Some nights the judges on SYTYCD latch onto an idea and it influences the critiques throughout the entire episode, and tonight’s theme was definitely “growth” (with the baby-picture montages to match). Nearly every couple got a comment—mostly from Nigel—about their growth or lack thereof, either as a dancer, a contestant, or both. And with good reason; this is precisely the time—one week away from naming the top 10—that we should be looking at the contestants’ progression, not just their innate talent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of the most technically skilled dancers—Viktor and Nathan—fell prey to the “lack of growth” criticism, while Russell, Legacy, and Ryan were praised to the high heavens for their improvement throughout the competition. The judges, Nigel in particular, are clearly trying to create a narrative for some of their stronger contestants (well, as much narrative as a show like this can have), but some are more legitimate than others.
While Ashleigh and Jakob definitely deserved praise for pulling off another ridiculously gimmicky NappyTab routine, I don’t think it deserved quite the rapturous response it got from the judges. Jakob is an amazing dancer, yes—one of my picks for the top four—and Ashleigh has come a long way from her unlikable stank-face beginnings. (Softer make-up and ditching the orange tan-in-a-can has certainly helped.) They both pulled off their characters well, especially Ashleigh, who, if nothing else, gives great face on stage; but I think Adam grossly over-estimated how hard they were hitting it. I know NappyTab is all about the lovey-dovey slow hip-hop—they’ve been trying to recreate that “Bleeding Love” routine for two years now—but there was no “pop” to this routine at all, just moves. (Not helping matters: one of the worst pop songs in recent memory and egregiously gimmicky use of the background visuals.)
Then there were poor Karen and Kevin, who both took a giant step back from last week’s fairly impressive hustle number with what should have been a great Broadway routine from newcomer Spencer Liff. Then again, Sweet Charity hasn’t been a particularly kind to SYTYCD in the past (see Randi and Evan’s “Rich Man’s Frug last season). I’m starting to think Fosse and SYTYCD don’t mix. Kevin and Karen seemed basically on point with the steps, but Kevin faltered when it came to lifts and jumps, and Karen couldn’t quite bring the cute like she brought the sexy in previous weeks. In a weird little coda that I don’t recall SYTYCD doing before, the judges all predicted them to be in the bottom tomorrow, which seemed like a very odd bit of voter manipulation to me. But maybe that’s just because I’m not ready to see Karen go yet. Kevin, on the other hand, seems to have grown as much as he’s going to. I’ll be shocked if he survives to the top 10.
Russell is competing only with Legacy for the Best Arc award this season, and got the chance to display his growth very plainly by revisiting the foxtrot with Noelle this week. Russell obviously benefitted from the criticism he received from his first-week routine with Melanie, and Noelle finally started to make a name for herself after a fairly indistinct start. (It’s amazing how missing one show can handicap you in this competition.) But I think the real appeal to this couple isn’t their “growth.” It’s how gosh darn happy they seem, and it’s a genuine sort of happy, not the Disney-fied happy of Mollee and Nathan. As long as we’re giving out imaginary awards, I want to give these two Best Smiles. And that joy and confidence really translated to an excellent foxtrot that got by on personality at least as much as technical skill.
Channing and Viktor got a somewhat middling response from the judges, who overall seemed very adulatory tonight. Channing was praised for coming out of her shell in what was a fairly remarkable Tasty Oreo jazz routine. I crap on Tyce a lot around here—and his behavior in the rehearsal footage showed why—but I really loved the “Blackbird” routine, odd music choice and all. (Tonight’s interactive music challenge: find a better version of “Blackbird” to use… there’s only 10 million to choose from!) Both Channing and Victor danced it well, but as the judges pointed out, neither has had a “star” moment yet; Victor has been consistently good, but safe, and while Channing has started to shine a little brighter, she has a lot further to go in the personality department than someone like, say, Ellenore.
