After last Thursday’s results, my expectations for this season had diminished considerably, but this week’s performance episode renewed my hope that season eight could still be memorable, despite a lack of Iveta’s animal-print practice outfits. The announcement that Kristin Chenoweth would be the special guest judge filled this musical theater fan with glee, and the combo of Cheno and less-special guest judge Lil’ C turns the panel into a hysterical frenzy. Chenoweth strikes a perfect balance between the thoughtful critique of Megan Mullally and the stand-up comedy routine of Debbie Reynolds, and while she may have gotten a little too into the catchphrases, her adorable spunk makes her a joy to watch whether she’s performing or not. And while I may not have agreed with all the judge’s critiques, goddamn were they entertaining tonight, especially once they all started making out.
It’s early in the competition to start whipping out the performance group routines, but this week the top 16 are split into two groups of eight: one group opening the show with a Tyce Diorio Broadway routine, the other closing it out with a Dee Caspery contemporary number. Both of Tyce’s routines disappoint this week, and his group number involves too much chair throwing and not enough actual dancing. The dancers look under-rehearsed, and the props become a burden that can’t be carried without sacrificing confidence and strength in the dancing. The chairs add nothing to the choreography, and it all comes across as very high school talent show, appropriate for an episode that focuses on the top 16’s first performances as children. Tyce’s call girl Broadway routine for Robert and Miranda is praised by the judges, and while I agree that the couple has probably grown the most out of this season’s dancers, their movements could be sharper. Tyce’s rapid choreography lacks a strong through-line, whether that be emotion or story, and the dance feels disjointed as a result. I cannot stress enough how delighted I am that Robert has put the wooing away, though, and his personality has definitely gone from obnoxious to charming in record time.
Conversely, Dee Caspery’s contemporary numbers are thoughtfully choreographed, impressive dances that have me excited to see more work from him. His closing group number set in medieval times featured the girls poisoning their male companions with poisoned chalices, and the strong focus of the dance showcased the power of this season’s females much better than Tyce’s opener. Both group numbers are lacking the level of polish as the competitors’ partner routine, but that’s because the dancers aren’t getting judged on their group routines, so there’s less pressure to make them perfect. Caspery’s routine for Sasha and Alexander continues the couple’s streak of strong dances, but Alexander still needs to work on his emotional projection, a problem that stems from his stiff facial expressions. Nigel feels the strongest emotional connection from Alexander when his back is turned, but Alexander’s back isn’t going to garner him many votes. He should thank the dance gods he got Sasha Fierce as a partner, because she’s going to carry him through the competition unless he’s able to fix his ongoing facial problems. Alexander’s interview, specifically that amazing Lion King flail-fest, endeared me to him as a person; now, I just need to see that in his dancing.
The big question mark this season after losing Iveta last week was how ballroom would go down, and I’m happy to say that both of Jean-Marc Généreux’s routines are competently to spectacularly danced. The judges go wild for Caitlynn and Mitchell’s Samba, and while I didn’t love it on the first go round, I could hear those hips when I focused on Caitlynn during a second viewing. While they have the steps down, I would like to see stronger chemistry between the two to capture the raw sexuality of the dance. Mitchell is one of the dancers on the show that I suspect may not spend all that much time getting freaky with the ladies, but if he wants to win this competition, he’s going to have to learn how to fake it. After two weeks of lackluster performances, Jess and Clarice have their first great dance with an exquisite Foxtrot that is highly polished and silky smooth. Foxtrot isn’t too far out of Jess’ comfort zone, but he handles the lifts much better than last week because Jean-Marc’s choreography gives Clarice the momentum to make the lifts less difficult. It also helps that at the end, he picks her up off an elevated platform rather than the ground, so he doesn’t have to fight that pesky force of gravity as he hoists her onto his shoulders.
