Losing Rudy and Tanisha hurt.
I wasn’t covering last week’s episode, but it was one of the hardest eliminations I’ve watched on this show. Rudy and Tanisha had given such great performances that evening (and in Tanisha’s case, the week before), and Rudy’s raw, devastated reaction when he learned he was going home was utterly heartbreaking. Rudy wore his heart on his sleeve through the entire competition, so when he was eliminated, he was unable to hide his pain, no matter how hard Tanisha tried to console him.
I really loved Rudy and Tanisha on their own and as a couple, so I went into this week’s episode with a heavy heart. It’s the problem with reviewing reality TV shows. You become invested in certain contestants because they’re the stronger performers/the show wants you to root for them, and when your favorites leave the show, the season loses some of its charm. Tanisha was this year’s most technically versatile female and Rudy made up for any technical shortcomings with overwhelming personality, so I was really rooting for them to make it all the way to the finale.
Granted, with Ricky basically guaranteed a spot, Rudy landing in the top four would have put two male contemporary dancers in the finale, and that’s no fun to watch. Male contemporary dancers did extremely well this season, taking up three of the top eight spots while no contemporary females made it past the top 10. Meanwhile, the top four females had a very diverse bunch of styles: ballet, ballroom, jazz, and tap. I’m glad the final four ends up being a nice mix.
The big blow was losing Tanisha, a cut that mirrored last season’s top eight elimination of Makenzie, another stunning dancer that choreographers loved but voters couldn’t connect to. Well Makenzie’s back tonight for her second week as an All-Star, and, assuming this show gets a 12th season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tanisha step into the All-Star line-up next year. (She’s also a no-brainer for Dancing With The Stars, but I don’t know if her more severe facial features would play well on that show.)
The pain of losing Rudy and Tanisha is lessened considerably by this season’s final four, a group that shockingly includes both tappers, Zack and Valerie, along with Ricky and Jessica, the pair that wowed everyone when they danced together back in the top 20 performance episode. Tap contestants have had a hard time sticking around in this competition until last year, when Aaron proved that a tapper could go all the way to the finale, and it makes me very happy that Zack and Valerie are going to have the chance to dance together for the first time since they wowed everyone back in the top 20 performance episode.
Valerie isn’t the most skilled dancer of this group, but when it comes to contestants that succeed primarily because of their personality, Valerie has far more versatility and a stronger technical foundation than dancers like Fik-Shun and Cyrus. I would like to see more precision in Valerie’s movement and a stronger awareness of her weight, particularly in her hands, but she’s just so damn charming that it’s easy to love her. If it weren’t for Valerie’s old partner, I’d say she was a top contender for the title of America’s favorite dancer, but it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to steal the crown from the Ricky. He delivers the best solo of the evening, a marvel of flexibility, power, and endurance, and he looks like an All-Star in both of his partnered dancers.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two female contestants that danced with Ricky this season are now in the finale. He’s like an adorable little elf that brings wonderful dance magic into everyone’s lives, and he elevates his partners with his strength and generosity. He reunites with Valerie for a Spencer Liff Broadway routine tonight, and it has the all the sweetness and grace that characterized their strongest dances earlier in the competition. Valerie is in her element with this routine, playing a soft character that radiates innocence, and her well-established chemistry with Ricky guides her smoothly through the routine.
Sometimes certain dancers just have the cards stacked in their favor, and that’s the case with Valerie this week. She dances in an opening hip-hop routine that obscures her face, so if she doesn’t perform it that well, it doesn’t do too much damage. That’s the case for everyone in the top six, making me wonder if that’s why it’s such a low energy number. The dancers have to split their time and energy between three routines and a solo at this point in the competition, so they need to prioritize based on which dances are most likely to gain them votes. If the audience can’t tell which dancer is which in a number, there’s less motivation to dedicate a lot of effort to it.
After dancing with Ricky, Valerie gets another huge boost when Cat shows a clip from dress rehearsal when the swing attached itself to Valerie’s behind, which I believe is the first time this show has shown a dress rehearsal clip. Valerie just gets so much more attention than the other female dancers. She dances her solo when the show comes back from commercials rather than before it cuts to commercials, giving the audience the opportunity to see how the crowd reacts to her solo while the rest of the dancers are cut off by the abrupt clip of season 6’s Kathryn clapping powder at the camera.
To top it all off, Valerie ends up partnered with tWitch for a hip-hop routine, a gift for any contestant at this point in the competition because voters love tWitch. And Valerie steps up her game, proving that she has the hip-hop skills to hold her own against the fan-favorite All-Star, especially once she ditches the skirt. Her personality is a huge boon in this routine, bringing a lot of life to a character that looks like she’s having a hell of a time on her wedding night, and she achieves a balance of cute and sexy that she’s had trouble finding in the past.
