Welcome to this week’s incarnation of So You Think You Can Dance. Hope you enjoyed it while you could, because it’ll probably be different next week! SYTYCD has been tinkering with its format on the fly all season, and while part of me appreciates the producers acknowledging and changing elements of the show that aren’t working, another part of me wishes they had figured all this out before this wonky-ass season started. Tonight was probably the closest approximation to what I hoped an “All Star” season would entail, incorporating both All-Star and contestant pairings. Of course, not all was right in SYTYCD land either, as Alex Wong’s possibly season-ending Achilles tendon injury deprived us of a Bollywood routine that I suspect would have been a season highlight, rather than the episode lowlight it turned out to be in Adechike’s hands. But there were enough pleasant surprises and enjoyable routines to make tonight’s episode an overall winner, the first of which was…
Ashley, who bounded into the spotlight tonight after weeks of languishing in a boring cycle of jazz-contemporary-jazz-contemporary that never allowed much of her personality to shine through. With tonight’s super-fun and excellently performed NappyTab “ninja assassin” hip-hop routine and a not-terrible-all-things-considered quickstep, she proved that she’s not only versatile, but brings a really great energy to the proceedings when she’s allowed to shine—even in those terrible pants. It took a while, but the girls are finally starting to distinguish themselves.
The judges expressed surprise at Lauren’s newfound “mature” sexiness in her cha cha with Pasha, though I think that may have been more of a reaction to that eye-popping dress than anything else. (Seriously, straight guys who don’t watch this show are missing out.) Personally I don’t think she’s ever lacked for sexiness… in fact, I think she’s perhaps leaned on it a bit too heavily, considering how young and sweet-looking she is. It’s for that reason I enjoyed her Travis Wall contemporary number with Kent much more: It seemed truer to both of their personalities, in that it was sweet and youthful and, most importantly, danced beautifully.
Probably my favorite surprise of the night was Cat calling out the judges on their hypocrisy over Adechike’s Bollywood number. Granted, it was not great—certainly not as great as it would have been with Alex involved—and Adechike did bring a weird, funky, head-bobbing energy to it. But as Cat pointed out, the judges went gaga over a similarly middling Bollywood effort from Jose just a couple of weeks back. Mia’s “Jose has this heart…” equivocation was rightly booed right out of her mouth (“Ew”), but thankfully Adam followed it up with some valid, technical criticism about the lack of finish in Adechike’s dancing, which I see and agree with. I also agree with their assessment that, now that he’s seemed to figure out what personality plays to the cameras, he’s leaning too heavily on it, especially in his Mandy Moore jazz number with Courtney. I’m not sure if it was the choreography or the performance or a combination, but that felt much more Broadway than jazz, leaning more on character than actual dancing.
Of course, the night’s actual Broadway routine put Mandy’s jazz to shame. Three cheers for the return of Spencer Liff, who consistently turns in the best Broadway numbers on the show. His choreography and Billy’s performance somehow made a song from Cats seem cool and hip, and the judges rightly showered Billy with praise after weeks of short-changing him. Even with one of my favorite ex-contestants, Katee, being brought in to replace an injured Allison, 95 percent of my attention was drawn to Billy. Same goes for his very odd Sean Cheeseman African Jazz routine with Jose, which wasn’t great, per se, but he was very arresting in it, particularly the creepy deep bends he did. The judges didn’t seem to like it very much, but at least they were equally harsh on Jose for once.
Of course, they reverted back to their fawning over Jose’s “heart” and “spirit” in their critique of his Mandy Moore contemporary number with Lauren. To be fair, Jose was by no means terrible, but I think his good showing was more a product of smart choreography that required him to do little beyond standing still so Lauren could launch herself off of him, with a b-boy friendly move or two thrown in. He proved he was a good partner, but not necessarily a good dancer. Nigel made a big to-do in the critique about Jose’s joy and willingness too learn, which is great, but I think he and the producers have become far too invested in the “journey” aspect of SYTYCD; sure, it’s great to see someone like Twitch or Russell or even Legacy expand beyond their perceived boundaries, but it’s secondary to the dance, and Jose’s dancing has yet to wow me the way they did.
If we’re talking about journeys, I’m much more keen on that of Kent, who’s been struggling to balance his outsized personality with the versatility and maturity demanded of him on this show. Kent and Cat balked at Adam’s comment about him finally dancing “small,” but I got exactly what Shanks was saying, and co-sign it enthusiastically. I really enjoyed his “soft-hop” number with Comfort, and wrote in my notes “Justin Timberlake” with three big lines under it before the judges even said it. This was smart choreography on Dave Scott’s part, but it was also good to see Kent projecting easy charm rather than overblown shtick for once. That goes double for his contemporary routine with Lauren, where he managed to be innocent but not boyish, and almost completely devoid of his signature hamminess.
If we’re talking about hamminess, Robert is the one who earned that tag tonight. Nigel made a comment about viewers on Internet forums saying Robert is arrogant, but that’s never been my problem with him. Rather, it’s that he’s cheesy as all get-out, and it overshadows his dancing for me. To be fair, his doll routine with Kathryn kind of demanded that of him, but every time the camera would cut to that creepy rictus grin of his I would cringe a little. I give him points, however, for nailing his quickstep with Ashley about as hard as anyone could expect of two non-ballroom dancers, though I still think she outshone him.
Poor Alex has to follow up his season-high performance last week with an automatic bottom three standing due to his injury, and should it turn out to be serious, he’ll be booted tonight. I’m certainly not ready to see him go, but if he does, I think there’s enough talent left percolating in the contestant pool to salvage the rest of the season.
• What was with the music, lighting, and costume choice on that quickstep? I have no idea what to make of that number.
• Speaking of, where’s Mary Murphy? I thought the deal was that she was moving off the judges' panel so she could choreograph, yet she hasn’t been seen since auditions.
• No “here are your girls, and here are your guys” tonight.
• What the hell was Cat talking about when she came out? Something about a trumpet and hot dogs and onions? Still recovering from that 4th of July barbecue perhaps?
• NappyTab has brought it two weeks in a row. They seem to do better when limited to one dance a week.
• “Pure murderation.” Mia, stop trying to coin catchphrases.
• Whatever was going on with Billy’s hair in that last number, I do not approve.
• What is this dance they were doing for Alex at the end of the show? Did I miss something, or is it an inside joke?