Sonya’s routines this week were a mixed bag, and her Jazz number for Ashley and Chris alienated the judge’s with an inaccessible music choice. The two play swamp zombies, giving Chris the opportunity to be intentionally creepy for once, but there’s definitely something missing from the performance. Maybe it’s the disconnect between the dancers and the music, but I think it’s more that the dance has the same problem as Tyce’s Broadway number: It lacks specificity. It’s adequately performed, but it’s a series of movements that need a stronger focus if they’re going to elicit a visceral reaction. It’s great seeing the two react to negative critiques in their half-zombie make-up, though, because they look really pissed. After barely escaping elimination last week, Ricky and Ryan dance in their own style with a rare Sonya contemporary routine, and they show why they were kept around as they navigate the prop-centric choreography. While Ryan manages to put the smile away, her face looks like she’s trying to keep the smile from reappearing, meaning she still hasn’t completely internalized her heartbroken character. Ricky’s solo last week was breath-taking, launching him into my favorite guys of the season, and he handles the ribbon of fabric incredibly well as he unravels his partner. More importantly, their dance marks the first use of Robyn’s music this season, and if there isn’t a “Dancing On My Own” number by the end of the summer, I am going to be royally pissed. Don’t let me down, Sonya (or Travis).
The strongest number of the night comes from season eight power couple Melanie and Marko, dancing a Nappytabs lyrical hip-hop number that is basically “Bleeding Love” redux, even using a Leona Lewis soundtrack. I’m calling Melanie as this season’s champion right now, because not only does she have endless charisma and flawless technique, but she’s an amazing partner as well. I can’t wait to see what she does with the All Stars. When Marko’s fiancée leaves him at the altar, Melanie is the best friend that comforts him until he realizes she’s what he wanted the whole time, and the routine is passionately choreographed and perfectly executed. Melanie supports a heartbroken Marko with her strength until that climactic kiss, a cathartic release that turns the judges into a gang of horny teenagers. Nigel kisses Mary, Cheno kisses C, Nigel kisses C, and Cat just stares in astonishment with the stunned partners. Sometimes the judges’ showboating can get horribly obnoxious, but their unexpected kissfest is one of the highlights of the episode, ramping up the excitement for the second half of the performances. Tadd and Jordan close out the partner routines with a Nappytabs hip-hop about two college kids dealing with the aftermath of a one night stand, and while Nigel is right about the story overwhelming the dance, it’s a fun number that has Tadd shirtless for a good portion of it, so I’m not complaining. Plus, the red Solo cups on the ground are a really nice touch.
It’s nice to know that after disappointing results, So You Think You Can Dance can still turn out entertaining performances that make you forget about the dancers we’ve lost. There’s only a few more competitors that I won’t mind seeing sent home, but the strength of the females means that we’re going to be losing some great ladies very soon. Hopefully the judges don’t shoot themselves in the feet with tomorrow night’s results.
- Don’t know how I feel about the dancers coming on as couples in the beginning rather than doing micro-solos. I understand that the producers want to push the couples aspect at the start, then focus on individuals once it’s the top 10, but it feels a little awkward.
- Cat is flapper chic this episode with a curly bob and a sparkling mini-dress. You can win Emmys for just being hot, right?
- “Sorry, commercial people.”
- Lil’ C taking his elocution to music. Yay.
- Cheno played a lily and a frog peed on her. I feel like I need to read her memoir now.
- “Shut the front door!”
- “She’s like a little Wolverine.”
- Mary has some trouble telling who people are this week.
- “With legs like that, who needs arms?” And vice versa.
- So many amazing Cat quotes following the judge kiss fest: “That’s gross.” “We’ve got another group routine coming up, oh that sounds wrong now.” “Shush, Mary Murphy!”
- “I don’t mean to be the Paula Abdul.”
- “Keep being a silent assassin.”
- “Sonya is the artistic director for everything that is both abstract and concrete about emotion and movement.” So she’s God?
- “C for sensible.”
- “I’m Cat Deeley. Kiss someone.” GIVE THIS WOMAN AN EMMY ALREADY.