This week’s So You Think You Can Dance delivers an incredible 17 routines in two hours, resulting in a riveting show from the opening Sonya Tayeh group number to the wheelchair-choreographed closing duet from AXIS Dance Company. But the results of this episode reveal the inherent problem with a reality show competition determined by audience votes, with personality winning over talent as Cole is eliminated instead of Cyrus. I’m not quite sure how the voting demographic breaks down, but judging by how this series is presented, the target audience seems to be teenage girls, probably not far from the kind of person that is screaming in the SYTYCD studio audience. Male contestants with enough charm can tap into that voting audience and ride their support in lieu of talent, and Cyrus’ flaws are overshadowed by his uplifting attitude.
The male elimination this episode has echoes of season five’s top six elimination where Ade was eliminated rather than Evan, with the more technically proficient dancer going home because he didn’t get people to pick up the phone. With Cyrus in the top four with Chehon, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he’s going to win the competition unless he completely bombs next week’s performance episode. I’m happy to hear that we’ll still be getting a proper finale episode (even though the show will randomly be moving to Tuesdays for the next two weeks), but a Chehon and Cyrus finale isn’t the most inspiring combination. Cyrus has his best week yet with a tailor-made Christopher Scott dubstep routine partnering him with Comfort, but every time Cyrus gets on stage, he’s outshined by whoever is with him. He’s improved immensely over the course of this season, and while the animating looks fantastic, Cyrus still has problems bringing weight to hip-hop and really sinking into the pockets. He just has problems with choreography, which is a big problem on a show grooming the next generation of professional dancers. If Cyrus wins, where does he go from here? Could he eventually grow to have tWitch levels of talent and personality? It’s hard to tell, although his Spencer Liff Broadway routine with Tiffany suggests that he just might. Despite some trouble getting his jacket off at the top of the number, he pulls it together to deliver a solid performance. Tiffany has proved to be a great partner throughout this competition, and the two have great chemistry that is perfect for the horny teenager story of Spencer’s dance.
While Cyrus’ performances are strong, almost great this week, Cole’s partnered routines are masterful pieces of art, beginning with a Sonya jazz routine that has him showing his vulnerable side with last season’s champion Melanie. The judges applaud Sonya’s eagerness to challenge gender norms in dance, and Cole is able to be softer as Melanie does some of the lifting. It’s a strong routine, but the video package before the dance shows why Cole doesn’t make it into the finale. “This is who I am, and I’m ready to show America that,” Cole says as he points out the word “LOVE” on his shirt. He was coming across as cold after playing hate and addiction and sadism on stage, so he tries to emphasize how nice he is this episode. He’s so calculated, and he knows what he’s lacking in the competition and makes it very blatant that he’s filling that void. It can read as slightly forced and fake, and he never manages to fully put down his guard for the voting audience.
That’s unfortunate because that wall is shattered during his contemporary routine with Eliana, which sees Mia Michaels returning to paired choreography on this show. It’s an welcome return to form for the choreographer, taking the concept of two battling rams and translating into it an emotional dance about a relationship wavering between love and hate. There is no way that Cyrus would ever be able to do what Cole does in this routine, and it is sad that we won’t see this caliber of technique in the finale. Except for the unnecessary scream at the end, it’s one of this season’s best numbers, with Mia doing what she does best: showcasing her dancers’ personal strengths and incorporating them into a sprawling narrative built on music and movement. Eliana’s extensions are stunning, and the musicality of both dancers leads to beautifully sharp movement. The camerawork is especially strong on this number, with minimal cuts to emphasize the seamless transitions of the choreography. Like Will and his hip-hop last week, Cole goes out on a high note, but it’s unfortunate that he has to leave at all.
That means Chehon is the first male to make it to the finale, and there’s no denying that he’s great at what he does. His cha-cha with Witney reveals that he still struggles with Latin ballroom, especially in the hip area, but his Tyce Diorio contemporary routine with all-star Kathryn shows why he’s made it this far. Taking inspiration from the influx of immigrants on American shores in the 1940s, Tyce creates a routine that focuses on a single briefcase and all the hopes and dreams it represents for these two people. Tyce is at his best when doing contemporary, and while this dance showcases Chehon’s technique, more importantly, it gives him the opportunity to emote and create a connection with Kathryn. There’s a lot of pain in this dance, and it brings the judges to their feet with tears in their eyes. Chehon has become a much more fearless dancer as this season has progressed, and his Tyce routine shows the physical strength and emotional depth that has made him a great contestant, but will that be enough to beat out Cyrus’ unstoppable personality? I don’t know how voting is going to work if there is also going to be a results finale, does that mean the votes from this week’s episode will be combined with those from next week’s performance to declare the ultimate winner? At any rate, it seems like Cyrus has the male half of the championship in the bag, meaning that the real suspense is going to come courtesy of the ladies in the finale.
