Let June 30, 2010 go down in the TV Club history books as the day that season seven of So You Think You Can Dance finally got its act together. No, not every dance was perfect, and there’s still a bit of dead weight sinking to the bottom of the contestant pool. But it’s a competition after all; uniform excellence isn’t the goal. The goal is excitement, and that’s exactly what tonight’s episode brought. Whether it was rage at the judges’ classless—though not unfounded—tanking of Melissa, joy at Alex Wong’s absolutely brilliant revelation as a hip-hop dancer, or awe at Mandy Moore’s discovery that some music was indeed made after 1989, tonight’s episode had to make you feel something. Oh yeah, and there was some pretty great dancing to boot.
Adechike: I said last week that I wanted to see Adechike do hip-hop, further cementing my suspicion that the SYTYCD producers read this blog. (Hi Nigel! Your hair is ridiculous!) And like most of what Adechike has done so far it was… pretty good. The judges were correct in their assessment that his personality finally came out in this routine, and he looked like he was having fun instead of competing. However, his hip-hop dancing was a little light-footed, lacking the grounded quality the style demands… certainly not worthy of Adam Shankman’s strangled “whoo!” and standing ovation. I’m not sure why Adechike was partnered with Lauren instead of Comfort, who might have helped him roughen up what could have been a pretty great Dave Scott routine. As it was, though, it was pretty lightweight, and absolutely forgettable compared to the evening’s other hip-hop performance. Adechike also falls to the middle of the pack with his solo performance, which was notable only for having the most annoying music imaginable.
Ashley: Ashley and Ade’s routine is where the night started picking up steam. New choreographer Dee Caspary (“Ew, you’re amazing,” says Mia) took full advantage of Ade’s strength, and Ashley’s movement was lovely to watch. However, while I agree with Mia that she’s the best of the female dancers, she has yet to show much in the way of personality… when she’s not on screen, I forget what she looks like. Even her choice for tonight’s theme of “inspiration” was unremarkable: her dance teacher. Yawn. She showed a lot of spark tonight while she danced, especially in her high-energy solo, so I know it’s in there… but she needs to let it out quick if we’re going to have a top three that isn’t a total sausage fest.
Robert: Robert is quickly falling in my estimation, despite the judges’ general approval of him tonight. Like Adechike, he’s a very good dancer, but nowhere near the level of Billy or Alex—as Mia alluded to in her “take ballet” suggestion—and his personality is like an ill-fitting impression of Kent’s aw-shucks shtick. The jazz number that Sonya choreographed for him and Courtney was supposed to be creepy, but his angular movements and sneers just came off silly, like an impression of a T. Rex who just smelled something weird. However, as a skilled but not spectacular dancer, he gave the judges a reason to actually give some valid criticism rather than just slavering all over the routine. There was a fair bit of real, technical criticism from all three of the judges tonight, which I really appreciated. Sure, there’s still plenty of absurdity, like Mia’s “the choking was everything” comment, but they don’t seem to be overcompensating for boring dancing with over-the-top commentary anymore.
Melinda: Poor, poor Melinda. I’m glad the judges gave her props for her commitment to the routine and for getting out of that nasty heel catch at the top of the routine with relative grace, because she needed all the positives she could get tonight. Yes, that number was a stiff, heavy-footed trainwreck, but Mia took the judges’ criticism—which up to that point was valid—screaming off in a thoroughly icky direction with her “letting Cristina go was a mistake” comment. (And shame on you, Adam, for backing her up.) Yes, Cristina would have danced this particular routine better, but she would have been gone soon enough as well… neither her nor Melinda nor Jose have what it takes to get to the end of this competition. Splitting hairs over who goes in what order is kind of moot. That said, thanks to the judges and her very weird solo—why does she insist on tapping to music with words?—Melinda is almost certainly out the door this week.
