So You Think You Can Dance is a show that has proven extremely adaptable over time. The producers are not afraid to experiment, even if they receive less than favorable results, and they quickly learn from past mistakes and remedy them for the future. When ratings dropped during the 6th season in the fall of 2009, the series tried to spice things up with the All-Star format, which presented its own set of problems. The 8th season returned to the Top 20 and introduced All-Stars at the Top 10 stage, giving the dancers the opportunity to create strong relationships with their initial partners before dancing with seasoned professionals.
Since cutting the results episode, SYTYCD has struggled to find a way to make the elimination process an organic part of the show's structure, and last week’s failed experiment putting eliminations at the start of the episode paved the way for this week’s exciting new format change. The bottom six are still announced and perform their solos at the top of the episode, but the judges don't make their decisions until after they've seen the dancers perform with their partners. It forces the contestants in danger of elimination to step up their game when they take the stage again, and gives those six a stronger narrative arc.
Jenna is one of the female dancers to beat in this competition, and seeing what she can do when her place on the show is put in jeopardy makes her an even more captivating performer and fierce competitor. Her solo showcases an electric combination of technique and personality, and she's flawlessly smooth and stylish in her Michael Jackson-inspired hip-hop routine with Tucker. The routine by new choreographers Keoni and Mari Madrid incorporates a jazz influence that spotlights the clean, precise lines of both dancers, highlighting a different but much appreciated side of the genre. Her performance is compared to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, and the judges are keenly aware of Jenna’s star quality.
The fact that she's dancing to stay in the competition brings extra fire to Jenna’s performance, and Tucker matches her energy to make sure that he keeps the partner he's been building a rapport with. Their routine is showered with praise, but the judges could be even more enthusiastic considering the incredibly sleek performance. The judges and choreographers unanimously agree that Jenna should stay in the competition, and there's no reason why she should have been voted into the bottom this week.
Only the bottom three girls perform solos because the male elimination happened earlier in the week when Jade withdrew from the competition because of an injury. This season has a bad track record with male dancers and injuries, losing Emilio before the first episode even aired, and Jade tore his meniscus while rehearsing his Sonya jazz routine with Malece. Jade was one of the weaker contestants in the competition, and he's an example of the type of risk the judges are taking when they put unprepared dancers through to the Top 20. He underperformed twice in Vegas, proving that he couldn't adapt to other styles as well as other contestants, so it's no surprise that he injured himself while rehearsing a dance outside his comfort zone. That leaves only one animator in Bluprint, who could really use some of Jade's personality right now.
Bluprint and Curtis are the two other male dancers up for elimination, but Jade's withdrawal keeps them in the competition for another week. They're both very lucky, because their performances are lacking again tonight. Curtis' labored samba displays the immaturity that causes him to shrink away when compared to his partner Haley's technique and passion, and he fails to gain control in a style that requires a certain level of dominance from the male. At one point, Haley actually grabs Curtis' arm and adjusts it so that he has a firmer grip on her side; she has to do extra work to help him when he’s supposed to be leading.
Bluprint is in a much different situation than Curtis this week, although his female partner also overshadows him. Performing a Luther Brown hip-hop number with new partner Mariah, Bluprint has a surplus of technique but desperately needs an injection of character. He has a valuable resource in his partner, and he should be spending as much time as possible with Mariah in hopes that her personality will rub off and help him break out of his shell. Mariah's personality greatly enhances her performance, and Bluprint has the potential for greatness if he can match his technique with some spirit.
Personality ultimately saves tap dancer Alexis from elimination, with both her solo and partner performances presenting a strong character for the judges. Her joyous, crowd-pleasing solo starts the night off on an immediately different tone than last week, and the clarity of her movement in Spencer Liff's jazz routine is more impressive when you see how different it is from the style she's accustomed to. The judges share more information than usual about the choreographers’ opinions of the bottom dancers this week, and Alexis' problem is that she'll receive a note and apply it, but forget it within five minutes and make the same mistake again. It's great to receive more information about what the dancers are like when they're off stage, and this season the judges are more willing to bring up dress rehearsal performances and choreographer opinions to help the audience use their 20 Fox Now votes more intelligently.
