As someone watching this week’s Top 10 episode of So You Think You Can Dance through a television at home, I can’t imagine the energy in CBS Studios after these exhilarating two hours. At multiple times I jumped in my seat and gasped at what I was seeing on stage, and I would easily be one of those screeching girls in the live audience if I lived in Los Angeles. I can confidently say the Top 10 episode of season 10 is a highlight of the entire series, with the elimination format changes adding a riveting narrative to a stream of spectacular routines. The addition of the All-Stars does exactly what it’s supposed to, pushing the contestants to elevate their performances or risk fading into the background while a professional steals the spotlight.
Some numbers are less memorable than others, but as a whole, the level of quality is staggeringly high this episode, which makes it even harder to say goodbye to two dancers. Let’s get the bad news out of the way early because the cuts really sting this week. Tucker, Nico, Jenna, and Makenzie find themselves in the bottom, and while it’s a predictable group, it’s also an incredibly talented one. All these dancers have been in the bottom before and there are 10 routines to get through so they don’t get to perform solos, but they all bring that “dance for your life” energy to their partnered performances.
Tucker didn’t perform last week so he’s automatically in the bottom, but it’s clear the show has no intention of letting him go because of a knee infection. He gets the last dance of the night, which is not only memorable for being a male-male contemporary routine, but for marking Robert Roldan’s returns as an All-Star after being injured in a car accident in June of last year. The Travis Wall contemporary piece is about the choreographer’s relationship with his brother, season 3’s Danny Tidwell, who was also recently hospitalized at the start of this year for undisclosed reasons. The dance reminds the audience that Tucker had that near fatal car accident that briefly paralyzed him, and while it’s not the most immaculately danced number of the night, it’s bursting with emotion. Their synchronization gets off toward the end, but that could honestly be either Robert or Tucker’s fault. Robert isn’t the strongest All-Star and he may still be recovering from his injuries sustained just over a year ago, and Tucker had a knee infection less than two weeks ago. Considering the circumstances, it’s impressive what these two men are capable of doing.
Tucker has a stronger outing tonight than Nico, who has greatly improved his hip-hop skills since last we saw them but still struggles with the weight and intensity of the style. He plays a reptile in a NappyTabs routine with Comfort, and while it’s the most carefree we’ve seen him onstage, he starts to tense up and lift out of that hip-hop pocket in the middle of the piece. He’s definitely overshadowed by Comfort, who breezes her way through the choreography, which includes an amazing crab sprint off the stage at the end. It’s not a surprise to see Nico go home, and the judges and choreographers are unanimous in their decision. He was getting better with each week, but now we’ll thankfully be spared the shrieks of Nico super fans until he comes back at the end of the season. (I’m sure the Army of Paul will pick up the slack.)
The male choice is unanimous, but the eliminated female is a much more difficult decision, especially after Jenna and Makenzie shut it down with their performances. These two women have struggled to connect with voters for mysterious reasons, and they once again prove that lack of talent isn’t the reason they consistently find themselves in the bottom. Jenna’s Mandy Moore contemporary routine with Neil is astonishingly smooth, with Jenna showing complete trust in her partner as he lifts her over and over again. Jenna is a ballroom dancer who has no trouble transitioning into a flawless contemporary performer, which is shocking considering how different the movement is in the two styles. Her ballroom background is ultimately what gives Jenna an edge, because Makenzie’s Spencer Liff Broadway number with Jacob matches all the passion and precision of Jenna’s routine, but in a much different context.
Liff’s piece is the evening’s finest use of props, creating a sense of a nightclub location with minimal set dressings that don’t draw attention from the dancers like Christopher Scott’s two routines do. Makenzie and Jacob are two perfectionists whose characters come through in their technique; they don't bring a lot of personality from their core, instead letting their emotions and feelings shine through the remarkable extensions of their bodies. Makenzie commits so fully to the movement that it ultimately translates to a character who is solely formed by the choreography, and if she brought more of herself to her performances, she likely wouldn't be going home tonight. But when the top criticism of a dancer is that she is too good at doing what other people want, that means it’s really hard to find any other flaws. It’s sad that Makenzie won’t be able to dance with any more All-Stars, and I wish her and Paul the best with their showmance, but her elimination shows just how fierce the female competition is this season.