Witney and Eliana end up in the bottom two, and Witney has a painted-on ballroom smile as she hears Eliana’s name called instead of hers for the finale. It was a bad sign when Mary accidentally called her Lindsay during judging, and after a strong solo and first routine, Witney’s night falls apart in the second half. But that first routine is one of her best, a Ray Leeper lyrical jazz number with season seven’s Marko that features some of Witney’s most graceful, confident dancing on this show. Playing a bride who has cold feet on her wedding day and leaves her fiancé at the altar (to be picked up by a friend later?), Witney leaves ballroom behind to become a powerful lyrical dancer, keeping up with Marko every step of the way. The music is great and there’s a wonderful build to the piece, and the couple’s chemistry has the judges arguing Witney’s decision to leave her partner at the end of the dance. While it’s sad that her final ballroom number doesn’t showcase her skills as well as it could, this episode shows how well Witney was able to adapt to other styles.
While Witney is able to keep her composure at elimination, Eliana is visibly mortified and genuinely shocked when she hears that she’ll be dancing in the finale. She’s long been my female pick to win, and although her Christopher Scott hip-hop routine with tWitch isn’t her best outing, her negative critiques in that first dance propel her to give incredibly daring performances later in the episode. The aforementioned Mia routine is probably her best dance on this series, and she delivers a breathtaking solo that shows off her athleticism and musicality and just how easy she makes it all look. She’s a much better soloist than Tiffany, who turns in a routine that is basically the same as last week’s, which makes it even more bland.
Tiffany is a dark-horse competitor who wasn’t spotlighted before the competition but has steadily risen, and her quick ascent upon reaching the top 10 calls to mind season five champion Jeanine. Like Eliana, Tiffany has proved herself quite skilled at taking on unfamiliar styles, starting off the night with an electric Jean-Marc Generaux jive with season two winner Benji. The difference between Eliana and Tiffany is that Tiffany has been consistently elevated by her all-star dance partners, while it seems like Eliana is already at their level. That’s not a bad thing at all, and the result is that it appears like Tiffany has grown significantly, while Eliana has remained at a consistent level of excellence. It’s hard to stand out when dancing with Benji, and while his boundless energy pulls focus, he’s such a good partner that he takes the focus he pulled and throws it back to the person he’s dancing. The jive earns Tiffany a standing ovation, and when she dances with Cyrus for the final number, she dances with the confidence and power of one of the all-star females.
- Cat’s hair is flawless tonight, but I have conflicting feelings about her dress. I like it from far away, but up close, the sequin rectangles and flesh-colored fabric don’t look quite right.
- Christina Applegate does her second stint as guest judge this season, revealing that she takes dance classes with Benji and that her hair looks fantastic when it’s all wavy like that. Does this mean that Jesse Tyler Ferguson can come back for the performance finale? Please make it happen, Nigel.
- I’m so glad this show has kept guest performers, because I never thought I’d see a company like AXIS on primetime television. This show has done so much to expose people to the huge variety of dance out there, and AXIS’ performance is something unique and special.
- That remix of “Hey, Mr. Postman” is really scattered and not very pleasant. I wish Scott had either just used the original or different music altogether.
- Allison Holker’s eye roll when everyone is standing for Tyce’s dance is amazing. Go back and watch it.
- The most depressing thing about Tyce’s dance is poor Kathryn’s makeup situation.
- Cyrus and Tiffany’s routine wouldn’t be prohibited from 1950s TV because it’s too racy; it wouldn’t be on TV because Cyrus is black.
- The big question the judges ask the choreographers when discussing dancers: “Would you employ them?” Very interesting.
- According to Christina Applegate, dancing to “YMCA” is the equivalent of singing the phonebook.
- I’m very disappointed no one said “Lord have Murphy!” tonight.