Ricky fares even better in his All-Star routine, delivering my favorite dance of the night when he’s partnered with Anya for a Jean-Marc Généreux cha cha that gives me legitimate chills. I remember the exact moment, too. After that incredible sequence where the two move upstage with blazingly fast footwork, there’s a moment where the camera closes up on Anya as she whips her hair off her sweat-drenched face. In that moment, I understand the true meaning of “hot tamale train.” Anya is on fire, and Ricky is equally hot, matching her quick footwork, slick hip movement, and spicy personality to make it look like he’s a ballroom dancer by trade. Ricky hasn’t disappointed in a single dance this season, which isn’t something any of his other competitors in the final four can say.
Because Zack and Jacque aren’t going to score lots of votes with their Jean-Marc foxtrot, they devote more attention to their routines with the All-Stars. They’re on more-or-less equal footing dancing the foxtrot with each other, but they will be completely overshadowed by their All-Stars if they don’t master those routines, particularly because of how challenging the choreography is. Jacque has to dance with a yoga ball for the first part of her Sean Cheeseman jazz number with All-Star Will, a task she accomplishes with elegance and ease, and Zack needs to learn a huge assortment of small complicated movements for his hip-hop routine with last season’s male winner Fik-Shun, the first dance on this series choreographed by season 5’s popper extraordinaire Phillip Chbeeb.
As a tapper, Zack is way out of his comfort zone in this routine, but he impresses with the specificity and weight of his movement. One thing he should have taken from working with Fik-Shun, though, is the power of a smile. There’s hardness in the music and the choreography, but that doesn’t mean that Zack has to be serious the entire time. He’s not playing a specific character here, so this is when he should let more of his natural personality shine through. A smile doesn’t just go a long way to making him more attractive to voters, it also provides contrast within the routine, showing that he can be hard but still find those moments of fun and humor in the piece.
Jacque doesn’t end up making the final cut, but she goes out on a high note with her jazz routine and a bubbly solo set to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” It’s always nice to see ballerinas make it far in the competition because they represent such a classical, technique-heavy corner of the dance world, and they bring a certain poise that you don’t get from dancers in other styles. Jacque and Zack were fighting an uphill battle from the start, so seeing them get this far has been inspiring. She had a great run on the series, and she’ll have a healthy career after this.
The same goes for Casey, who surely already has a spot waiting for him in the Newsies: The Musical cast. I’ve been pretty hard on Casey for being this season’s dance robot—gorgeous technique, cardboard personality—but he took his performance to another level this week. While he still has trouble not forcing sexy, he’s clearly having a lot of fun during his Doriana Sanchez routine with Jessica, and he does phenomenal work with a daunting lift sequence that has him carrying Jessica while turning at nerve-racking speed. It’s amazing how quickly my feelings go from anxious to exhilarated during that moment, and it really shows just how strong Casey is as a dancer.
Casey has a far better night than Jessica, who dances a garish Ray Leeper jazz routine with All-Star Ade later in the evening. The costumes are absurd and the choreography is very scattered, but Jessica dances it well. Unfortunately, Jessica doesn’t show much range this week; her partner routines are very similar in terms of tone, and her solo relies far too heavily on her pirouette skills. Meanwhile, Casey gets the opportunity to dig deeper into his emotions when he dances with Makenzie for a Stacey Tookey contemporary routine, and while the “one day to live” concept garners a big ole eye roll, he finally does make it to the level of passion that he’s been trying to reach all season.
Three things drag this episode down: a lackluster opening group number by Nick DeMoura (a.k.a. that guy sitting next to stoned Justin Bieber during all those dance crew segments), an unnecessary musical guest, and guest judge Christina “Whip-a-Snot.” In addition to obscured faces, DeMoura’s opening routine covers the dancer’s lower halves at the start and relies too much on prop records. It’s just plain boring. And regarding musical guests: this show needs to get rid of them forever. If there’s going to be a guest, I’d much rather see a visiting professional dance company than a band.
Applegate serves as the spiritual cheerleader for the top six, avoiding almost any real critiques so that she boost the morale of the troops by telling them how much she loves them. She returns over and over to some variation of the phrase “What more could I say?,” but there’s a lot she can say. That’s the whole point of being a judge. It makes me yearn for Misty Copeland, who would have likely given these dancers criticism and advice to prepare for the gauntlet that is this show’s performance finale. Mary and Nigel tend to become more hyperbolic as the season progresses, so having Misty back on the panel for the finale would keep things a little more grounded and hopefully give viewers more material to base their voting decisions on. Here’s hoping the ballerina judge makes her way back next week.
- Once again, Cat Deeley was robbed of her Emmy this year, losing to Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. This makes me sad. But NappyTabs won, which makes me happy!
- How awesome is it that the winner of this season joins the Broadway cast of On The Town in addition to earning $250,000? Giving the winner real-world experience will be so beneficial to his or her career.
- Jean-Marc Généreux is trying way too hard.
- The Broadway dance move that Spencer teaches the viewers at home this week looks pretty hard. Don’t hurt yourselves trying to jump the log!
- ”(Sung) I’ve just got a swing attached to my butt but I’ll carry onnnn.”