Hayley has become the female frontrunner after evading the bottom each week, but she gives the evening’s most lackluster lady performance. Christopher Scott’s choreography for her hip-hop routine with tWitch is too bland for this point in the competition. It’s cute but not much else, and the chemistry between the pair hits a snag during the dubstep breakdown, which has tWitch shifting attention from his partner to the table set piece. Scott is going prop-crazy between Hayley’s routine and the rocking chair opening number; he should stop focusing on incorporating outside elements and work on creating unique images with just the human body. The opening is best when the rocking chairs are taken away and the dancers are able to showcase themselves without a bunch of distracting salad dressing.
Makenzie’s nomination means the dissolution of one of the season’s power couples, but Paul is all but guaranteed a place in the finale as he delivers a fiery performance in his own style on his birthday. He’s partnered with All-Star Witney for a Jean-Marc Généreux cha-cha, and they have electric chemistry that lands them both on the Hot Tamale train. There’s one moment where they miss a hand connection, but Witney seems to be snatching her hand away so it’s not clear if it’s intentional. Everything else is flawless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul ends up joining Witney on Dancing With The Stars after this competition ends.
The evening’s other ballroom number is Doriana Sanchez’s roller coaster of a disco routine, putting Amy in Brandon’s muscular hands for some awe-inspiring physical feats. Amy has some trouble finding her high-heeled footing at first, but once her nerves dissipate, the blend of technique and character comes flooding through, and she literally takes off. You’d be nervous too if you had to perform “The Discolocator” on live national television, but Amy eventually finds strength by trusting Brandon. Amy’s former partner Fik-Shun also benefits from his All-Star partner, maturing significantly during his Mandy Moore jazz routine with season eight winner Melanie. It’s hard not to look at Melanie in that red sequin dress, but Fik-Shun does more than just keep up. He really punches the choreography and works to create a more macho, older character than we are used to seeing from him. Melanie definitely raises him up, but she also overshadows him because she’s just so damn good.
If there’s one power couple to win this competition, it’s Aaron and Jasmine, who are unstoppable no matter what challenges are thrown their way. Aaron’s strength is put to great use in Stacy Tookey’s contemporary routine with Kathryn. The dance is Tookey’s tribute to her husband, and the connection between Aaron and Kathryn reflects the more complex relationship of a married couple. Trust is a big part of all the routines tonight, but Aaron and Kathryn give that trust a real sense of history, creating the impression that this is a dance this couple has done over and over again. They’re always stumbling, but they always have someone to catch them. Plus, Aaron is the only guy who lifts like an All-Star.
Jasmine is the rare dancer who actually outperforms her All-Star during her Ray Leeper jazz number with Marko, but the season eight favorite doesn’t stand a chance against Jasmine’s legs in those tight, tight pants. Jasmine has an unbridled joy when she dances that is contagious, making it impossible not to smile when she’s breaking it down to “Blurred Lines.” The movement is crisp, the partner connection is relaxed but always present, and the dancers convey distinct personalities despite being costumed and choreographed the same way. It’s everything a dance during the All-Stars stage should be, and it’s just one of the evening’s many exemplary numbers. The season is now racing full speed to its finale, and if it maintains the momentum of this episode, it’s going to be more breathtaking than a Doriana Sanchez disco death drop.
- This episode breaks the curse of Cat’s bad outfits by being awesome despite her very boring beige ensemble.
- Tonight marks Debbie Allen’s return to the judges’ panel, and she’s a delightful face to see back. She always seems so gracious to be in the presence of these magnificent dancers. She really doesn’t have much to negatively critique this week, but her positive reinforcement makes me feel like a great dancer, and I’m sitting on my couch.
- Jasmine is serving straight-up Janelle Monáe realness tonight.
- “They can say you’re Fik-Shun, but that was real.”
- “All these candles. I knew it was Paul's birthday, but I didn’t know it was Mary’s birthday, too.”