Lauren: The hamminess that Lauren showed in her audition paid off in her Broadway routine with Neil, which was pretty straightforward but very engaging… and not just because it almost included a barely legal nip slip. I keep forgetting that Lauren is only 18; both her dancing and her styling tonight felt much more mature, and seductive in a way that her creepy baby-stripper audition piece was not. She also proved she can tone it down in her solo, which I appreciate. I still prefer Ashley, but there might be hope for the ladies in this competition yet!
Billy: Then again, maybe not, with the likes of Billy around. Once again, I’m surprised and annoyed at the judges’ relatively harsh criticism of him, and continue to believe that they are being rougher on him because he’s leagues ahead of most (MOST) of the competition. His Stacy Tookey contemporary routine was essentially flawless, and I don’t buy the judges’ assessment that his performance was lacking. Yes, Kathryn is pure emotion when she dances, so perhaps he fades a bit compared to her, but their combined strength and quality of movement literally made me choke up, something that doesn’t happen very often on this show. You could see it in Legacy’s face: “Wow, I inspired that?”
Jose: Jose continues to get lucky with a Dmitry Chaplin samba that plays to all of his strengths and masks most of his weaknesses. If that number had had a samba roll or anything but the most rudimentary footwork, he would have been sunk, but as with Bollywood last week, he got to skate by on his smile and a couple of acrobatic power moves thrown in to distract from his sloppy, sloppy dancing. And the judges seem fine with this, which is infuriating; I really could care less about the magic in Jose’s eyes and smile. I’m aware that I was saying very similar things about Legacy at this point last season, and I ended up liking him quite a bit. But Jose doesn’t even impress in his own genre. He doesn’t seem to have taken to heart Adam’s suggestion that he come up with some power moves that get going quicker, subjecting us once again to a slow-building head spin in his solo. Now granted, I can’t even stand on my head, much less spin on it, but still… yawn.
Kent: Every time I see Kent I feel like I should be annoyed by him, and yet I’m not. But the potential is definitely there, and I have to give props to the judges tonight for recognizing that and attempting to nip it in the bud. As with Billy, Kent is such a shoe-in for the top three that I think they feel comfortable being a little more blunt in their criticism, but in Kent’s case I think it is 100 percent valid. Both he and Allison danced Mandy Moore’s surprisingly awesome jazz routine wonderfully… provided you used your thumb to cover his face on your TV screen the whole time. Like I said, I like Kent’s silly, deer-in-headlights demeanor, but he needs to stop bringing it to the stage with him.
Alex: What can I say? This is why I watch this show. I didn’t even cringe at the judges’ over-the-top adulation for his and Twitch’s hip-hop number, because it was totally deserved. Every season, it seems, NappyTab pulls out exactly one mind-blowing routine, and this was it. Nigel even threw out the Emmy card for the first time this season, and I concur: The routine told a story other than “love sure is great!,” took advantage of the male-male pairing in a non-hokey way, and incorporated Alex’s ballet skills in a way that was both complimentary and humorous. (Loved Twitch mirroring his ballet arms at the very end.) Thanks to Kent’s criticism from the judges—oh, and the fact that he absolutely killed it—Alex easily moved to the front of the pack tonight.
We’ve reached the point in the season where there’s a clear ranking among the contestants: Melinda and Jose are floundering; Adechike, Robert, Ashley, and Lauren could all go either way; and Billy, Alex, and Kent are in a dead heat for “sure thing” status. There’s definitely the potential for a shake-up from the middle of the pack—again, hopefully from one of the girls—but it’s pretty obvious that Melinda is going to shuffle-hop-toe off the show tomorrow.
• Remember when I said during auditions that Florence + The Machine would be great music to choreograph to? Yeah, Travis Wall and Dee Caspary agree. I suspect we’ll continue to hear her in the coming weeks.
• Lauren on Neil: “I think we’re going to do well, because we’re pretty.”
• Speaking of Neil, he has a surprisingly funny Twitter feed… if that’s your thing.
• I still don’t get what “hungry jazz face” is.