It’s finally here. Auditions and Vegas are over, the top 20 has had their chance to show America what they can do in their own styles, and now they’re finally competing for votes. So You Think Can Dance has truly begun, and this competition is off to a strong start with an episode that is light on surprises but heavy on entertainment. Megan "Turn The Tub Around" Mullally joins Nigel and Mary on panel, and she’s a guest judge that I hope we see more of her this season, as her critiques are knowledgeable, articulate, and enthusiastic. She has great banter with her judging partners and Cat, and never once did she delve into the groan-inducing depths of hyperbole that previous guest judges have fallen into. Maybe it’s because Megan doesn’t need to use a judging position on SYTYCD to up her profile (I’m looking at you, Tyce).
Thanks to some conveniently timed weather alerts from my Fox affiliate, I missed the news that Mitchell hurt his elbow and would not be dancing this episode. I figured it out eventually. Thus we have the first injury of the season, but last season’s Robert takes his place this episode so no complaints here. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him down the line (preferably shirtless). And with that semi-unfortunate news, we learn our top 10 pairs, and each dancer is given eight seconds to let America know a little about them before they start dancing.
Jordan (Jazz) and Tadd (Hip-Hop) have the first dance of the competition with a Sean Cheesman African Jazz, and while the judges go wild for it, they tend to go wild for the first dance of the season. It’s a way to drum up excitement for everything that’s about to come, even if the dance isn’t the strongest. The couple could use more weight to hit the beats stronger, and their synchronization got a little off toward the end, but they do well, especially Tadd, who is dancing out of his style. Both of Cheesman’s dances this episode were underwhelming, and both were showered with praise. Missy (Jazz) and Wadi’s (Hip-Hop) “sexy demons in a box” routine had some sluggish movement from Wadi when he was required to partner, but his crowd-pleasing parkour moves will probably keep him in the competition. Missy and Jordan both fall into the sexy female type that the voters don’t tend to favor; they’ll both have to show a softer side as the competition progresses. As for Missy and Wadi's routine, I think Christopher Scott and Jason Gilkison's faces say it all:
Contemporary dancers got lucky this week, as half of them received Travis Wall routines their first time out the gate. Alexander (Ballet) is haunted by his conscience that has taken the form of a vicious Sasha (Contemporary), and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a mean-Travis routine: jagged angles and sharp movement that build to a big emotional release. Sasha dominates the routine as Alexander fades into the background, and the judges hit it right on the money: The body is great, but the face needs a lot of work. His stony face would be more appropriate for Travis’ second routine, where Melanie (Contemporary) and Marko (Contemporary) play statues come to life through the amazing power of dance. Sounds like a dance that would make Mia Michaels cry, but no worries, Mary fills the role just fine, gushing over the couple’s beautiful performance with tears in her eyes. It’s the perfect nice-Travis routine, with clean lines and smooth movement that build to a big emotional release, and Melanie and Marko have strong chemistry that makes them one of the show’s most formidable pairings. They also receive one of my favorite critiques of the night, as Nigel applauds the few imperfections of the number because they suggest the dancers still have room to grow. As much fun as it is to watch great dancers on this show, the judges love seeing good dancers become great over the course of the competition. It turns the show into something more than a competition; it’s a training gauntlet for the most promising dancers in the country.
Jess (Broadway) and Clarice (Jazz) take on a Tyce Diorio Broadway number for their first dance, and Jess’ three Broadway credits come in handy during the routine. He’s trying to push some of his arrogance to the side during the interview bits, but he still has a while to go before breaking out of the Evan mold. He’s an amazingly charismatic dancer in his own style, and Clarice holds her own on the stage, matching his energy while bringing some sultry to the number. The judges love it, and Nigel proclaims Jess his favorite male dancer of the season, much to excitement of teenage girls everywhere. Nigel thinks Clarice still needs to get up to her partner’s level, but Mary doesn’t think she’s going anywhere. Neither do I.
Christopher Scott looks to be this season’s resident hip-hop choreographer, which can only be a good thing after his two dances this episode, which showed both the lyrical and more traditional sides of the choreographer. Ryan (Contemporary) and Ricky (Contemporary) show the softer side of hip-hop with a dance about lost love coming back to haunt your dreams with her insane Joker smile. Great dancing, annoying face, and thankfully the judges call her out on it. And then Ryan gets even more irritating by explaining her grin, because she’s going to be the girl who can’t just take the judges’ criticism and apply it to her dancing next week. She’s a great dancer, but her personality needs some work. She’s trying way too hard to be likable, and that tends to have the exact opposite effect. Chris (Hip-Hop) and Ashley’s (Contemp) routine about a cheating couple is a fun routine, but Ashley greatly outshines her partner, showing she has the swag she hinted at in her interview and more. The judges love the two of them, but I feel nothing from Chris when he dances. While Chris isn’t extremely knowledgeable of traditional hip-hop, he should still be able to hold his own next to Ashley, who isn’t even in her own style. Ashley radiates when she’s just standing still, and I’m not sure how long Chris will be able to survive in her shadow.
