to realize how awkward it was to have the All Stars disappear during the judging, which seems to have led to the awesome new development of All Stars standing up for their partners against those pesky judges. And you know what? When we’re talking about crump, I’m much more inclined to believe what Comfort says than Lord Featherhead over there.
The judges also toned down their mugging quite a bit this week. There was still a fair amount of cheesy jokes and bad attempts at creating a catchphrase (“Dance is a hearform,” UGH), but at least Nigel only brought up the World Cup once tonight. The judges’ critiques, on the other hand, continued to be troubling. Very rarely tonight did I find myself in agreement with them, and several times I found myself wondering if we had watched the same dance. Let’s review:
Christina: Christina continues to vex me with her blandness and heavy feet. I know we have some ballroom dancers in the crowd here, so please correct me if I’m way off the mark here, but she lacks both the grace and the fire I expect of the ballroom dancers on this show, and pairing her with Pasha for a paso doble only highlighted that. Now granted, I’m on record as not caring for the paso doble, so perhaps I’m biased, but I saw none of the “passion, power, fire, and control” the judges were going on about. I have yet to see Christina approach anything resembling “sexy,” and all of the lifts felt clumsy and heavy—which could theoretically be just as much Pasha’s fault… but come on, it’s Pasha.
Adechike: My friend texted me during this performance, “Adechike and Mandy Moore: a match made in shit.” I didn’t hate this performance quite that much—and hey, at least Mandy used a song from this millennium. (Well, a 2005 remix of a 1988 song at least. Probably as modern as we’re going to get from her.) But I actually line up with the judges on this one: Adechike’s dancing is so calculated that his attempts at emotion come across extremely forced and occasionally creepy. He reminded me a lot of season five’s Vitolio tonight, particularly at the routine’s conclusion, where his “serene smile” read more along the lines of “I want to wear your skin.” So far, partnering does not seem to be Adechike’s strong suit, at least in cases where he has to interact emotionally with his partner. On the other hand, I’d like to see him do a hip-hop number before I’m ready to completely count him out; judging from his photographs—or what’s left of them after that fire—he has some experience, and I think his cool demeanor might work better there.
Alex: Here’s another one where I’ll defer to Adam: “Everything was at 11, the were no big explosive movements. It was a lot of flash and no smolder.” Very true, and Fosse certainly demands some smolder—or as Mia would put it, “ssssssssssss”—but when that flash is Alex doing one seemingly inhuman jump or stretch after another, it’s still pretty damn good. Tyce really stacked the deck by giving him a ton of those moves, and it’s hard to smolder with your leg extended 180 degrees above your head.
Ashley: So Nigel decides it’s finally time to start critiquing the choreographer, and he chooses to start with… Travis? For this routine? Whether it met his definition of “jazz” or not, it was a gorgeous routine, and danced beautifully by Ashley. She managed to keep my eyes on her and not Mark’s chest (holy jeez…), and I can pay her no bigger compliment than that. It’s not her fault that she's picked two styles very in line with her own—contemporary and jazz-that-might-be-more-contemporary—so it feels little disingenuous of the judges to say they haven’t learned anything new about her. Maybe if she had gotten crump…
Billy: Okay. Here’s where the judges really started to piss me off. Not necessarily because Billy had some mad crumping skills—he was capable, but not revelatory—but because they failed to acknowledge the fact that, for a skinny, effeminate white boy, he did pretty damn good. They go on later to praise the hell out of Jose’s Bollywood routine and Melinda’s contemporary performance, but the similarly out-of-his-element Billy gets trashed. Is it because he’s so damn good that they ride him harder? Whatever the case, I think this routine was about as good as could be expected given the elements that went into it, and I thought Billy gave a highly entertaining performance. (Did anyone else get a distinct Benji vibe?)
Robert: The judges were split on this one, but I’m not: Robert got swallowed up by Anya in the Argentine tango, despite him throwing out every sexyface in his arsonal. But, as Mia pointed out, he wasn’t grounded throughout the routine, which sacrificed a lot of his strength and power, making him come off kinda wimpy. Passion goes beyond the face, and while his eyes may have smoldered, his body seemed to be saying, “Oh God what’s happening?!”
Melinda: Judges, if you’re going to critique some choreography, may I nominate Stacey Tookey’s Earth Mother cheese-fest? But no, the judges defaulted to their “serious issue” over-praising instinct. Hideous dress aside, Melinda performed capably, even when she had to push Ade across the stage with her head, in time with the lyrics “pushing me away,” but I wouldn’t go so far to give her the “tremendous” Nigel did. Like I said, she pulled off contemporary about as well as Billy pulled off crump.
Jose: It might be impossible to screw up a Bollywood routine on this show, because it’s pretty impossible to not be entertained by a Bollywood routine, whether it’s performed expertly or not. Jose’s athleticism and big ol’ smile were certainly assets in this performance, but I think he benefitted more from an excellent routine and an excellent partner (Kathryn, you just get prettier and prettier) than excellent dancing on his part. Nigel admitted as much when he said, “It’s so much fun, it doesn’t matter.”
Lauren: Another “serious issue” dance, but this one a lot more enjoyable—if a little weird—than Tookie’s. Even if it meant having to hear “If I Were A Boy” again, the domestic abuse angle was an interesting fit with hip-hop, and the “lyrical” modifier made sense within that context. Maybe I’m just happy to have a new choreographer on the scene, but Tessandra Chavez at least brings something a little different to the table—though it still skews pretty close to NappyTab’s ooey-gooey, soft-n-cuddly take on hip-hop. But this time it’s lyrical, you guys! Lauren looked oddly petrified during the judging, but I think she mostly earned the judges’ praise with this one.
Kent: Kent’s been pretty untouchable up until now, thanks to his technical prowess and goofy charm. But only one of those translated to his jazz routine with Courtney tonight. As we saw last week, Kent can pull off that cheesy, ballroom sort of sexy, but as soon as he has to get even a little dark, the wheels start to come off. As Mia pointed out, he can’t break out of that “cute Kent” personality… and when he’s not dancing, that’s a good thing. That’s the kind of personality that wins votes. But when he’s dancing, he needs to be able to turn it off and replace it with something more appropriate to a guy wearing a bondage top.
• The camera work seemed much more on point tonight as well. Did you catch what Cat said at the beginning to the dancers? “You got the one two three fours this week. We’re learning!” Maybe that horrendous intro last week was a dancer screw-up, not a director one.
• During tonight’s “childhood memories” packages, we learned that pretty much every contestant was a hyper child. What, you mean calm, shy kids don’t want to wear silly outfits and perform in front of strangers?
• Does anyone else thing Alex was full of BS when he said he’d look up a bunch of Fosse on YouTube? Cat asked him specifically what dances he looked up, and he sidestepped it, basically just parroting Tyce’s line about “inner fire.”
• Speaking of, guess who didn’t annoy me tonight? Tyce! Good job not being terrible, Tyce!
• Snaps to Cat for diffusing the awkwardness of Nigel's weird, "Would you eat him alive?" question to Courtney. "Not without ketchup."
• Speaking of Cat: Y'all have seen Cat Deely Facts, right?
• Once again: Mark’s chest. Hummina. (Lady Gaga has good taste.)
• When Nigel cracked, “That was jazz, thank you very much Tyce,” and the camera panned to Tyce, could anyone tell what Travis was mouthing behind him? Based on his face, it probably wasn’t that nice. Lip-readers, help me out!