Welcome to Vegas, dancers. Some of you may not make it out with your lives, if the dramatic promos and Cat’s overblown narration are to be believed. Every year, there’s some kind of injury the producers blow way out of proportion in order to create drama, and this year it’s platinum-haired Malece who is at death’s door after being dropped by a careless partner. At one point, Cat actually says, “And for one dancer, it could be the end of everything.” Spoilers: No one dies in Vegas this year, and like the first episode of the season, this Vegas week gives a good idea of what viewers can expect from the competition when it really begins.
Vegas week starts with 159 dancers, but that number is quickly pared down by over half after the first two rounds. There are 106 dancers once the initial solos are completed, and after the NappyTabs hip-hop round, there are only 77 dancers left. So over 50% of the dancers who were strong enough to make it through the first round of auditions, including a good chunk who got there by dancing an additional choreography round, don’t even make it through the first two challenges thrown their way in Vegas. It goes to show just how tough this competition is, and anyone with just a passing interest in dance has no chance of making it far on this show.
There aren’t many reality TV competitions that put their contestants through such a grueling gauntlet before the real game begins, but So You Think You Can Dance needs to test its dancers heavily to prove they’ll be able to survive the even tougher road ahead. This show has a record of injuries that complicate the performance and voting process, and making Vegas week as tough as possible insures that these dancers won’t fall apart once they’re put on camera every week. They have to perform solos to get room keys, learn hip-hop, jazz, ballroom, and contemporary routines choreographed by professionals, and create their own numbers for groups of dancers with different specialties. (Not to mention a lot of these contestants are doing this fresh out of high school.) It’s incredibly difficult, and the manipulations of reality TV make it all the harder.
After a hip-hop round that cuts the group down to less than half its original size, Sonya Tayeh gives the dancers some jazz choreography and then starts playing the mind games. Deciding that the dancers aren’t prepared to perform for the judges, Sonya gives them the night to go over their choreography, depriving them of valuable sleep as they run their routines all through the night. The next day, the dancers will have to choreograph their group numbers during the night, meaning that most of the dancers that make it to the final round of Vegas auditions have only gotten a few hours of sleep during the entire experience.
Sleep deprivation is one of the most handy reality TV tools for creating drama, but as far as Vegas weeks go, season 10 is fairly uneventful. The biggest personal drama comes during the jazz round, when Sydney isn’t happy with her shorter male partner Jade and asks if she can dance with someone else. Sonya is insulted she would even ask the question and attacks the girl for not trying her hardest to make a connection with the partner she was assigned. Sydney only makes matters worse by fleeing to her room after her public humiliation, but she gets in some extra rehearsal time with Jade before their performance to get through the jazz round. Jade is sent to dance for his life (more on that later) and will eventually make it through the entire Vegas week, but Sydney gets cut further down the line.
With 159 dancers at the start of Vegas, the producers have to be selective about who they decide to spotlight, but there are three dancers who get more attention than others: Malece, Fik-Shun, and Jade. Malece has the blessing-curse of an injury to put her on camera, and she gains a lot of momentum in the competition when she gives an outstanding performance after coming back from the hospital. Her partner Armen also develops a nice arc over the course of the episode as he goes from the disgrace of Vegas to judges’ favorite; he gets chewed out by Mary for caring more about hitting the beats than his partner’s safety, but his performances and partnering in all the later stages win the judges back to his side.
Based on how much screen time he receives this week, hip-hop street dancer Fik-Shun is a shoe-in for the Top 20 and a leading contender for the crown. The camera checks in on him during almost every round, making sure we’re aware that he’s performing spectacularly in all styles. The quality of his performance is never called into question (even during a disastrous group routine), and his dance skills are matched by his charismatic personality. The last step of auditions has the contestants telling the judges why they should be part of the Top 20 for what is essentially an early camera test, and Fik-Shun is far more personable than someone like animator BluPrint. Granted, BluPrint gets his time to shine when he has to “dance for his life,” words that don’t quite have the same meaning on this show that they used to.
This show’s producers have seen how entertaining animators are on camera even if they don’t make the best contestants, and the “dance for your life” segments have turned into spotlights for animator solos. Jade has to dance for his life twice after disappointing in both the jazz and contemporary rounds, a failure that would mean the end of Vegas for other dancers, but because Jade’s an exceptional animator, he’s given the opportunity to solo for the judges, battling BluPrint for his second round in the bottom. Stacey Tookey decides to keep both of them to prove just how meaningless the whole ordeal is, especially because their solos do nothing to assuage the judges’ fears they won’t be able handle different styles of choreography. They are likely both kept around so the judges can make a dramatic choice between the two next week, but BluPrint receives such little exposure this episode that the odds seem stacked heavily in Jade’s favor.
Some other dancers whose extended screen time suggests they’ll be making it to the Top 20 include weepy tap dancer Curtis, ballroom dancer Jenna, contemporary dancer/Cyrus’ ex-girlfriend Jessica, and jazz dancer Amy. Jenna is a part of a group routine inspired by the Boston marathon bombing that brings the judges to tears, and even with the ending where everyone is jogging in unison, it’s a beautifully choreographed number. That first group really comes out with guns blazing, showing everyone how it’s done with a well-rehearsed dance that has a story and a message. They know what the judges want and give it to them on a silver platter, forcing the rest of the groups to play catch up. Their Boston dance is the first of many topical numbers we’ll be exposed to in the next couple months, most of which will probably come from Tyce Diorio.
33 dancers remain at the end of Vegas, but there aren’t enough competitors spotlighted to give a solid idea of what the Top 20 will look like. There will be the usual multitude of contemporary dancers and the requisite animator, but there should also be a strong ballroom component this season and maybe even some tappers that are adept at other styles. The best thing about Vegas is that we’re now one week away from the start of the competition, which has existed long enough that contestants have grown up watching it. These are dancers that have trained in multiple styles to ensure they’ll be able to succeed on this show, and it’s going to be great to see what they can do when they take the stage before a live audience.
- This week in random guest judges: Jason Derulo and New Girl’s Hannah Simone. But what does Wayne Brady think??
- Did tWitch do much on the judges’ panel this week beyond standing up when he really liked someone’s solo?
- That group routine that Hannah Simone called “unique” is totally ripping off a Mia Michaels routine from season 3 of SYTYCD Canada.
- Mongolian bowl dancer ShanShan shouldn’t have been put through the hip-hop round, but that would have denied us the opportunity to have Cat say “Mongolian bowl dancer” one more time.
- I thought ballerina turned jazz dancer Jennifer was a shoe-in for the top 20, so it’s a surprise to see her cut toward the end of Vegas. She was so SYTYCD.
- “Guys. It was terrible, and you’ll all be embarrassed when you see it.”