Speaking of personality growth, Kathryn is quickly rocketing to the top of my personal favorites list. The girl absolutely transforms when she dances—whoda thunk she was that weird squealy girl from Vegas week during her paso doble with Legacy? Sadly, the judges glossed over her in the process of fawning over Legacy, to the point where they didn’t even mention that the last 10 seconds of the routine fell apart completely. Seriously, they were chugging right along—though I really didn’t see the “fire” in Legacy that Mary was raving about—but that final lift sequence landed with a huge thud. But Legacy’s growth as a performer and dedication to his dancing is a great story, and will almost certainly land him in the top 10, so why sully that with actual criticism?I’m mostly kidding, and Legacy has grown in my estimation hugely since Vegas, but I’m surprised even Shankman let that slide by.
The judges’ raving over Ryan and Ellenore’s Travis Wall contemporary routine was much more warranted. I’ve compared Travis to Mia Michaels before, and I think this routine strengthens the theory that he’s filling her can-do-no-wrong choreography niche. By my estimation the boy hasn’t turned in a dud yet, and Ellenore and Ryan performed the shit outta tonight’s number. Nigel’s comment about Ellenore’s chameleonic nature was right on, and while there’s something about Ryan that rubs me the wrong way—maybe the fact that he doesn’t seem to own a proper shirt—he looked pretty great doing contemporary. (Though Ellenore looked better.) He also blatantly grabbed his crotch for about four counts, which was sort of odd. But he has certainly displayed that there growth the judges love so much, especially coming off of last week’s not-so-great hip-hop (which I think suffered from the fact that the choreography didn’t really work with how damn big the guy is).
But no one needed a recovery from last week more than Mollee and Nathan, and while Mollee was mostly praised, Nathan got a backhanded—and totally warranted—compliment about not living up to his potential. Then again, I don’t think their take on their Laurie Ann Gibson pop jazz routine was nearly as good as the judges gave them credit for, and sorry, Mary Murphy, but I don’t know if they were ever a “dream team.” I think Laurie Ann’s routines are difficult for dancers on this show because she doesn’t give them characters or stories to retreat into, and Nathan and Mollee seemed exceedingly out of place in what should have been a sort of edgy-looking routine. Maybe I’m just projecting because of the Lady Gaga song, but neither of them could bring the sort of weirdness that routine needed; instead they just kind of looked like dorks. I hope the fact that they rendered the number pretty unremarkable will cut into their apparently strong voter base, because Nathan has seriously worn out his welcome. (Oh, you’re a self-proclaimed spoiled brat who loves to JetSki? Swoon.)
Predictions: Karen and Kevin will definitely succumb to the judges’ curse. Hopefully Nathan and Mollee will also end up in the bottom, but as long as both Nathan and Kevin are gone before the top 10, I’m cool. It’s a little harder with the girls. Channing and Viktor seem like bottom-three contenders, just because I think the routine wasn’t that audience-friendly, but I don’t think she deserves to go home based on this week’s performance. Mollee’s support might be waning, judging by the lukewarm cheer she got during the show’s opening, but I still think Channing or possibly one of the ballroom girls will go home tomorrow. What say you?
• Tonight’s Disco Glam Cat was much better than last week’s Lizard Queen Cat.
• Best Cat line of the night? “Is that true you big geek?” Said with so much love.
• The judges spoke in reverse order tonight, with Nigel kicking things off each time. Was he tired of being upstaged by Shankman The Awesome?
• Aw, Jakob used to be a chub. Also, he was totally doing the routine to N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” in that video.
• Choice for cutest baby contestant? Ellenore. Cutest baby judge? Shankman.
• “What a great gimmick.” NO, BAD NIGEL, stop encouraging NappyTab’s gimmickry.
• On a related note, that background screen has been horribly misused on several occasions this season. I hate it.
• I kind of love that Legacy was bribed into a life of dance.
• I can’t have been the only one who got a teensy bit of evil glee watching Laurie Ann scream at the Mouskateers, right? “Stay with me, Blondie!”
• Dilemma: I think Dizzy Feet is a good charity dedicated to an admirable cause… but I don’t want to actually, you know, hear about it every week. That said: Hi Mia Michaels! I’ve missed you.
• What the hell was that “Turn The Tub” around thing? And why is it supposed to make me want to tune into the finale for more?