Some might say that Caitlynn (Contemporary) is at an advantage this episode dancing with potential All-Star Robert, but Nigel is quick to remind the audience that she had to learn the dance with Mitchell, then relearn it with Robert and establish a new relationship in a fraction of the time. The Sonya Tayeh routine about what can be accomplished without fear inspired Megan Mullally, and the judges praised Caitlynn’s strength. Sonya has a very specific style that can make her routines appear similar after a while, but when the dancers bring the right combination of sexy and edgy, her choreography is revitalized. Robert and Caitlynn bring it. It’s very possible that because of Mitchell’s absence the pair will end up in the bottom three, but Caitlynn should definitely be safe for the time being.
The big surprise of the night came from Jason Gilkison, whose Latin Jive for Miranda (Contemporary) and Robert (Hip-Hop) was the only dance of the night where neither dancer was in his/her own style. And they absolutely KILL IT. Robert’s regular face is ballroom face so he has no problems there, but he shows incredible partnering skills, building a strong connection with Miranda that makes up for any lack of technique. In a mod mini and knee-highs, Miranda has the quick footwork of the Jive, and she has a quirky sexiness that Mullally is especially happy with (wonder why?). The dance gets a huge reaction from the audience, and Nigel is quick to point out Robert’s technical faults. When the audience goes this crazy this early, Nigel likes to temper their enthusiasm with a healthy dose of realism. Robert needs to point his feet or he will not win this competition.
Gilkison’s second routine was the final performance of the night, the dreaded quickstep danced by Iveta (Ballroom) and Nick (Tap), who benefits from his partner only being the BEST QUICKSTEP DANCER IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Quickstep isn’t a huge crowd-pleaser: It doesn’t have big lifts and showy acrobatics, just intensely technical footwork and upper-body positioning that is difficult for modern dancers to capture effortlessly. Iveta and Nick have a classic elegance between them that makes their precise, light movement a joy to watch, and more than anything it’s just nice to finally see what a good quickstep really looks like. Mullally notices how the movement flows all the way through to Iveta’s hand, and it’s that power combined with the perfect technique that makes Iveta such a strong competitor. Nick is not only out of his style, but he’s dancing one of the hardest styles on the show, and his performance makes me confident that he’ll make it further than any previous tapper on the series.
There you have it, America. With the top 20 at our mercy, the fun really begins. Tune in tomorrow to see who goes home, a Keri Hilson performance (“Pretty Girl Rock,” please), and the world première of a new Lady Gaga video, which will probably have a whole lot of season four’s Mark. It’s going to be a tough season, as this episode showed some outstanding dancers, but hopefully next week will put our top 18 in routines further outside their usual style.
• Word is Kristin Chenoweth and Lady Gaga are lined up as guest judges this season, with Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen apparently talking to producers about sitting in that coveted third chair. Who are your fantasy guest judges?
• Cat’s looking shiny-dirty with a black sequined dress and silver heels. After a rocky start of the episode (no Cat, Children’s Hospital is not a kid’s show), she gets back into the adorable Deeley groove we love.
• Sasha Fierce?
• Lipstick alert: Sasha gets some on her teeth while standing before the judges, which may have contributed to Clarice’s obsessive licking of her teeth throughout her critique. Clarice, if there was any lipstick it has been wiped away so many times that you’re starting wear down the enamel on your teeth.
• There’s lots of “kick out the back of your knees” choreography this episode.
• Do the girls like being referred to as “beasts?”
• “10 – across – the board.”
• So much wooing between Robert and Mary.
• Melanie is totally Ginnifer Goodwin, Jr. She also used to be narcoleptic, so let’s hope that doesn’t reappear at a really inopportune moment.
• First judges’ standing ovation of the competition: Melanie and Marko.
• Who keeps a bra in their back pocket? I like that the judges noticed that.
• Chris’ tiny mouth makes it look like he’s always sucking through a straw.
• Nigel: “Tap dancers rock!”
• Megan thinks SYTYCD has the best costumes, hair, and makeup of any show on television. Sorry, Drag Race.