The female going home this week is Jasmine M., whose standard solo and serviceable but safe jazz routine hint at the self-doubt the choreographers feel from her. She doesn't have the confidence in herself needed in order to fully release her inhibitions, preventing her from delivering the amount of quirk the judges want from Sean Cheeseman's bored royalty routine. It doesn't help that her partner Alan is similarly lacking in charisma, although he might blossom when paired with the judges' new darling, Malece.
The rest of the female contestants must have been wildly jealous when they found out Malece would be dancing with All-Star Marko following Jade’s injury, and with Marco’s support she earns the only standing ovation of the night. Mary compares Malece to Marko's former partner and season eight winner Melanie, and Nigel says all the doubts he's had about her have been erased. Losing Jade is just the push Malece needs to become a formidable competitor, and this week’s episode shows that there is a lot of strength behind that cherub face.
At this point in the competition, the power couples are starting to emerge, and there are currently four partnerships that are viable contenders for the Top 10: Aaron and Jasmine H., Fik-Shun and Amy, Paul and MacKenzie, and Tucker and Jenna. Those last two have both had their female halves up for elimination, and in both instances the judges were perplexed by America's decision and chose to keep them immediately.
Paul and MacKenzie flawlessly perform a contemporary routine by the evening's other new choreographer, Lindsay Nelko. It's a very traditional contemporary routine, telling the story of a woman diagnosed with a terminal illness and her boyfriend who's struggling with the news. The dancers realize their characters beautifully, and their movement is so perfectly in unison that it almost seems like the choreography isn't challenging enough.
Amy continues to be the stronger half of her couple, but Fik-Shun is clearly improving every week thanks to his versatile partner. There are some technical issues with his performance during the paso doble, but he nails the attitude and shows impressive strength during the heavy partnering. Guest judge Paula Abdul tells Amy that if she were a professional dancer during Paula’s hey day as a performer, she would be put front and center. But as much as she loves Amy, it's Fik-Shun that Paula is most proud of because she's seen him grow since he appeared on her reality TV competition Live To Dance two years ago. Knowing that this is Fik-Shun’s second time at the reality dance competition rodeo explains why he has such an overwhelming personality, and his steady improvement each week suggests that he'll be sticking around for a while.
The most professional number of the night comes from my personal favorite couple, Aaron and Jasmine H., and their maturity gives them a considerable edge over their younger competitors. Aaron plays a detective investigating the death of Jasmine's character in a Spencer Liff Broadway routine, and they both heighten their acting to a point that matches their sharp individual technique and sizzling shared chemistry. There is so much weight to both of their performances, and they bring a sense of seriousness to the situation that contrasts wonderfully with the razzle dazzle of the choreography. Nigel says they would be right at home on the Broadway stage, but the truth is these two dancers would be right at home on any stage.
- There seems to be a direct correlation between how good Cat looks and the quality of the episode. She needs to make sure her stylists are on point every week.
- I've been waiting a long time to see Paula Abdul guest judge on this show, and she does not disappoint. When she's lucid, she offers great critiques and shows extensive knowledge of dance history and technique. When she's not lucid, she's flat-out assaulting Nigel. It's a win-win situation!
- Guest judge Erin Andrews has the enthusiasm of a hardcore fan, but her critique is largely useless, mostly just repeating what the other judges have said before her if she's not offering overwhelming praise.
- Lindsay Nelko looks like she could be Jean-Marc Généreux's daughter. Also, she needs to take acting for camera classes, because her line delivery is very Teen Mom narrator during the rehearsal video package.
- "You can't be head and shoulders above the competition if you can't get your head above your shoulders."
- "Embers. Like floating in a fire."
- Because Paula says Jasmine H. reminds her of Cyd Charisse: